Op-Ed

Inspiration From a Friend

When all else outside of our being appears to fail, the ONE thing we can do is LISTEN.  I know this to be true and this was  a great reminder……

Take some time today to listen. There are many ways you can do this and all of them will enhance your life.

Today, listen to those who are talking to you fully. Become present with their entire being, not focused on their clothes, hair or even the observation about the sound of their voice. Listen with your full being to what they are expressing. Shut down the mechanism that is preparing a response while they are still speaking. Don't interrupt your hearing of them with preparations to speak yourself.

Listen to your mind, or better yet observe it. What is your mind doing through the day? It may not be convenient to do throughout so take some time to sit in meditation for 15 mins or more and become aware of what thoughts your mind is running through. As you move through your day periodically look at the thoughts moving through your mind as you are engaged in your day. What is your mind's response to the casual moments in your day?

Listen to your heart. Take time and feel down into your heart, into the emotional well of your being. What does your heart have to tell you today? How is your heart doing? Take a moment and be with your heart and just listen; it will speak to you. Here are are not going up into our mind and intellect, we are going down into our heart, into our emotions and actually opening to our feelings.

Listen to your body. Is your body trying to get your attention? Is it calling for a bit more of your attention, your time, your thoughtfulness? Is your body communicating something it wants you to do or to stop? Throughout the day tune into how your body feels.

Don't simply dismiss the things that you notice. Your mind, heart and body are three aspects of your being that are always communicating with you. And whether you are listening to them, another being or Spirit, be available to truly hear what is being said beyond words.

-Jason Mitchell

Call to Action By: Hugh Mayfield

HBCU call to action to all veterans, registered voters, Alum from Texas Southern University, Alum from Huston-Tillotson University and Alum from Prairie View A&M University.

I am asking you to vote for Ora Houston, candidate for City Council District #1. Early voting starts on December 1st and ends on December 12th. You can vote at any location that has a ‘vote here’ sign. You can vote, even if you did not vote on November 4th.

As a veteran, registered republican, and Alum from Texas Southern University, I fully support Ms. Houston and her vision for a better and prosperous Austin. She attended Dillard University and graduated from Huston-Tillotson University. She continues to be an active alumni, sharing her time and treasure with HT.

I have been involved in city government, served as Former City of Austin Environment Board member, Vice Chairman for the Flood Plane Task Force and Solid Waste Advisory Commission, and I know the effort and desire that exists in the heart of someone who chooses to serve their community.

Ms. Houston is one of a kind who is mindful of and sensitive to the diversity of people and the challenges 'real' people are exposed to on a daily basis.Her service to the community is undeniable and her passion for her neighbors is indisputable.

She has taken the time to explore, investigate and analyze the issues in our city and commits to bringing everyone to the table to work together and find the best solutions.

My request if you are reading this is: Please support Ora Houston and vote on December 1st when early voting begins, or on election day, December 16th.

-Hugh Mayfield

 

Outside Money, By: Roxanne Evans

Why would folks from New York City be interested in trying to influence the outcome of an Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees election in East Austin?

It is part of a troubling pattern of influence by the alleged reform movement that is pushing charter schools, vouchers and privatization. The benefactors who gave us Teach for America have created Leadership for Educational Equity. Leadership for Educational Equity claims it is dedicated to “empowering Teach for America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders.”  It wants to grow leaders such as David “D” Thompson, a candidate in the District 1 trustee race. He has received approximately 40 percent of his campaign donations from out of state. This makes one wonder who he would listen to, were he to get elected.

District 1 residents want a trustee who will listen to us. And, for more than 40 years, District 1 residents have developed a solid track record of electing strong, representatives without outside influence. 

  • In 1968, former State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco became the first African American elected in Travis County when she was elected to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees.  
  • District 1 voters also elected the late Rev. Marvin C. Griffin, the iconic pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. He served the community and the school district well by being a steady hand when the school district was in the first phase of desegregation. 
  •  The late veteran educator Bernice Hart was elected by District 1 voters. Her legacy is still felt in the school district, and a Northeast Austin elementary school bears her name.
  •  Loretta Edelen, daughter of Wilhelmina Delco, and a strong education advocate on her own.
  •  Current trustee Cheryl Bradley was also elected to the District 1 seat without outside influence or guidance

There is much work to be done in District 1. The remedy for District 1 public schools needs to be crafted by a District 1 trustee in concert with District 1 families. New York equity firms and corporations need not apply for this work.

District 1 does not need outside interests telling us how to vote, or who to vote for. This district has done well electing its own and it deserves to be able to keep that electoral autonomy.  

A New Day in Austin, By: Genoveva Rodriguez

The Tuesday after the first Monday of November. 

For many it's a Tuesday like any other, but for people who have been working for months or years toward the 2014 Election, this Tuesday means so much more.

It is the goal, the destination, the conclusion, or grand finale. It is the end. 

Many friends and family do not understand why I choose to work in politics or on campaigns. Truth be told, sometimes I'm not sure either. The hours are long, the work is tedious, and quite often things are on the brink of a nuclear meltdown. Yet, there are so many others out there who do this day in and day out.

It takes a certain kind of person to want to do this work or volunteer to do this work. (Yes, some do this work for free.) You can describe these people as ambitious and driven, but I think the most genuine ones are those who are humble and compassionate as well. Overall, it takes people who have a passion for humanity and the greater good.

I know some may say that not all politicians are in it for the right reason (and you are probably correct), but sometimes there is magic in the air and you find the ones who are doing it for all the right reasons and you just can't help to continue working as hard as we sometimes do.

It is so hard not to be drawn in when you meet a candidate, a campaign manager, a team of volunteers or a family that is invested and working toward the betterment of a community or city. It's pretty awe-some when you work in this field long enough and find many of those amazing people. I can see why others do this over and over again when it's the right person and the right time.

The Tuesday after the first Monday of November has been election day for more than 160 years. And for more than 160 years, people made efforts to campaign for the best candidate and travel to the polls in groups to vote for said candidate.

So, while it will be just another Tuesday, just another election, just another day to some, for many it's the day we've been working toward. The bitter end regardless of result because it means that we have given and left so much of ourselves out there on the field that we will never get back, but was well worth it.

Always vote because it is your voice. It may be your only chance to be heard.

Mass Transit for Austin, By: Pinaki Ghosh

In recent months there has been quite a debate over the light rail in Austin. We are going to have a vote on a billion dollar bond for light rail. The issue has taken somewhat toxic turn where most city council candidates are keeping a safe distance from it and not supporting it. This seems to be hurting the “Mass Transit” or “Public Transportation” discussion as a whole. A handful of candidates who engineered this idea (aka proposition 1) do support it. There seems to be enormous external money used for campaigning in favor of this proposition – we do not know who is providing this funding but it must have its supporter to get such funding. If this fund is used to build the light rail then over the next 20 years each household in Austin will be forking out somewhere between six and seven thousand dollars to pay for it through property taxes. If the project is not finished on time or within budget then this total amount will go up. The current design of the light rail will serve the riverside corridor and some portions of downtown very well but people living in east side will hardly get any use out of it. (to-be honest folks living in west Austin will also hardly get any use out of it.). This does not mean we do not need Mass Transit Systems in Austin – we desperately need them.

When we design a Mass Transit System (not just “public transportation”) then we typically solve some of the most critical problems due to the nature of the capital expenditure. I do not think in anybody’s wildest imagination Riverside is the biggest challenge in Austin traffic problem. The north-south corridor of I-35, 183 and Mopac pose much more serious challenges. We have to look at I-35 as an opportunity instead of a problem because it connects the 3 of the 4 biggest cities in Texas and we happen to be in the middle. Dallas and San Antonio will have a stake in I-35 solution and we need to use that. We will be forced to spend money on the I-35 corridor but the good news is that we will have partners. 

We need to look at east and west Austin traffic issues more locally – we go to groceries, children’s museum, stores, gyms within our locality so we need local transportation. I will give a specific example here – Mueller has developed great facilities but everyone who come to Mueller, from outside of Mueller, to use these facilities use cars (unless they are on bicycles) so parking is already a problem – most of the people who go to the Mueller HEB or will go to the future movie or to the parks stay within 3 to 5 miles. It would be great if there are 2 or 3 local bus routes which take people to Mueller or Lamar Bus Depot from various locations within that 3 to 5 mile radius every 10 or 15 minutes. Today we have no such routes or options. Building these routes do not cost billion dollars and can be very targeted. Use of public transportation is a culture which needs to develop. Everybody will talk about pollution and environmental effects – well busses can run on CNG.

The other important point to understand that all public transportation does not need to be publicly funded all the time. The local buses can be private-public collaboration and owner operated by individuals of the locality instead of capital metro. The idea would be to provide public transportation, local employment and improved inter-neighborhood mobility. 

We already have a light rail and its utilization needs to be improved before we jump into another rail project and local transportation can help. It is also important to note that a bond is like a credit card debt except for the fact that it is collateralized against the city itself. We need to draw our lessons from Detroit – which during its hay days spend like a drunken sailor and today is bankrupt. Detroit was a bigger city than Austin and had larger industries so let us not take our sunny days as permanent and save some for the rainy days.

Weighing in on Real Estate "Experts" on 10 Best Neighborhoods to Buy in Austin, By: District 1 Neighbor

I recently came across an article on Culture Map Austin about a what real estate "experts" claim is the top ten best neighborhoods to buy a home in Austin right now.

It is interesting to hear that the real estate agents refer to these areas as eclectic, diverse and affordable, but do not mention what some of the underlying issues of any of these neighborhoods might be going through.

On this list, 3 out of 10 are in District #1, which is currently experiencing displacement by high property taxes, a change in the cultural face of the neighborhood and traffic issues (like everywhere in Austin) due to the rapid growth happening all over the city and district.

It's important that as people are joining our unique community, the history and genetic make-up of a neighborhood is being shared and considered for preservation, otherwise it loses the soul which brought people here in the first place.

Austin's "black problem" is a class problem, By: Ellen Sweets

Ellen Sweets - Author, Austin resident

Ellen Sweets - Author, Austin resident

It’s no longer classified information that Austin might have a black problem.

Of the country’s fastest-growing large cities, it’s the only one that’s losing black residents. I’m not the first one to write about why that might be. I’ve called Austin home for six years, but I too am strongly considering packing up and heading elsewhere.

After wrestling with the notion of Austin being generally inhospitable to blacks, however, I realized that much of my distress over the city's shortcomings is rooted not in race but in the dissipation of a working class. 

Elitism is Austin's new normal.

My misplaced frustration was brought home in a metaphorical slap upside the head from a treasured friend, Anita Price James, whose father, the late Al Price, was a civil rights activist and the first African-American from Southeast Texas to represent the Beaumont area in the Texas House.

When I told her I was probably joining the Austin exodus and heading east to New Orleans because of my frustrations about race, she took me to task. Race-based concerns about Austin don’t hold water, she insisted.

"If simmering race-based hostility were to blame, Boston would be whiter," she said. "If long-standing distrust of police were the issue, New York would be seeing the black exodus that Austin is trying to understand."

My energy and frustration, she continued, ought to be directed at an educational system that doesn’t prepare native Texans for the best jobs the “Texas miracle” has created. I ought to instead focus on the companies bringing high-tech jobs here only to encounter an educational workforce unprepared to vie for them. For the most part, she added, successful black people in Austin aren't from Austin — primarily because unlike Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, Austin has never had enough black people to support a broad-based economic infrastructure or to provide the comforting near-ubiquity that black people can find in those cities.

Virtually forgotten are the efforts of good people — black and white — to preserve neighborhoods like Clarksville, which at one point was home to Austin's largest concentration of blacks descended from slaves. Although registered as a national historic district, gentrification, land speculation and skyrocketing taxes have decimated the racial and socioeconomic diversity the neighborhood boasted even two decades ago. Its minority heritage is now merely a bit of little-known trivia.

My friend Toni Tipton-Martin, a culinary historian and longtime Austinite, has struggled mightily with the foundation she launched several years ago. Designed to promote good nutrition while preserving traditional foodways, she is also determined to have the foundation occupy physical space in East Austin's cultural heritage district. She's also struggling to not be discouraged.

Not too long ago, while discussing my probable New Orleans move with her, we also talked about the possibility of creating a project in Austin based on a highly successful New Orleans nonprofit designed to prepare underserved youth to work in the hospitality business.

We figured that if a version could be replicated in Austin, it would be a certifiable asset to the community. It could create jobs. With support from Austin's business and restaurant community, it could work — if only buildings to house Austin's reinterpretation weren't being bought up, torn down or otherwise assigned new meaning as restaurants or shops. How do you preserve the institutional integrity of a community if the physical attributes that made that community possible disappear?

We’ve put our idea on hold, and Toni is now considering relocating her foundation to the suburb of Pflugerville, whose minority population has grown significantly in recent years.

The more I think about it, the more I see part of the new civil rights battle in Austin being waged over land, property and stratospheric rents. Despite the best efforts of groups like Foundation Communities and Habitat for Humanity, I've come to see class as the unaddressed bugaboo of urban life: If you can afford to live here, you're cool, and skin color is almost irrelevant.

East Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and 11th streets have morphed into an east-of-the-interstate hub of coolness that has priced out long-time residents, many of whom happen to be black. The city's own statistics say that while African-Americans made up roughly 15 percent of Austin's population a few decades ago, the city's black population could drop to 5 percent if trends continue.

In New Orleans, the complexities of urban life — one still grappling with post-Katrina recovery — are still steeped in French, Spanish, British and African cultural traditions. Austin, meanwhile, is rooted in politics, music and being a cool place to live.

New Orleans has its problems, for sure. But it’s earthy, funky and so genuinely weird that it thinks it's normal.

That's how I used to feel about Austin.

Ellen Sweets has reported for The Dallas Morning News,The Denver Post and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She wrote the 2011 memoir Stirring It Up with Molly Ivins, an account of her friendship with the famed Texas columnist.

Living Through the Replay, By: Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte

Like many other Americans, I’ve followed events in Furgerson, Mo. since Officer Darren Wilson gunned down unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown.   So many visual accounts of that action  brought back a lot of personal memories—most specifically of the 1992 reaction in Los Angeles when police who beat Rodney King III were acquitted of wrong doing in the near fatal attack

That was before cell phones made everyone a potential documentarian of police aggression.  But there were video cameras and a nearby resident caught the action on tape through his apartment window.  That film clip sparked local, national and international outrage.  So when the verdict came in, that outrage first ignited tempers and then Central Los Angeles as residents turned to protest that soon became violent.

Before the riot was over, 54 people were dead, thousands arrested  and millions of property damaged sustained.  It was the most costly uprising in national history. But not the first.

The more than 100 race “riots” of 1967 produced the renown Kerner Commission report ordered by President Lyndon Banes Johnson when he named the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder.  They gave the nation the most sweeping analysis of US race relations and institutionalized inequities ever documented. As a result , 50 years ago Johnson called for a “war against poverty.” It was a battle left unfunded and quickly shelved.  

Since then we’ve seen other protest scripts based on similar reasons:   Structured disadvantage, resentment, denial, selective police misconduct,  officer over reaction in excessive force, communities targeted for violence. Austin too has its examples of underfunded schools, targeted displacement of minority communities, the ‘invisiblizing”  of low-income people pushed beyond the outskirts of our city and further from jobs.  Austin also has its list of shame--its unarmed minority youth victims of police shootings.

Today Ferguson struggles to balance the fragile precipice between insisting on the right to be heard and police demands for control. Meanwhile, a broad array of experts provide formulas for peace and/or justice.  Many make familiar calls for better police training, elimination of the militarization of police forces and closer community interaction as part of routine protocol. But I cannot help but wonder in regards to this list where history went.

We refuse to learn from the past. We call instead for bigger guns and more rapid deployment. Then too often police look down their gun barrels at people they do not know either personally or as participants in the nation’s development. Instead, stereotypes, often fueled by media, “action” films and digital games reinforce those images.

Once embedded in the culture, stereotypes are hard to eliminate.  But we do know that education helps.  This may be useful to remember when reformers seek to exclude ethnic studies from curriculum.  Often those courses are the only ones that augment traditional history classes that can be scant on minority experience. But the time to learn history in context is long before career choices are made. It should start in elementary school when children begin to learn US history through the celebration of holidays and heroes.

Much more comprehensive courses should be mandated in high school and college so we come to know and appreciate the enrichment provided by diversity. And so future law enforcers come to their jobs with a greater understanding of the underlying issues. And strong critical thinking skills that deconstruct stereotypes and make possible empathy for people whose American experience may be different.

Today there are right wing calls to eliminate this information. Meanwhile, in one misguided drive, some jingoists mount efforts to eliminate interdisciplinary, ethnographic  “ethnic studies”—African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American and Mexican-American courses that seek to show students a more inclusive U.S. reality with its triumphs and tragedies.  

Some opponents even foster a false claim that by learning anything except a whitewashed version of American history we risk undermining patriotism.  Talk about sticking one’s head in the sand!

The most recent battles over text adoption provide cases in point. In both 2010 and 2012 the conservative Texas Board of Education changed content to eliminate, obscure or manicure some key historical events. Those making those decisions are not academic experts. In 2010 when the Board refused to include Latino figures as role models, no historians, economists or sociologists served on the Board or were consulted. African-American figures were also limited.

As long as tragedies like Ferguson repeat and victims live through violent components of American history,  we will watch these replays ever more rapidly on digitized reality. Nevertheless, as a society we often seem repeatedly surprised by the anger generated by educational inequity, vanished jobs, ever more income disparities,  lost affordable housing and racial and ethnic profiling of those targeted.

We seem not to hear our fellow Americans until these events replay and coverage lets protesters speak for themselves. And even that often depends on where one turns for information and perspective. Minority news publications are now the most robust in the nation.  New America Media website can introduce readers to those voices. The organization’s directory lists 2500 publications and describes itself as “the most comprehensive listing of ethnic media, America’s fastest growing segment of journalism reaching more than 60 million Americans.”

If we knew ourselves  and the distribution of disadvantage better it would help us become a stronger, more just nation.

About
Dr. Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, now a University of Texas professor emeritus was the creator of Tejas, a publication produced by students in her Community Journalism course,.  It was awarded the 1996 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for Outstanding Journalism. Formerly she was an associate editor of the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times.

 

The “gentlemen’s agreement” - A Relic of Austin’s Racist Past: Or, why did we need to change the system, anyway?

Until the passage of 10-1, Austin, Texas used an at-large ‘places’ system to elect city council members.  “At-large” means every voter votes for every council member – and that means none of us had a council member that represented our neighborhood. We were the largest city in the country without geographic representation.   (The ‘places’ don’t refer to geography or location at all -- just when a council member is up for re-election.) In a city the size of Austin, that means that each council member represented all 800,000 citizens.  

At-large elections are a system where communities of color or of lower-income levels have the cards stacked against them.  Citywide elections are expensive to run and in Austin, all elections were city wide before 10-1. Regular folks didn’t have the money to compete. But, we’re Austin. There’s no way that we would intentionally set-up a system that oppresses members of our community? We’re progressive, right?

Maybe not so much.  

Ignorance and Influence: Austin, Texas in the ‘50s

Austin’s recent at-large council system was founded in racism. In 1951, after WW2, Arthur B. DeWitty, an African-American, ran for Austin City Council. DeWitty was the President of the NAACP and a leader in the growing civil rights movement. DeWitty almost won under the system then in place, infuriating the white majority. The next year, city council changed the way Austin held its elections by creating at-large council seats, making it impossible to elect a person of color to council. The new at-large ‘places’ system required that all Austinites approve all councilmembers. That meant that the 1950’s white majority controlled who won council elections.

The racist at-large system created in the 50’s was the same system we had in Austin until 10-1, with the addition of the 1970’s “gentlemen’s agreement” to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

So … What’s the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’?

In the early 70’s, after City Council’s racist history with DeWitty, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) forced Austin to allow minority representation. However, the white power elite found a way to maintain control. Rather than abolish the racist at-large system, Austin’s moneyed interests committed to only support an African-American for Place 6 and an Hispanic for Place 7.

The ‘agreement’ went something like this: To make sure that people of color were elected to council, rich, Anglo business leaders in town vowed to hold 2 seats on the council for people of color: 1 for an African-American and 1 for an Hispanic.

How could they be sure that Austin would consistently elect a minority to those seats? Easy. The power elite promised not to give money to anyone who was Anglo and ran in those spots. That commitment satisfied the VRA, but kept all the power in the hands of the moneyed interests and out of the minority communities.

How did the power elite remain in control? Simple. All council seats were at-large, which meant that all elections remained expensive to run. This also meant that the Anglo majority had to approve all council members – even those two reserved “minority” seats.

Since that time, 15 out of the last 17 mayors and a full 50% of council have come from 4 ZIP codes in downtown and West Austin. The Anglo majority still controls city council, and even controls which minority candidate “represents” the minority communities.

Shockingly, this is how the Austin City Council had maintained minority representation until now. There is history in the making in the 2014 City Council elections. Each corner of the city will have a designated council member, of their choice, on the city council, which means better representation and a better chance of being heard.

Be a part of making history by electing your first Austin City Council District Representative.  Vote early … and don’t forget to vote local at the end of the ballot!

 

Being Inspired and Involved

Hello! My name is Kara Bell and I graduated from Texas State University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications – Electronic Media. While attending Texas State , I was involved in a Sorority – Sigma Lambda Gamma. While in the sorority and even now, I participated in numerous activities within the community. I've participated in Adopt a Highway, Bobcat Build, and the Komen Race for the Cure.

I have been a member of St. James Episcopal Church my entire life and over the last few years I have become active with the Church and the nursery, caring for children during the services. I met Ora Houston as a member of St. James.

 

I feel that it is important to be involved in the community for so many reasons but a few of the main ones is to get out and be a part of your community, and meet the people that are involved that want the same for the community as you do. The most rewarding part is getting people involved that were not as involved before.

Ora is an amazing  person for various reasons. I have had many projects/campaigns of my own and Ora has been a knowledgeable resource in getting me any type of help I needed. Ora is an active member in our community and I have watched her lend a helping hand to so many others on so many different occasions for years now. I have witnessed Ora participate in the church choir as well as serve our church community.

She is not only a huge influence on me, but I also feel that she would be a tremendous asset to our community at city hall.  

A Better Austin, By: Anais Barnes

Change is happening all around the city of Austin. Whether your location is north, south, east, west and everywhere in between, there are many issues in our city that need the right people in place to help foster ideas and solutions in order to produce effective results. 

I am a nineteen-year-old sophomore studying Forensic and Investigative Sciences at Texas A&M University. Even though I am not majoring in Political Science or Government, I believe that it is important, especially as a young adult, to get involved and familiarize myself in politics. It is important to not only know what issues exist in our city, but to also meet and build connections with our neighbors and people around the city. Before we know it, we are going to be the people who will be running for office.

As an intern working for the Ora Houston for City Council District #1 campaign, I am always intrigued by the ideas and solutions Ms. Houston has for changing the future of this district. Working with her has been a wonderful learning experience. She has encouraged me to be a driving force in the changes that I want to see in the future of my city. Through this internship, I have been introduced to many inspiring people in this city, as well as gaining opportunities for other internships in the coming months.

Though my time with Ms. Houston’s campaign is wrapping up, I am thankful for the opportunity in learning about how political campaigns operate, as well as learning, observing, and listening to wonderful ideas about how to promote the changes that our city needs.