It's Going Down

Autonomous Mutual Aid Groups Mobilize in Texas as Death Toll Rises

Massive storms and cold fronts have knocked out power for millions of people across the US and led to the deaths of almost 25 individuals. One of the hardest hit regions has been the state of so-called Texas, where failing electrical infrastructure has resulted in many people being stuck without power for over 24 hours. The collapse of the electrical grid has also caused many people’s pipes to freeze and burst and some water treatment plants have also begun to fail; with city governments issuing “boil water notices” in order to “ensure destruction of any harmful bacteria.”

Poor, working-class and houseless people have been hit the hardest by the storms and local leaders have made it clear just how they feel about their constituents caught between sudden death and ice-cold disaster:

[W]hen Colorado City’s [of Texas] mayor chimed in, it was to deliver a less-than-comforting message: The local government had no responsibility to help out its citizens, and only the tough would survive.

“No one owes you or your family anything,” Tim Boyd wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd suggested that residents without electricity should simply “step up and come up with a game plan.” Those without running water could either deal with it, or “think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family.” He did not offer any further guidance, such as where safe drinking water or reliable electricity could be found. “Only the strong will survive and the [weak] will perish,” he wrote.

“Folks, God [h]as given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this,” he wrote, claiming that those who expected the city to come to their aid were “sadly a product of a socialist government.”

Ironically:

The state’s decision to skirt federal oversight by operating its own power grid is the one of the main reasons why close to 3.3 million residents in Texas still lacked electricity by early Wednesday morning, while outages in other hard-hit states had dwindled to less than one-tenth of that size. As of late Tuesday, grid operators still couldn’t predict when the lights might turn on, and advocates were warning that Texas’ poorest and most vulnerable residents were at risk of freezing to death. At least 10 deaths in Texas have been linked to the winter storm since Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

To fix and update not only people’s homes but other buildings and infrastructure would be a massive undertaking and an issue that is sure to continue to worsen, as many scientists have pointed out that the current cold-snap is the result of a polar vortex, brought on by rapidly melting polar ice and heating oceans.

This horrific new normal is only made worse by the burgeoning social catastrophe happening all around us. Already, the working poor have been forced to battle a massive pandemic, which has led to the the deaths of almost 500,000 people, while corporate profits have gone through roof and the wealth gap has only continued to widen on both lines of race and class.

As Stop the Sweeps Austin wrote:

This happened after the pandemic-induced shutdown. The city took weeks to plan a food program for those left behind as the services withdrew. Unable to find enough labor to support its program, much of its food was delivered by autonomous groups who had already organized supply lines starting the day after the shutdown.

Likewise, the city opened shelters too late and too little. Autonomous groups began housing people in hotels before the city plan came through. Now, plans by city officials ask for private groups to step in as the City of Austin, mayor-lawyer Steve Adler, and City Manager Spencer Cronk remained still defiant, unwilling, and unable to mobilize the City of Austin’s massive resources for the good of the people. Official city involvement in this plan is obscured, making accountability difficult and autonomous groups again find ourselves responsible for delivering people to hotels and making sure they are fed after the fact.

The response of city officials, too, reflects a familiar negligence towards the life & death struggles of our unhoused neighbors–those made disposable by the city’s economic structure. Whether it’s Mayor-lawyer Steve Adler giving Zoom updates telling people to hunker down in their houses–completely ignoring the condition of so many of our unhoused neighbors–or cops arresting people they find on the streets suffering, the treatment of those deemed superfluous and expendable is a product of systemic forces, not simply bad actors. This violence intensifies for people of color and people with mental health issues & crises, who are already the most commonly targeted by the police and the forces of dispossession.

As the city finds itself reliant on autonomous groups once again, it is clear that they must take responsibility and turn over their resources and infrastructure to these groups. Now that people are housed the city must dedicate its own capital to keep them housed and fed as long as possible, instead of sending their police to evict people from hotels when the private funding runs out.

Those of us who are helping people into hotels, should begin having conversations about defending this housing when the cold retreats instead of returning to the same brutal normal of houselessness and abuse by the state.

The situation is dire as we speak, and all resources available must be mobilized to save the lives of those the city has abandoned in the cold. There remain thousands of people out in the snow without food, shelter, heat, and other necessities, and with no way to acquire them since stores, restaurants, and even gas stations have closed.

As millions huddle in the dark, autonomous mutual aid groups are mobilizing in cities across Texas and beyond. Check out their initiatives below and see how you can plug-in and help.

Support Autonomous Mutual Aid Initiatives

Dallas, TX:

Denton, TX:

Rio Grande Valley:

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX:

Houston, TX:

Austin, TX:

San Antonio, TX:

Corpus Christi, TX:

Online Hubs:

photo : Zac Durant via Unsplash