Off and Running, By: Ora Houston

Six months ago, I stood before a gathering of my friends and neighbors and asked for their support as I officially announced my intention to become the first city council member for District #1.

Together, we worked hard to achieve that goal! Look at what WE accomplished on November 4th! Over 6,000 friends and neighbors voted to make that goal a reality - we fell a few votes short - so now we kick start our campaign for the election on December 16th.

To those who didn't get a chance to vote, or voted for someone else, I look forward to getting to know you.

I want to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, who voted in this historic election. I know you love this district, this city, and the people who call Austin home, as much as I do.

The history of my activism in this city demonstrates that I am not part of the status quo. I have always been a public servant, not a politician. My goal has been - and will continue to be - to bring the reality of 'regular' folks into the decisions and the solutions made by city government. There are many unintended and negative consequences when everyone doesn't get a seat at the table and it is time to change that.

We have a common goal to develop an Austin that is prosperous for the collective. In order to reach that goal, we must be aware of the history, (of our growth) as we actively work in the present to create a future that is unique and inclusive. We must create space for all people to participate in the conversations and decisions which affect the quality of their lives.

We are a 'blended family' composed of a mosaic of cultures, income levels, beliefs, ethnicities, ideas, educational achievements, languages and interests.

We MUST work together.

From the beginning of this process I have listened as you have shared your hopes, dreams and concerns regarding a variety of issues which city government has not dealt with effectively. You know the list:

  • escalating property taxes (residential and small business);

  • unplanned growth;

  • working class jobs and job training in the district;

  • quality education for our children in the public schools;

  • workforce housing all over Austin;

  • ending traffic congestion downtown;

  • an efficient bus system throughout the district and the city;

  • a sense of community and peaceful neighborhoods;

  • add your issues to the list.

Changes are necessary and they are possible as we move forward in a more inclusive and planned way. Yet, I cannot do it alone. Everyone must continue to be engaged in the process.

We have a bit further to go, (but not too far.) Early voting begins December 1st.

This is not a rest stop. This is an energy break before full steam ahead to December 16th.

I am so very grateful for the continuing hard work, perseverance and commitment of the members of Team Ora. Without them I would not have been able to make it this far:

  • Jonathan Panzer

  • Matt Harvey

  • Genoveva Rodriguez

  • Sunny Ogunro

  • Charlotte Moore

  • Jonathan Clarke

  • Aaron Clay

As well as all of the energetic interns and every single one of the hard working volunteers.

Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!

In Peace,
Ora

 

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.

THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN AND THE CHURCH BY CESAR CHAVEZ

Source: El Grito, Summer 1968
T
he following article was prepared by Mr. Chavez during his 25-day "spiritual fast" and was presented to a meeting on Mexican-Americans and the Churchä at the Second Annual Mexican Conference in Sacramento, California on March 8-10, 1968. 

The place to begin is with our own experience with the Church in the strike which has gone on for thirty-one months in Delano. For in Delano the church has been involved with the poor in a unique way which should stand as a symbol to other communities. 

Of course, when we refer to the Church we should define the word a little. We mean the whole Church, the Church as an ecumenical body spread around the world, and not just its particular form in a parish in a local community. The Church we are talking about is a tremendously powerful institution in our society, and in the world. 

That Church is one form of the Presence of God on Earth, and so naturally it is powerful. 
It is powerful by definition. 
It is a powerful moral and spiritual force which cannot be ignored by any movement. 
Furthermore, it is an organization with tremendous wealth.

Since the Church is to be servant to the poor, it is our fault if that wealth is not channeled to help the poor in our world. In a small way we have been able, in the Delano strike, to work together with the Church in such a way as to bring some of its moral and economic power to bear on those who want to maintain the status quo, keeping farm workers in virtual enslavement. 

In brief, here is what happened in Delano.

Some years ago, when some of us were working with the Community Service Organization, we began to realize the powerful effect which the Church can have on the conscience of the opposition. In scattered instances, in San Jose, Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles and other places, priests would speak out loudly and clearly against specific instances of oppression, and in some cases, stand with the people who were being hurt. 

Furthermore, a small group of priests, Frs. McDonald, McCollough, Duggan and others, began to pinpoint attention on the terrible situation of the farm workers in our state. 

At about that same time, we began to run into the California Migrant Ministry in the camps and field. They were about the only ones there, and a lot of us were very suspicious, since we were Catholics and they were Protestants. However, they had developed a very clear conception of the Church.

It was called to serve, to be at the mercy of the poor, and not to try to use them. After a while this made a lot of sense to us, and we began to find ourselves working side by side with them. In fact, it forced us to raise the question why OUR Church was not doing the same. 

We would ask, "Why do the Protestants come out here and help the people, demand nothing, and give all their time to serving farm workers, while our own parish priests stay in their churches, where only a few people come, and usually feel uncomfortable?"

It was not until some of us moved to Delano and began working to build the National Farm Workers Association that we really saw how far removed from the people the parish Church was. In fact, we could not get any help at all from the priests of Delano. When the strike began, they told us we could not even use the Churches auditorium for the meetings. The farm workers money helped build that auditorium! But the Protestants were there again, in the form of the California Migrant Ministry, and they began to help in little ways, here and there. 

When the strike started in 1965, most of our friends forsook us for a while. They ran- or were just too busy to help. But the California Migrant Ministry held a meeting with its staff and decided that the strike was a matter of life or death for farm workers everywhere, and that even if it meant the end of the Migrant Ministry they would turn over their resources to the strikers. 

The political pressure on the Protestant Churches was tremendous and the Migrant Ministry lost a lot of money. But they stuck it out, and they began to point the way to the rest of the Church. In fact, when 30 of the strikers were arrested for shouting Huelga, 11 ministers went to jail with them. 

They were in Delano that day at the request of Chris Hartmire, director of the California Migrant Ministry. Then the workers began to raise the question: "Why ministers? Why not priests? What does the Bishop say?"

But the Bishop said nothing. 

But slowly the pressure of the people grew and grew, until finally we have in Delano a priest sent by the new Bishop, Timothy Manning, who is there to help minister to the needs of farm workers. His name is Father Mark Day and he is the Unions chaplain. 

Finally, our own Catholic Church has decided to recognize that we have our one peculiar needs, just as the growers have theirs. 
But outside of the local diocese, the pressure built up on growers to negotiate was tremendous. Though we were not allowed to have our own priest, the power of the ecumenical body of the Church was tremendous. The work of the Church, for example, in the Schenley, Di Giorgio, Perelly-Minetti strikes was fantastic. They applied pressure- and they mediated. When poor people get involved in a long conflict, such as a strike, or a civil rights drive, and the pressure increases each day, there is a deep need for spiritual advice.  Without it we see families crumble, leadership weaken, and hard workers grow tired. And in such a situation the spiritual advice must be given by a friend, not by the opposition. 

What sense does it make to go to Mass on Sunday and reach out for spiritual help, and instead get sermons about the wickedness of your cause? That only drives one to question and to despair. The growers in Delano have their spiritual problems... we do not deny that. They have every right to have priests and ministers who serve their needs. 

BUT WE HAVE DIFFERENT NEEDS, AND SO WE NEEDED A FRIENDLY SPIRITUAL GUIDE. 

And this is true in every community in this state where the poor face tremendous problems. But the opposition raises a tremendous howl about this. They don't want us to have our spiritual advisors, friendly to our needs. Why is this? Why indeed except that THERE IS TREMENDOUS SPIRITUAL AND ECONOMIC POWER IN THE CHURCH. The rich know it, and for that reason they choose to keep it from the people. 

The leadership of the Mexican-American Community must admit that we have fallen far short in our task of helping provide spiritual guidance for our people. 

We may say, "I Don't feel any such need. I can get along." But that is a poor excuse for not helping provide such help for others. For we can also say, "I don't need any welfare help. I can take care of my own problems."

But we are all willing to fight like hell for welfare aid for those who truly need it, who would starve without it. Likewise, we may have gotten an education and not care about scholarship money for ourselves, or our children.  But we would, we should, fight like hell to see to it that our state provides aid for any child needing it so that he can get the education he desires. LIKEWISE WE CAN SAY WE DON'T NEED THE CHURCH. THAT IS OUR BUSINESS. BUT THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF OUR PEOPLE WHO DESPERATELY NEED SOME HELP FROM THAT POWERFUL INSTITUTION, THE CHURCH, AND WE ARE FOOLISH NOT TO HELP THEM GET IT. 

For example, the Catholic Charities agencies of the Catholic Church has millions of dollars earmarked for the poor. But often the money is spent for food baskets for the needy instead of for effective action to eradicate the causes of poverty. 

The men and women who administer this money sincerely want to help their brothers. It should be our duty to help direct the attention to the basic needs of the Mexican-Americans in our society... needs which cannot be satisfied with baskets of food, but rather with effective organizing at the grass roots level. Therefore, I am calling for Mexican-American groups to stop ignoring this source of power. It is not just our right to appeal to the Church to use its power effectively for the poor, it is our duty to do so. It should be as natural as appealing to government... and we do that often enough. 

Furthermore, we should be prepared to come to the defense of that priest, rabbi, minister, or layman of the Church, who out of commitment to truth and justice gets into a tight place with his pastor or bishop. It behooves us to stand with that man and help him see his trial through. It is our duty to see to it that his rights of conscience are respected and that no bishop, pastor or other higher body takes that God-given, human right away. 

Finally, in a nutshell, what do we want the Church to do? We don't ask for more cathedrals. We don't ask for bigger churches of fine gifts. We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don't ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don't ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.

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.

Ora Houston Appreciates Each and Every Endorsement

The last ten days have been a whirlwind of unwitting support from several, truly diverse, groups in the city of Austin. Recent endorsements include: Better Austin Today PAC, the Central Labor Council, the Stonewall Democrats of Austin, the Worker’s Defense Action Fund, and the Austin Firefighters Association PAC.

Each of these groups have decided that Ora Houston has genuinely taken the time to listen to and understand the concerns of the members of each organization.
 

Austin Firefighters Association Endorsement Announcement at City Hall, Sept. 2, 2014

Photo by: Ora Houston Campaign for City Council District 1

“As a ‘prosperous’ Austin, we have a responsibility to begin to learn how to relate to each other - neighbors who arrived recently, neighbors who have lived on the land for generations and neighbors who live in other districts,” said Houston. “We must start the process of working together as a community, as neighbors and as people. It is my goal to engage, education and uplift people in District #1 so that they use their power to participate in and help determine their future in Austin. Until that time I want to represent people in the district who find themselves outside of the circle.”

Today, the Austin Firefighters Association PAC officially announced their endorsement, following an early August announcement by the Austin Police Association PAC.

Collectively, the AFA stated, “Ora Houston is the strong leader that District 1 desperately needs to ensure that the people of traditionally neglected East and Northeast Austin receive the same level of services as the rest of Austin. We are proud to announce our unanimous endorsement of Ora Houston for Austin City Council District 1.”

After receiving the Central Labor Council last week, on Monday September 1st, the Worker’s Defense Action Fund formally endorsed Houston for supporting them and exhibiting the willingness to sit down with the people and work together.

On Saturday, August 23rd, Better Austin Today Political Action Committee voted unanimously to endorse Ora Houston as their candidate for District #1 in the 2014 City Council election.

“A long time resident of the district, Ora Houston has proven a commitment to protecting our Central and East Austin neighborhoods and has shown time and time again her willingness to fight for those who are usually forgotten in Austin politics. Simply put, she can't be bought and she can't be bossed. Her independent voice will be a welcome addition to the new council,” said BAT PAC board member Scooter Cheatham.

On Monday, August 25th, the members of the Central labor Council agreed that Ms. Houston was the person who could represent their members and issues of the Central Labor Council.

Jason Peavler,  President of the Austin Central Labor Council "Ora Houston is a well qualified candidate with years of civic experience and we are proud to endorse her. District #1 will be well served with a powerful Council member in Ms Houston.”

On the 27th, the Stonewall Democrats of Austin announced their endorsement of Ms. Houston.

“The Stonewall Democrats of Austin are proud to endorse Ora Houston for City Council District 1”, said Rich Bailey, SDA Endorsements Chair. “Our members felt Ms. Houston’s experience in addressing Civil Rights issues gives her a good understanding of the challenges being faced by the LGBTQ community and we look forward to working with her as a member of the Austin City Council."

The National Stonewall Democrats describes itself as "a grassroots force for social change within our movement and within our party." It has more than 90 chapters throughout the United States which focus on a variety of equality issues. Ms. Houston stands for equal rights for the only ‘race’ - the human race.

Houston has been an active participant in many local organizations and commissions. She was a member of the Citizens Advisory Task Force of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan; a member of the staff of Senator Gonzalo Barrientos; and retired from the Texas Department of Mental Health Mental Retardation. She is an active member of St. James’ Episcopal Church—an inclusive, multicultural, multilingual congregation.

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!

 

A Brave and Startling Truth, By: Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet 
Traveling through casual space 
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns 
To a destination where all signs tell us 
It is possible and imperative that we learn 
A brave and startling truth 

And when we come to it 
To the day of peacemaking 
When we release our fingers 
From fists of hostility 
And allow the pure air to cool our palms 

When we come to it 
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate 
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean 
When battlefields and coliseum 
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters 
Up with the bruised and bloody grass 
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil 

When the rapacious storming of the churches 
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased 
When the pennants are waving gaily 
When the banners of the world tremble 
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze 

When we come to it 
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders 
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce 
When land mines of death have been removed 
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace 
When religious ritual is not perfumed 
By the incense of burning flesh 
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake 
By nightmares of abuse 

When we come to it 
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids 
With their stones set in mysterious perfection 
Nor the Gardens of Babylon 
Hanging as eternal beauty 
In our collective memory 
Not the Grand Canyon 
Kindled into delicious color 
By Western sunsets 

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe 
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji 
Stretching to the Rising Sun 
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, 
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores 
These are not the only wonders of the world 

When we come to it 
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe 
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger 
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace 
We, this people on this mote of matter 
In whose mouths abide cankerous words 
Which challenge our very existence 
Yet out of those same mouths 
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness 
That the heart falters in its labor 
And the body is quieted into awe 

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet 
Whose hands can strike with such abandon 
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living 
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness 
That the haughty neck is happy to bow 
And the proud back is glad to bend 
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction 
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines 

When we come to it 
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body 
Created on this earth, of this earth 
Have the power to fashion for this earth 
A climate where every man and every woman 
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety 
Without crippling fear 

When we come to it 
We must confess that we are the possible 
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world 
That is when, and only when 
We come to it. 

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.  

RE: Enthusiastic Endorsement & Support of Ora Elliott Houston

MEMORANDUM:
 
TO:  All concerned citizens of District One in the city of Austin, Texas
FROM:  William M. Collins, Jr.
 
RE:  Enthusiastic Endorsement & Support of Ora Elliott Houston
 
I have known "Ora Ann" for all of my life and it is with extreme pride and conviction that I endorse her to represent the citizens of District One on the Austin City Council. 

In my opinion, she is uniquely prepared to represent all of citizens of District One.  Her integrity is unimpeachable.  She is energetic and compassionate. She values quality education and it's intrinsic connection for positive growth and civic awareness.  Our community needs an individual with these values. 

In short, she is in my opinion, imminently qualified for the responsibilities of representing the interests of the citizens of District One.  

W. M. (Bill) Collins
 

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.

Ora's Speech

Good afternoon, everyone. I am Ora Houston. Thank you for being here today.

Thanks to Joseph Brown, Lisa Byrd and Rev. Lisa Saunders for your kind words of introduction.

Before I share with you the reason we are gathered here today, I would be remiss if I didn't thank two people for laying the foundation for today: My parents – O.H. Elliott and Thelma Elliott. Both were activists in their own way, in a very different era. My father graduated from the University of Kansas in 1933.

-ad lib-

My mother was one of the first women of African descent to graduate from the School of Social Work at the University of Texas. -ad lib- She was the director of Project Enable and she had the opportunity and good fortune to mentor a young man who started his career as a community organizer and ended his career as State Senator – Gonzalo Barrientos. Gonzalo and I both carry the values and a focus on assisting and uplifting people who live in our community in our DNA, because of O.H. and Thelma.

And today, I am asking for your support to become Austin’s very first city council member elected by the people of DISTRICT ONE. I am excited today. Excited to see long-time friends and greet new ones.

For those of you who already know me – who grew up in Austin or have lived in the District for a long while – it’s our time. For those of you who are getting to know me – who have recently come into District 1 to live, work, and play – I say welcome! It’s your time, as well.

Together, we are on the verge of showing up, speaking out and representing this neck of the woods like it has never been represented before. I grew up in District 1 and I live in the house my parents built in District 1 in 1954 I know this community very well.

I attended Blackshear Elementary School and Kealing Jr. High in District 1. I graduated from the old L.C. Anderson High School which was in District 1 – until the name moved to Northwest Austin. I graduated from and continue to support Huston-Tillotson College – the oldest University in District 1. I attend church in District 1. I’ve made amazing, life-long friends here in District 1.

I walk these streets, eat at these restaurants, and enjoy myself at these entertainment venues. District 1 is my home. My community. My life. I am one of you.

Our district changed rapidly over a short period of time. And the community is feeling the impact of that change. At the same time, our beloved district was under-resourced and ignored by the powers that be. Today, however, the city, speculators, developers, absentee landlords – it seems EVERYONE considers our district to be a bright, shining diamond in the rough.

We were always shining. People didn’t know it, because they didn't take the time to look or they looked another way. Now we have been included in the central city and the powers that be are focused on a single attribute – our land. But our greatest attributes are our people, including many city employees, who form the neighborhoods in District 1. The people who should have the most input on how this district will grow are the very ones whose voices have been and continue to be silenced.

District 1 needs a leader at City Hall who will speak out and truly represent the community. Who we are and what we want. The best way to accomplish that is to work together.I can bring us together. Because I am one of you.

I was one of the original supporters of geographic representation. I worked hard for the 10-1 plan. You worked hard, too! And together we voted for change.

I’ve listened to the people who live and work in our community. And I heard you when you said there are major issues you need your city council member to work to change: I hear you talk about high property taxes.

Development, progress and prosperity can be good things. It’s not a good thing when the people who helped build this city with their property taxes are being forced out. It’s not a good thing when people can’t afford to live in the homes they’ve owned all their lives or grew up in. It’s not a good thing when elderly parents can’t leave the family home to their adult children.

I hear you talk about jobs and workforce housing. People who live in District 1 work as hard as people in other areas of the city. Yet there are many people in this district who are seeking meaningful work, close to where they live. People want to pay their rent or own a starter home without breaking the bank or losing their sense of hope. We need companies to bring their jobs to District 1.

I hear you talking about traffic congestion. People have come and will continue to come to District 1. We see and experience the increased traffic. We see the new bike lanes. We welcome our new neighbors. But with all the new traffic comes congested roadways – a serious threat to our families who walk, bike and drive our neighborhood streets every day.

We must have a different conversation about public transportation options – options that will improve connections and infrastructure within District 1 and connections to high opportunity areas throughout Austin. 

As your city council member I will not be afraid to bring these kinds of issues to the table. I have a clear vision of Austin – what it was yesterday, what it is today and all it can be in the future.

District 1 can set the tone regarding the common good of the city – the whole city. We are one community with many voices. And it’s time for our voices to be heard. I will work to make sure the city hears the richness of the diversity in our voices; I will work to help the city see the humanity in our community and in our neighborhoods. I will work to ensure that the wider community respects the people who, for generations, helped build this District and this city. I will invite people who have felt marginalized, disconnected and discounted to get involved: People with differing abilities. People with limited resources. People whose voices may not be heard because their first language isn’t English.

 I will be listening for your voices. I want to hear from you.  I am one of you. If you’re finding it difficult to find common ground in the beautiful diversity of District 1, I ask that you find common ground with me. Allow me to be your advocate.

As a great philosopher was found of saying, “its a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” I am asking for your support as I seek to represent the people of District 1 on the Austin city council. Let's make history together! I am asking for your vote, your time, your funds, your energy and your creative solutions.

I am one of you....I need your support.

Thank you so much.