Editor's Note: Joah Spearman is the founder and CEO of Localeur, a local travel startup that shares local recommendations in more than 185 cities around the world. He recently published "An Open Letter to a New Austinite," a guide on what a newcomer needs to know about Austin. The following is his personal response to the negative op-ed published by Californian Brett Alder in Business Insider reviewing his stay in Austin. Views are his alone and do not reflect the views of Austonia.
Yes, I've read it. I rolled my eyes repeatedly as person after person brought a certain Business Insider article to my attention last week. Heavy sigh.
For context, I spent much of my day on Jan. 20 feeling myself shed pounds of anxiety, fear and uncertainty from the last four years under Donald Trump. Four years in which access to healthcare, Black lives, the environment, the media, progressive policies, science and truth appeared to be under attack at all times–so forgive me for enjoying the moment. A moment that soon passed as I began seeing a Business Insider article about a California man regretting his move to Austin on my Twitter feed.
I'd never heard of Brett Alder. I looked him up on Medium and LinkedIn to try to see if I'd come across him, but nope. Couldn't tell him from Adam. For all intents and purposes, I realized Business Insider likely re-published this random man's blog from 2016 now, on the same day as inauguration in 2021, because he fit the profile of who most people assume is making or considering the popular move from California to Austin: a white man in the tech industry who wants lower taxes and can afford to buy a house.
Considering Austin seems to be the biggest winner of the pandemic from a tech industry and growth standpoint, I can imagine the editor of Business Insider thinking of all the clicks they'd get by pissing off the residents of the fastest-growing city in America and giving San Franciscans a rare thing to cheer about amid some of the country's most strict COVID-19 restrictions and constant headlines about companies and residents fleeing their city.
So, there it was, an article in a major business outlet, skewering my beloved city. And just a week or so after my own "Open Letter to New Austinites" had run in Inc. Magazine albeit with a much different tone. I took a moment before considering if Alder's piece merited a response.
Alder had lamented the weather, the people, the lack of green spaces, and the public schools among other issues he found after moving from San Diego to Austin, despite doubling his house size for the same price and forgoing California's notorious income taxes. For the day or two after inauguration, it felt like every other message I received—a DM on Instagram or Twitter, a text or an email—was someone sending the article. A response was inevitable.
But, after this past weekend, I've realized I really don't need to offer up a rebuttal to the points Alder made about his experience in Austin. It may pain you to hear this, but you shouldn't either. What one random man from California who works in tech thinks about Austin should not get this much attention, and the fact that it did speaks more to our unfortunate assumptions about whose voices are worth listening to and worthy of elevation via a national media outlet (an entire presidential cycle later) than how we should feel about our chosen city.
We should be far more interested in the viewpoints of a longtime Austinite priced out of the East Side and now living in Pflugerville, the result of gentrification and neglectful zoning. We should consider the opinions of Austinites whom moved to San Antonio or Houston to experience a city with more Black or Hispanic inclusion; something Austin must improve. We should wholeheartedly learn from women in Austin's tech scene who've felt excluded, people of color who've launched startups only to be underfunded, young people at A.I.S.D. public schools who lack the resources of their peers at Eanes I.S.D. We should listen to working musicians and service industry professionals trying to make a living and stay close to Downtown in a city where rent prices continue to rise, housing supply remains low, and the income divide in our city grows by the day.
Simply put, Austin has real issues, and these issues require we listen to the right voices. Simultaneously, Austin has real benefits for a newcomer, especially one from California where more space, lower income taxes, a "buy local" mentality and relative affordability are just a few of the pros. I can imagine the editor of Business Insider spent little time speaking to many former Californians still living in Austin because that would have hurt the effectiveness of their (successful) clickbait initiative.
But listening (and, worse, responding point-by-point) to a random guy in tech from California who bought a 4,000-square foot home, got lost at Enchanted Rock, didn't seem to appreciate great food and live music, struggled to make friends, and generally failed to make the most of a city that has so much to offer? Miss me with that.
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As Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Christa McWhirter<p>Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.</p>
The world has changed drastically over the past year, and South by Southwest, one of Austin's most beloved institutions, has, too.
After being abruptly canceled by the city last year, one week before it was set to kick-off due to the increasing understanding of the potential impact of COVID-19, it returns this year in a virtual format March 16-20.
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Austin Public Health will release first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a weekly basis starting Monday evening. The specific days and number of appointments made available will depend on the weekly allocation from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Previously, APH released first dose appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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