Like most of the residents in her East Austin neighborhood, Charlotte Colis lost power and cell service last week as a result of a historic winter storm. When she arrived at her dad's place on Tuesday evening, she had access to both for the first time in two days and used it to check Facebook, where she found a flood of activity.
Colis is a co-administrator of the private Buy Nothing East Riverside-Oltorf/Montopolis group, one of 60 hyperlocal groups active in the Austin area. She quickly began responding to dozens of requests from Facebook users who wanted to join and reading posts from existing members, who had offered hot showers, phone charging, rides and food to people in need. "It was absolutely one of the best, most heartwarming things I've ever seen," she told Austonia.
The Buy Nothing Project began as a social experiment on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, in 2013. Friends Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark wanted to create a hyper-local gift economy, where neighbors could post about items or services they had to offer or needed themselves. Market economy activities—buying and selling, trading and bartering—were off limits. Since then, the project has spread to at least 25 countries and includes more than a million members.
Linzy Foster, who lives in the Dawson neighborhood in South Austin, joined her local Buy Nothing group three years ago. Her first interaction was to request help with a clogged drain. Another member offered to lend her an unclogging tool. "I went and got it off her front porch," she said, and watched a short YouTube video about how to use it. "I think that was when I was hooked."
Now Foster is an admin and has witnessed firsthand how the group has helped others feel a similar sense of self-sufficiency and community connection. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed a shift as members grew more intentional about helping others who were struggling due to job loss or other pressures, whether by setting up a weekly food drive or offering to pick up items and deliver them. "Honestly there are a lot of days where I want to get off of Facebook," she said. "But Buy Nothing has honestly been the bright light for me."
The Buy Nothing light has perhaps never shined brighter than during the statewide super crisis last week. Lisa Buenaventura Rice, a member of the Buy Nothing Bouldin/Travis Heights/St. Edward's/Dawson Facebook group, set up a charging station outside her home, which mostly had power last week, and offered it up to fellow members. She also made a fire, put out chairs and blankets and set up hot drinks and ginger snaps.
Another member, Becky Bullard, facilitated the distribution of over 300 donated diapers to six families in need. Chris Chiarchiaro shared a photo of a drawing she had made with an ink pen she was gifted through the group. "Keeping sane in these times with arts and crafts," she wrote last Tuesday.
In Foster's eyes, this is the fundamental purpose of Buy Nothing groups. "We should be able to fulfill all needs within our community from our little community," she said.
It is also core to the Buy Nothing mission. Project co-founder Clark was first exposed to the workings of a gift economy while working on archeological projects in the Himalayas, where residents were far from market economies and instead relied on each other for their basic needs. "That really was a life lesson for me in seeing how you're really only as good as your weakest member, in a sense, in village life," she said.
Seeing the Buy Nothing philosophy take off has been exciting, she said. But ultimately, the goal is that such groups will become obsolete because their members will communicate directly—rather than over social media.
During last week's crisis, Clark heard from admins of Austin Buy Nothing groups, who were able to lean on relationships forged online despite not having access to the internet because of power outages or internet service interruptions. "That just makes me so happy and feels like, 'Okay, mission accomplished,'" she said.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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