Austin police and city leaders say they are preparing for November protests as the city steels itself for an election that has wrought tension at the highest levels of national government.
The election, which President Donald Trump has warned will be "rigged" and said the outcome may not be clear for "months," comes after a summer marked by near-daily demonstrations, both in downtown Austin and across the nation, over civil rights and police brutality.
Nearly two dozen people were hospitalized in late May after clashes with Austin police, whose use of bean bag rounds during protests resulted in sweeping changes ordered by the Austin City Council and a ban on the use of less-lethal weapons against demonstrators.
In July, demonstrator Garrett Foster was shot by a man who said he was unconnected to protests but driving for Uber in the area when his car was attacked by protesters. Daniel Perry, an active duty sergeant with the U.S. Army in Killeen, said he shot Foster in self defense. Charges have not been filed.
A tense memorial for him brought clashes between those who thought Perry was there to cause trouble, and those who believed Foster threatened him—with both sides heavily armed, including armed members of the Proud Boys militia, an extremist right-wing group that has made national headlines recently.
Police said this week that they are getting ready for the protests but declined to specify what their plans will include. An emailed statement suggested that officials are planning for potential unrest beyond the peaceful atmosphere seen in the majority of protests through the last several months.
"The Austin Police Department will plan and prepare for any large protest or civil unrest events related to the upcoming elections," said police spokesperson Tara Long, in a statement emailed to Austonia. "The goal of such preparations is to ensure the safety of the community, while protecting the rights of people to peacefully exercise their First Amendment Rights."
Demonstrations a way of life in Austin
In 2016, on the day after the November election between Trump and Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, demonstrators marched in Austin to protest the fact that Trump had won the election in spite of the fact that Clinton had won the popular vote.
On the day after Trump's January 2017 inauguration, tens of thousands descended on downtown Austin to show solidarity during the Women's March on Washington.
"Austin has a storied history of large-scale peaceful protests when election results have offended our community's sensibilities," said City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, chairman of the Council's Committee on Public Safety.
Home to the state Capitol, Austin has played host to countless demonstrations throughout the years.
Local and statewide groups have demonstrated on myriad issues including immigration laws, gun control, or demanded higher pay for teachers or the legalization of marijuana or the protection of a woman's right to choose abortion.
"As a state capital city, we are always prepared and continuously improving our process for peaceful protest," Flannigan said.
Flannigan said he doesn't anticipate any voting issues on Election Day that might cause clashes at the polls, saying that elections in Williamson and Travis counties, parts of both of which fall within his district, have worked hard to accommodate voters with little incident.
Even with the recent national tensions over masks and potentially thousands of partisan poll watchers at voting sites, he and others said they don't anticipate clashes on a local level over those issues.
"Austin has a long history of safe and fair elections, and I have no doubt that Austinites of all political perspectives are eager to vote and will do so responsibly and safely, wearing their masks and taking the necessary precautions," Flannigan said.
He and others noted, however, that the potential for unrest after the election is fairly high—given the likelihood that the presidential election may not be over on Election Night.
The appetite for protest in Austin certainly hasn't abated in recent weeks, with groups from all parts of the political spectrum planning protests over voting sites, masks and other issues.
PROTESTS MUST HAPPEN NOW. Gov Abbott reduces drop boxes to one per county. Harris County has 4.2 million people. VO… https://t.co/LKm3iOgYjc— Helen Armstrong (@Helen Armstrong)1602040887.0
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, one of the council's loudest voices for police reform in the wake of the protests, called on Austinites to "continue to raise our voices, exercise our rights, and keep holding officials accountable" after votes are cast.
"APD, by their own admission, needlessly harmed peaceful protesters this summer, including hurting medics and nearly killing two teenagers, and the entire City Council has made it clear that this is not acceptable," Casar said in a statement to Austonia. "We remain committed to protecting all people's First Amendment rights, and we remain committed to safety for our city employees as well as everyday residents. I will continue to fight for policies that protect Austinites' health, safety, and right to protest, no matter the election results."
Asked whether downtown businesses were taking any actions in anticipation of rowdy protests, the Downtown Austin Alliance released a statement that did not detail any plans but supported the notion of civic engagement—noting that demonstrations on the Capitol steps and along Congress Avenue are a way of life in Austin and "a foundation of our democracy."
"For the past several months, there have been peaceful protests and demonstrations almost every day downtown," the statement said. "As stewards of downtown, we remain focused on ensuring that downtown is a vibrant and welcoming place for all who want to engage civically."
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The Food and Drug Administration will consider Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine application for emergency use authorization in 5-to-11-year-olds on Tuesday. The vaccine will likely be available to kids starting next week.
With 2.9 million Texas children in this age group, state health officials say this is a "big factor" in reducing the virality of COVID. At a Monday press conference, the Texas Department of State Health Services released info on the rollout efforts of the vaccine for children.
Here are some of the answers to your questions.
When and where will it be available?St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
Assuming the FDA approves this version of the Pfizer vaccine this week, vaccines will start shipping out almost immediately with the first vaccines for children likely available next week.
DSHS has already put in an order of vaccines under the federal government's "pre-order prior to launch" program.
COVID vaccine providers will begin receiving those first shipments 1-5 days after the approval. After Monday night, DSHS will have put in three different orders for vaccines. The second shipment will arrive 3-7 days after approval and the third shipment will take place 5-9 days after the approval.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 to discuss best practices for administration, allowing for the first shots to be administered after.
The state will be allocated 1.3 million doses across 814 providers in 120 counties. Individual county allocations have not been released but each county got to send a request for how many doses they may need. Federal retail pharmacies, such as H-E-B and Walgreens, are getting their own shipments.
The health department advises using its vaccine finder tool to find the nearest vaccine provider near you.
How is this version of the vaccine different than the first one?Abbott says COVID vaccine to be available to other groups by end of March
The COVID vaccine for 5-11-year-olds is one-third of the dosage of the current vaccine available to those 12 years of age and older.
It is being identified as the orange cap vaccine, unlike the current purple cap. The purple cap vaccine cannot be administered to younger kids, according to the state health department.
And like the current vaccine, it is 95% effective. The first and second doses are the same and will be advised to be taken 21 days apart.
What are the side effects for children?
During clinical trials, it was reported that some kids in this age group felt pain at the injection site, fatigue and headaches.
The data submitted to the FDA shows no serious complications, such as cases of myocarditis inflammation of the heart muscle, or pericarditis, inflammation of the outer lining of the heart—rare complications that have been reported among young boys and men receiving the vaccine in other trials.
How will this affect herd immunity?
With so many children across the state, DSHS said "we need to have as many people vaccinated as possible."
State health officials said the herd immunity threshold is still being looked into, but with 3 million children soon to be able to get the vaccine, it will be a big factor in reducing the viral load in the state.
"Until we're able to add all the children, we'll see a bigger wave in stamping down the pandemic," DSHS' Imelda Garcia said during the conference.
Of those 12 and older, 72% are fully vaccinated in Travis County as of Monday.
I'm not sure if my child needs this vaccine. Why should I have them get it?
DSHS says this vaccine is important for young kids because it will protect the older population and others around them as well as themselves. The department says to ask experts and doctors questions if you are hesitant so you can be confident with your decision.
Tesla is officially in with the big guns.
After Hertz Global Holdings Inc. placed an order of 100,000 Teslas—the biggest single electric car purchase ever—Tesla officially hit the $1 trillion market cap for the first time.
The trillion-dollar club has some big names, including Apple, Facebook and Amazon. With the purchase, Tesla's stock shot up to more than $1,045 a share by midday Monday, a new record after topping $900 a share just a day earlier.
The $4.2 billion deal is the biggest purchase of electric vehicles to date. Hertz said it will use the Teslas to round out their fleet of electric rental cars by 2022 just months after filing for bankruptcy protection.
The news came just days after Tesla followed its leader, CEO Elon Musk, and relocated its headquarters to Austin. Austin's Giga Texas plant, which is currently finishing construction, is set to begin producing Cybertruck models at the end of 2022 and will begin "volume production" by 2023, Musk said in the meeting.
Musk celebrated the stock market victory on Twitter.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 25, 2021
Shortly after moving to Austin, Tesla saw its best quarter yet with Q3 revenue coming in at $13.76 billion—up from $8.77 billion this time last year. It was the electric car companies' ninth straight profitable quarter.
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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
While Northwest Arkansas isn't exactly looking to be a breakfast taco-loving, live music-having tech hub, it is branding itself as the Austin of yesteryear. And who better to come to the quickly-growing paradise than Austinites themselves?
OZ Brands is the latest NW Arkansas organization to entice Austin residents to pack up and make the move. The company, which is named after the area's Ozark Mountains, promotes travel, trails and art within the region and is owned by Runway, a NW Arkansas business investment group. Runway is headed by Walmart founder Sam Walton's grandsons, Steuart and Tom Walton.
Oz is targeting Austinites with the "One Way Out" giveaway, a program that will give at least 10 Austinites a one-way Allegiant ticket from Austin to the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
"Fall is the perfect time to visit and explore the natural beauty of the Ozarks," the program's website reads. "Why just one way, because once you're here, you won't want to leave!"
Why swap cosmopolitan Austin for NW Arkansas' forest-filled hideaway? Just like other local programs including the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and the NW Arkansas Council, OZ Brands is looking to capitalize on priced-out Austinites who may not be pleased with the region's unprecedented growth.
"It's okay, Austin, we get it. You're tired of the tourists, the traffic, the hassle," the website says, escalating to an all-caps message reading, "YOU NEED A BREAK, AND WE ARE HERE TO GIVE IT TO YOU."
OZ is far from the first program to offer financial incentives to move to the area. Ads for Greater Bentonville began cropping up on the feeds of Austinites weeks ago as they promoted their annual tech summit, while the NW Arkansas Council rolled out similar ads. Instead of "Austin City Limits," the organizations promised "Bentonville City Limitless." If you "wish you'd bought in Austin 10 years ago," the Council promises that the area is perfect for you.
The Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and NW Arkansas Council have both made moves to bring Austinites to the region. (Greater Bentonville)
Like similar programs in the past, One Way Out "is an opportunity for Austinites who no longer feel at home in their own city to see for themselves the value and qualities of Northwest Arkansas ... It's for those living in the Texas city who feel the growing pains of Austin expanding beyond its limits," the company said in a press release.
The region has recently experienced substantial growth, moving to fourth on the U.S. News and World Report's list of 150 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2021-2022 and enjoying an influx of businesses, tech workers and startups tired of the West Coast's crowds and priciness. And with a great arts and culture scene, a lower cost of living and even a financial incentive to move to the area, talents like film producer Kristin Mann decided it was time to swap Austin for sunnier skies in Arkansas.
"I love (Austin) how it is now, don't get me wrong, but I've always fantasized about what it might have been like before it really exploded," Mann said. "And I feel like that's similar here...There's something really unique about this town, and it feels like there's something really exciting happening here."
The contest ends Oct. 29 and is open to anyone 18 and older that lives within 50 miles of Austin. Winners must book their trip within four months of the competition and finish the trip by May 1, 2022.
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