In the lead up to the week of February 15, there was buzz around people, excited for the rare bit of snow that touches down on Texas. What was broadcasted as an inconvenience to our schedule Monday escalated to a not-so-natural disaster that killed over 50 people across the state. Lights cut out across East Austin and Riverside around 2 am Monday as heavy snowfall was beginning to hit the ground. What was initially announced as “rolling blackouts” became 72+ hours without power for nearly half of Austin – and to add insult to injury water was being cut off across the city as our cheap infrastructure cracked under pressure. Thousands of Austin residents, primarily poor and working class, where left without food or water in some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in the state. In addition to all of this, phone connection was sparse and slow so residents for the most part didn’t even know what was going on. As thousands struggled to stay warm in their own home, Mayor of Austin Steve Alder announced from his warm downtown condo that this was a crisis we were facing “together.”
Despite these tough conditions and the indignance of posh city leaders, the people of Riverside did not let this discourage them. People were in the streets talking, checking in, building fire pits, and working together to get stuck cars out of snow. As the ERCOT executive millionaires sat comfortably in their own homes, the working people were out on the streets finding solutions to the problems we did not create. After coming together in a makeshift warming center, members of the United Neighborhood Defense Movement sought out their neighbors, other tenants who lost power and water, and compiled food that was waiting to go bad in our powerless fridges and grilled whatever they could on a small grill feeding about 20 people a night, keeping company and playing games. UNDM staged a small agitation at the Riverside HEB which was closed for the second day in the row and people were lined up at the door, waiting hours, desperate to get supplies and food for their families. We called out the city and state for its failure to build adequate infrastructure for the people. When the Texas power grid failed, a few ERCOT executives lost their jobs, but over 50 Texans lost their lives, and we are still left with the bill.
As the days continued, the people of Riverside became resourceful, making freezers out of snow filled trash cans and taking old wooden palettes from the back of HEB to burn in a bonfire. Without power and water, we were creative and resourceful, yet we lost wages as we were stuck in our homes trying to survive. Now that the roads are clear, the power is back on, and water is slowly trailing behind. We now have the bills that the ruling class have left in the wake of their failure. Now with a week lost from being able to work when most people survive paycheck to paycheck. Now we have the mounting bills of damages from broken pipes and flooded apartments, replacing the food that went rotten in our dead fridges, and utilities THAT WE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE! The City of Austin had two chances to winterize our infrastructure, once in the 80s and again in 2011, yet here we are in 2021 as news outlets are reporting our power grid was mere moments away from catastrophic failure. Who bares the brunt of this failure? The working class tenants!
Every tenant who struggled to keep warm as these rich executives, governors, and council members slept in their warm, dry homes, must take a stand and refuse to foot the bill for the crisis of the state!
Refuse to give a dime to rich landlords that let their pipes rot to the point of busting!
Refuse to give a dime to the utility companies who expect us to pay for the power and water we didn’t even have!
The most important thing to take from this capitalist crisis is that the ruling class will do anything to make as much profit as possible no matter how many lives are lost, and that despite this attack on the working class, community organization can not only organize defense against these attacks but can also fight back and win victories for all working people!