Black Voters Matter Tour Visits ACC

On February 16, 2022, organizers from Black Voters Matter visited Austin Community College’s Highland campus as part of their Campus Blackout Tour. The outreach tour across Texas aimed to educate and register young voters ahead of the recent March 2 primary election. The weeklong bus tour began in Houston, Texas on February 14 and ended in Tyler, Texas on February 18.

Story by Ky Duffey

Edited by Pete Ramirez

“Are y’all registered to vote yet?” Black Voters Matter senior organizing manager, Dionna La’Fay said to two ACC students as they walked by.

La’Fay and her colleagues stood in the breezeway outside ACC’s Highland campus engaging with students and handing out flyers with instructions on how to register to vote.

Organizers from Black Voters Matter set up a table at ACC's Highland campus.
Black Voters Matter organizers set up in the breezeway at Austin Community College’s Highland campus. Photo by Ky Duffey

A non-profit organization that focuses on voting rights and community empowerment, Black Voters Matter stopped in Austin on the third day of their bus tour. While in town, the tour made stops at ACC’s Riverside campus and Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black college.

Traveling around the state in a bus wrapped in the photos of members of the Freedom Riders movement of 1961, which includes the late congressman John Lewis, the organization also held voter registration events in San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

“While these conversations are necessary for traditional 4-year university students, the 2-year college students are the folks that will be engaging the workforce sooner,” La’Fay said. “So it’s better for us to educate them and teach them how to advocate for themselves now while we still have their attention.”

A table with Black Voters Matter swag like fans, face masks and buttons that the organization was passing out to students.
While the non-profit organization was on campus, they engaged with students using Black Voters Matter branded gear to start conversations and ask them if they were registered to vote. Photo by Pete Ramirez

Black Voters Matter was founded in 2016 by LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright with the goal of increasing power in communities by focusing on voter registration, getting out the vote, independent election-related expenditures, and organizational development and training for other grassroots groups. The organization bases itself in Atlanta, Georgia, yet as of 2020 has expanded to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi. 

The bus tours were created to allow the organization to travel across the Southern United States in order to galvanize voters and stop voter suppression, especially in swing states.

During the 2018 elections, Senator Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Democratic favorite, Beto O’Rourke, by less than 3%. Last year during the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump won Texas by a 5.58 point margin, the narrowest for a Republican presidential candidate in the state since 1996. 

Political experts see this as an indicator of Texas edging closer to becoming a swing state. Black Voters Matter view it as an opportunity to challenge more Texans to become engaged in the political process and vote.

The Black Voters Matter tour bus parked at Huston-Tillotson University. There a handful of people standing outside the bus and taking photos of and with the bus in the background.
The Black Voters Matter tour bus during their visit to Huston-Tillotson University. Photo by Ky Duffey

“Our goal with the bus tours is to remind students how important and easy it is to vote and engage before the primaries,” La’Fay said. “Voting is one aspect to building power.”

With the recent implementation of the controversial new Texas voting law, SB 1, voting rights organizations like Black Voters Matter are galvanized in their efforts to expand the electorate in the state.

“Organizations like the Texas Civil Rights Project have been amazing with making sure that we’re educated on the changes,” says La’Fay. “It’s not stopping anything we had already planned.”

For ACC students who want to get more involved with the electoral process, La’Fay recommends a few things:

  • Look into state boards, commissions and precinct chairs because some of them help to create local policy
  • Become a poll worker. According to La’Fay, several polling locations were closed in 2020 because they had staffing shortages.
  • Join organizations like Black Voters Matter that work on voter registration and civic education in your community.

“As you learn, share what you’re doing with the folks around you so we can build power together,” La’Fay said.

You can find more information about Black Voters Matter at blackvotersmatterfund.org or by visiting their Instagram page @blackvotersmtr.



Your Preparation Guide for Winter Storm Landon

Austinites carry groceries from a local store on February 15, 2021. Winter storm Uri brought historic cold weather to Texas, causing traffic delays and power outages. (Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Forecasters across the nation agree that winter storm Landon will blanket much of the state of Texas in freezing temperatures, sleet and possibly snow beginning Wednesday night. Here is your prep guide to keep you and your family safe.

Story by Pete Ramirez

Due to the incoming freezing conditions, Austin Community College has announced that all campuses will be closed Thursday and Friday and has canceled all in-person and online classes for those days as well.

Nearly a year ago Texas struggled to endure winter storm Uri, which caused the state’s electric grid to fail, left millions without power and led to the death of hundreds of Texans. 

Although the Texas legislature passed a law requiring power companies to weatherize their plants, Governor Abbott admitted that the possibility of blackouts still exist.

Forecasts for the next five days predict life-threatening, below-freezing temperatures across most of the state. 

Now is the time to prepare.

We’ve compiled a guide to get you and your loved ones ready to deal with potentially dangerous, cold weather without the aid of electricity.

Stay Connected to Reliable Information

If your electronics still have power, use social media to receive the latest updates on the weather, warming center locations and free food opportunities in your area. 

Use social media to search for mutual aids in your area who can provide additional support and resources.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management’s website will also have a list of warming centers.

Conserve Your Power

If your power remains on, reduce your home’s strain on the electric grid by keeping your thermostat below 68 degrees, unplugging devices that are not in use and avoiding the use of large appliances such as washing machines.

Try to Keep the Cold Air Out

If you have a garage, avoid opening it.

Find drafty edges of windows and doors and plug them with towels. Close all blinds and curtains. If possible, designate a “warm room” to reside in to concentrate body heat.

Protect Your Pipes from Freezing

Open cabinets beneath sinks to allow warmer air to circulate through.

Allow faucets to drip.

Disconnect and store garden hoses.

Locate your water shutoff valve and keep it accessible. If pipes burst, immediately use this valve to shut off the water to your home.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning/Death

During the week of winter storm Uri, eleven Texans died due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Do not “warm up the car” with the garage door closed.

Do not use a generator indoors.

Do not burn charcoal or wood indoors.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Snow Can be Used as Drinking Water

Forecasts don’t indicate much snow for Central Texas but if you’re in a northern part of the state, this could be useful.

Find the cleanest appearing snow and gather what is needed.

Place a small amount of snow in a pot over a safe heat source.

Do not place a large amount of snow in the pot to begin. Snow is a good insulator and you will burn out the bottom of your pot.

Once the small amount of snow is melted into water, slowly place more snow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends bringing the water to a rolling boil for at least a minute to “kill most germs.”

Items to Consider Purchasing/Locating, If Possible

  • A three-day supply of water, non-perishable food, fomula and baby purees.
  • A cooler full of ice to keep refrigerated items cold.
  • Pet food.
  • A generator and extension cords.
  • Flashlights and batteries.
  • A first-aid kit and necessary medications.
  • Blankets.
  • Matches.
  • Gas for your vehicle.

If you feel like this guide is helpful, please share it with your family and friends.

Stay safe!

Understanding Diversity

Settling into a mix of people.

Written, photos & video by Martay Whitfield

Diversity refers to the difference among individuals, although many assume it focuses on only race and ethnicity. Those differences also include economic status, sexual orientation and age. College is one place that you can find diversity through a mix of people working together to improve their community by receiving a higher education. Many come from all over to live in the Austin area and attend ACC with aspirations to transfer into The University of Texas at Austin.

Adrian Fierro, general studies student, moved to Austin from West Texas. “[At ACC] I’m meeting people, I wouldn’t have normally met. Coming to a big city like this and having an open mindset, floating around is interesting.”

At ACC Fierro experiences a safe and cultured environment. “I have never had a problem at ACC, I think that it has a very [open-minded] faculty as well as the student body.” Fierro feels that ACC does everything in their power to make everyone feel accepted and at home.

One thing about college is it can help you to discover yourself.  Through the growth of diversity at ACC, there is sensitivity to certain subjects. “ACC is culturally sensitive,” says philosophy and psychology student, Grant Loveless. “ACC is all about making it comfortable to succeed and develop success.”

Education at ACC is about challenging and finding your beliefs. The school has programs and organizations for almost anyone. And if a student can’t find a suitable place at ACC, Student Life offers the opportunity to create an organization for those enrolled in classes. Student organizations like Onward to Interpreting, First Generation Students of ACC and Gender & Sexuality Alliance are offered to students for an inclusive community.

The Male Leadership Program (MLP), began in the Office of Student Life. The program is known for providing institutional support to encourage success for first-year male students, by providing a network of resources. This program is inclusive of men, women and non-binary students.

There is one student organization currently in the works by a few students. Similar to the Black Student Association, this organization will be Black Minds Empowered. Their mission will be focused on providing resources and a safe space to minority students.

Alexis Carr, psychology student, is one of the creators of Black Minds Empowered. “We see the lack of community in the African American culture as black students. We don’t really speak to each other, like when we walk by each other – there’s lack of communication. So we just want to have a space for students to come and express how they feel as a minority student, as a black student.”

Carr believes that the ethnic diversity at ACC can improve, so she is working to help this community. Austin, known for being “weird” or “the blue dot in the red state,” portrays a sense of liberalism.

“In Texas, specifically, we do see a lot of cultural insensitivities going on in different cities where we have injustice and inequality around minorities,” Loveless says. “[At ACC,] we have a large array of students with various cultures, students, backgrounds and nationalities. So the diversity at ACC, here, is number one.”

Fierro oversees diversity and inclusion for the Student Government Association. My experience here at ACC has been life-changing. Where I’m from you don’t really get to experience half the things you get to, we don’t have the conversations we have here. Especially being in the middle of not only political issues, but scientific advancements. Austin is basically Silicon Valley, so it’s amazing to have it all combined.”

As a community college in an open-minded city, ACC embodies the “weirdness” of Austin. There are 11 campuses in the Austin area, making ACC the sixth largest community college in the United States, and the fourth largest college in Texas. ACC works to represent diversity while making every campus feel safe and welcoming. These values embody ACC’s slogan, “Start Here. Get There.”

 

Midterm Votes 2018

Eyes watching, heart racing and nail-biting occurred during the panic-inflicted midterm elections. The thought of Texas classified as a “toss-up state,” according to the New York Times, only amplified the tension. Now that the dust has settled, here is a summary of the 2018 elections.

Written & Video by Nalani Nuylan

Beto v. Cruz

Beto caught Texas by storm. Nobody knew that the El Paso Democrat, Beto O’Rourke, could give the Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, a run for his money.

Originally a businessman, O’Rourke began his career as a politician in the El Paso City Council in 2005. After gaining popularity in El Paso, O’Rourke was elected to join the House of Representatives in 2011.

During the 2018 elections, O’Rourke used social media to gain traction for his campaigns, gaining popularity among youth voters. Also, for the first time in Texas history, O’Rourke visited every county in the state. O’Rourke was advertising a progressive agenda with universal health care, education reform, dream citizen statuses, criminal justice reform and legalizing marijuana.    

On the other side of the ballot, Cruz was originally was elected into the United States Senate in 2012. As a former professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Cruz ran for the Senate to replace Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

For this past season, Cruz campaigned to Republican voters of older generations, promoting conservative ideologies as well as President Trump, a strong economy, and increased border security.

During the first debate in Dallas on Sept. 22, the two candidates disagreed on every topic asked by the monitor. Cruz dominated most of the debate, providing lengthy opinions on controversial topics while O’Rourke, mostly, remained within the allotted timeframe.

At the end of the debate, the monitor asked the candidates to vocalize what they admired about each other. Both candidates expressed the amount of commitment they had towards their families and for the greater good of the State of Texas.    

The Election

As Nov. 6 drew near, early voting opened on Oct. 22 in Texas. More Americans took the early voting advantage this election season. Out of all 28 states that permitted early voting, nearly 36 million people cast their vote. According to the Elections Project, there was an estimate of 116 million voters in the 2018 midterm elections – making it the highest turnout since 1914.

This year’s voter turnout set new records, especially in Texas. Over four million ballots were cast in early voting in the Lone Star State, surpassing the 2014 turnout by three percent, according to The New York Times.

On Election Day, Cruz won against Beto by 2.6 percent for the Senate. Out of the nine elected Representatives for the House, five were Republican. Greg Abbott was elected governor. The majority of the state results came out Republican.

On the national level, Republicans fill the Senate 52 to 47. The House of Representatives is now controlled by Democrats 232 to 201. The Supreme Court leans Republican while the Court of Appeals leans Democrat. In theory, the current political status is purple.

Young Voters

Record numbers of young adults showed up to vote in this year’s midterm elections. “Young People,” by definition, refers to voters from the age 18 to 29: college students, recent college graduates, people trying to establish the career that fits their major. Why the high correlation?

First of all, there’s a reason that voting organizations advertise to young voters burning this past election season. On Sept. 24, a video titled Dear Young People, Don’t Vote was published on YouTube. The video criticized young people not voting by having older generations question and mock a young voters’ reasons for not voting. Currently, the video has over 650,000 views.

Likewise, famous Youtube star Lizza Koshy posted a video encouraging her viewers to vote, regardless of their political views. The video gained over two million views on her channel. Google also encouraged voter registration via a Google Doodle published on google.com.

Why is it that young people don’t vote? According to ACC’s Student Government Association President, Emmanuel Cuevas, the voting system is rigged against university students.

“For one thing, students weren’t taught how to vote,” Cuevas said. “Whenever you are asked ‘What do you think about the Republican or Democratic parties?’ at the age of 18, you think, ‘I don’t really know because I was never taught to think about those kinds of things.’”

Another obstacle is residency. Many young people move from their registered home county to attend a four-year university. This can be difficult, being that some students may not want to travel back to their registered county. However, the government provides free online guidance to registering, checking or changing your voter registration, state by state at usa.gov/register-to-vote.

It’s important to note that young people are the future. This past election, young people in Williamson and Hays counties, which were red, became blue mostly due to the university students living those counties.

“To the students who don’t vote because they don’t want to, or it’s an inconvenience, or because they feel like their votes won’t count, I will have to tell you that you’re wrong,” Cuevas said. “Students have a big voice. If they expressed their opinion, they will see a lot of things change.”

Vote. Make a difference. You have the power to shape the government to better the future.     

 

Prop G Break Down

Austin leaders have plans for various projects, and upgrades among the propositions that were passed during the midterm elections. The city will put $160 million towards improving transportation and infrastructure since Proposition G is one that received a green light. Many residents hope their money is going towards safer roads, as others wonder how the budget is being spent.

Written & video by Melina Madrigal

$50 Million

It is very clear that Austin, like all major cities, could always use renovation and this proposition is dealing with some improvements that have been long put off, especially Emmett Shelton Bridge. This is the bridge built over Lady Bird Lake near Red Bud Trail, known for being the site of a copious amount of motor vehicle accidents. It’s expected that $50 million will go towards the reconstruction of this and other bridges and structures that experience heavy, daily traffic.

$66.5 Million

Construction to improve streets near local schools and businesses, as well as curb ramps and drainage areas, will receive $66.5 million.

Previous ACC student and Austinite, Kristen Gallegos says her walk to UT in the mornings can be dangerous. “There are some areas where there are no sidewalks, so I have to cross really busy roads.”

$20 Million

Sidewalk construction and improvements have been allotted $20 million. The city has emphasized that the first to be renovated are those marked as a top priority of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Transition Plan.

Remaining Funds

The city also has plans to enhance the lives of residents who use means of transportation other than motor vehicles. There will be $15 million going to pedestrian safety improvements at certain city intersections; $4.5 million spent on signals, technology and communication systems; and $3 million towards urban trails.

$1 Million

Allowing the city to have a say, $1 million will be used for the Neighborhood Partnering Program. This program gives local residents the opportunity to propose projects on property owned by the city.

Gallegos says she understands the need of her money going to this proposition. “There is a lot of wear and tear on [the roads] and with more people moving to Austin I think that construction is the best thing to do.”

It is apparent that while voters are being asked for a somewhat large amount of money, most understand the increasing need for renovation.