The protesters last year at Austin's police headquarters didn't have to go far to occupy the interstate that's symbolized the city's racial and social divides for more than 50 years. In APD leaders' mind, blocking the highway was a self-evident threat to the community's safety, and thus justified the traumatizing police response that followed, which in turn justified Austinites' rapid and robust demand for de-policing that's still making an impact a year later. And as a side benefit, it focused the eyes of many on everything wrong with I-35 itself, helping to change that conversation as well.
When Texas Tribune alums Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora first decided to start a brand-new media organization dedicated to reporting on gender, politics, and policy, they surely didn’t factor a worldwide pandemic into their pitch deck. But despite the unique challenges of launching during COVID, their nonprofit digital newsroom has not only jumped every hurdle – remote hiring, a virtual media summit, a late summer site launch – it’s flourished. With topics including racial justice, child care, trans rights, and women's cratering numbers in the labor force, the 19th's probing, fact-based reporting centers women and their experiences, always. Note to MSM: Talking to 51% of the population is not niche journalism.
George Floyd died May 25, 2020. On June 12, more than two dozen UT athletes demanded racial reckoning at an institution with Black representation hovering around the mid-single digits. One week later, Longhorn Band saxophonist Judson Hayden founded LHBlacks, who represent an even lower percentage among 400 student musicians. Protesting alma mater “The Eyes of Texas” – a title adapted from a Robert E. Lee aphorism and set to the openly racist tune of the “Levee Song” (“I’ve been working on the railroad”), then performed in blackface circa 1903 at UT – the tiny group stood up to the University of Texas. The school didn’t change its tune, but neither did LHBlacks turn a blind eye, since they no longer perform it.
When something’s amiss in Texas’ election process, who you gonna call? Dana DeBeauvoir, that’s who. In a year where some state officials wanted to make voting more difficult, DeBeauvoir's 34-years-long dedication to protecting our right to vote remained steadfast against a barrage of executive orders and court orders modifying most facets of the voting process every other week: ballot drop-off locations, mask requirements, and election schedules, to name a few. Throughout it all, the Travis County clerk did everything within her power to protect and ensure a fair, safe, and transparent election process, and for that, we thank her.
When Gov. Greg Abbott pulled mask requirements and hastily declared Texas "open and free" in March, Austin music venues proved they answer to a higher power. The Red River Cultural District rallied music entities under its “Safe in Sound” pledge, calling for 6 feet between groups, required face coverings, sanitization, and more upheld CDC guidelines. Best practices continued self-imposed considerations taken throughout the pandemic by music establishments. Rounding up 50 signees across entertainment, dining, and more, the show of solidarity includes major music names like ACL Live at the Moody, Antone's, Stubb's, Mohawk, Paramount Theatre, Empire Control Room, and Luck Reunion.
Mutual aid is a timeless concept, but in a year of constant crisis and state abandonment, the need for community care grows more glaring. When the pandemic began, Bobby Cooper and his fellow anarchist volunteers began delivering home-cooked meals, masks, tents, and other essentials to houseless people, and more recently raised funds to secure them hotel rooms when the city froze. What have our elected leaders done, besides flee to Mexico and ignore CDC guidelines? All the more reason to get to know your neighbors.
Technically, club owners get info about the Live Music Venue Preservation Fund from the City of Austin. And in theory, they’re handed Shuttered Venue Operators Grant rules from the Small Business Association. But if you ask any local club-runner where they’re getting updates, they say Rebecca Reynolds. Head of one establishment may have casually argued for a golden statue of the attorney in our Downtown area. Founder of the Music Venue Alliance Austin, Reynolds keeps up with the nuts, bolts, problematic loopholes, bureaucratic jargon, and broken civic promises of music policy like no other – an effort more essential than ever in 2021.
Days into Winter Storm Uri's aftershock, the need for a citizen-led initiative of hot food and bottled water distribution could not have been more dire. Within hours of putting out the alert for volunteers, the call from Austin Texas Musicians, the TMWC, and Amplified Sound Coalition was heeded and then some, resulting in a human chain comprising the music industry and public at large. Extending for much of the length of the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex parking lot, more than 400 Austinites helped to distribute essentials to families in need, showing once and for all there will always be strength in numbers.
Austin Texas Musicians
Texas Music Workforce Coalition
Amplified Sound Coalition
Throughout her career in elected office, at Travis County and now the Texas Capitol, Sarah Eckhardt has held regular "Coffee Jolt" and "Policy Pints" sessions with friends, supporters, and constituents. During the pandemic, what's been lost in actual hangin'-out intimacy has been offset by a much wider reach, allowing hundreds of Austinites at a time, particularly for the "Policy Pints" virtual happy hours, to visit with Eckhardt and her many smart friends trying to steer a progressive course on issues from voting rights to Medicaid expansion to justice reform.
As editor of the iconic Quorum Report, Scott Braddock knows everything that's happening under the pink dome, and once a week he tells you all about it on this podcast, co-hosted with the Houston Chronicle's Jeremy Wallace. Texas state government, and especially the Legislature in session, manufactures scads of storylines and generates a blizzard of clips and press releases and talking points, but many of the decisions and machinations that dictate actual outcomes happen out of view, and Braddock and Wallace do a stellar job of helping listeners follow the true narrative.
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone of hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm powerfully leads in an era polluted by performative activism. The current chair of the Austin Music Commission successfully advocated for 50% of the Austin Live Music Fund to go toward a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) creatives fund. He also created his own Black Live Music Fund with the goal of awarding $2,500 grants to Black members of Austin’s music scene. And as politicians pointed fingers while Texas froze over, the Brown University alum says he sent out $32,000 in direct cash assistance via his DAWA Fund.
The curious adventures of Paxton and Paul – Ken, our state's brash and battered attorney general, and his friend Nate, the whiz-kid mogul of an Austin property empire – may never be explained to our satisfaction. But much of what we do know stems from the messy unraveling in bankruptcy of Paul's convoluted World Class Holdings, and Paul Thompson of the Austin Business Journal has been the indispensable reporter-of-record of all that's entailed.
"Be informed. Make a difference." So goes the motto of this nonpartisan news organization (formerly Austin EcoNetwork). Be it through their newsletter, their KOOP Radio show The Austin Common Radio Hour, or their illustrated guides on Instagram that make sense of tangly stuff like ERCOT and the special election, the folks at Austin Common know that their one-two punch – educating readers and nudging them toward civic engagement – is for the common good.
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