Austin at Large: People, Read the Zoom!
Don’t make me leave the house to deliver some sense to y’all in times like these
Striking the right tone in a column like this under circumstances like these can be a challenge; part of my job, or at least my personal schtick, is to amuse and inspire the reader, but people are dying out there. Or at least getting really sick, which isn't fun for anyone, but especially for people who are already in less than good health. People are also poor and getting poorer, which overlaps with their poor health, and as COVID-19 comes back around for another pass through the populace, the Great Equalizer effects of the pandemic will diminish, and the Same Old Bullsh*t effects will become inflamed. We know how this goes.
Hence, you'll read in this issue about how poor people of color in the Eastern Crescent, or those experiencing homelessness, are sitting ducks and will continue to be, even as the people in charge decide it's time to get back to normal, reopen the economy, reopen the bars, and go back to ignoring the fates of the less fortunate. Just wear your masks and everything will be fine! We can trust job sites to keep their construction workers safe from contagion! If it's safe to go to the grocery store, why not reopen all the stores?
And so on. This chatter will get louder as we approach May Day, which has become D-Day for Re-Opening America. That's when Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide shelter-in-place orders are set to expire, and even though Austin and Travis County will keep our local rules in place for one week longer, by then there will surely be a large stack of claims that we overreacted to the coronavirus. Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell is already catching heat from his GOP colleagues for spending money to rent, among other things, refrigerated morgue trucks, when Wilco has only reported four deaths from COVID-19.
Now, it's anybody's guess why elected officials in a nationally renowned retirement community are complaining about being too prepared for a plague that disproportionately harms the old people who elect them. It likely simply illustrates how the muscle memory of prior political posturing can be triggered even when there's really no downside to, you know, saying and doing nothing. Yes, if our preparations for an emergency work as intended, it will look like we overreacted. Nobody in Wilco is going to starve over this. Just deal.
It Can Always Be Worse
At least our neighbors to the north are not as guilty of failing to read the room, or the Zoom, as their Travis County counterparts. The political action committee known as Save Austin Now are the folks who were, and apparently still are, collecting signatures to place an ordinance on the November ballot that would restore Austin's prior ordinances (the ones that were changed nearly a year ago) regarding camping, panhandling, and sitting or lying in public. Remember that? It was kind of a big deal.
So in the midst of the COVID crisis, this PAC decided to text-bomb a bunch of Austinites who – as is often the case – had no idea how they got on the list of Save Austin Now, which is basically an offshoot of the Travis County Republican Party. "Want to reinstate the public camping ban? Click here and we will mail you the petition," the text reads, followed by the link, which refers straight up to a "ban on homeless camping." Oh, and "Text STOP to stop."
Yes, let's STOP, collaborate, and listen, why don't we? Look, we know this is mostly an attempt to juice right-wing turnout in the November election, and at this point may just be a stratagem to groom the Travis GOP's mailing list in advance of the few contests they have a minimal chance of winning this fall. (I personally think a bag of glass would be able to beat any Republican on the Travis County ballot, but who knows; we don't have straight-ticket voting anymore.) One of those races is the Precinct 3 county commissioner race to succeed the retiring Gerald Daugherty, in which the leading candidate in the Dem run-off, Ann Howard (who finished with 48% of the Super Tuesday vote), made her reputation at the helm of the community's strategy to end homelessness.
That alone suggests that Save Austin Now's platform is not the sure-fire winner the party may think it is, even in parts of the county that find Red Team red meat tastier than we do. But why would you be bugging people about this now? You have until August to get your signatures! None of your voters are supposed to be out and about anyway, where the sight of (properly socially distanced) people in encampments would abrade their delicate sensibilities. And why would you spam unwilling voters with mystery texts about this? Are you wearing your masks too tight? Perhaps they're reducing the flow of oxygen to Save Austin Now's brains, such as they are.
Look, I know people are going stir crazy, but this nonsense is just so, so unnecessary. Just as there's not really a downside to being overprepared, there's no negative to being overly generous or compassionate at a time like this. It will not come back to haunt you! Don't make me risk a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail to deliver some sense to y'all.