April 30, 2021
A protest outside Austin City Hall, 11:24 am
HOMES NOT HANDCUFFS! HOMES NOT HANDCUFFS! HOMES NOT HANDCUFFS!
So a young man chanted with the crowd. They were protesting a proposition that would reinstate the homeless ‘camping ban’ that had been scrapped in 2019. Since then, several public spaces, sidewalks, trails, areas underneath overpasses and bridges became host to tents. In spite of waste disposal bins placed by the city at encampments, trash and needles became a fixture of Austin. The prop vote was scheduled for the next day.
When the demonstration petered out, Tyler left city hall and headed to a favorite food truck of his. He joined the line and scrolled through Twitter.
He had been working social media for days. He regularly posted slogans to Twitter and Reddit. With a little luck, they could maybe defeat the proposition. A true progressive victory.
About a minute later, a woman behind him said hello, and inquired about his shoes.
“Where did you get them? They’re cool,” she said.
“From a thrift store on South Congress. They’re very comfortable too, I love them.”
His voice was muffled by a covid mask, and he had to repeat himself. He was thinking about the breakfast tacos he would soon have.
“Oh I see,” she said. She read his tshirt. “Homes not handcuffs. What does that mean?”
He relished at the opportunity to campaign.
“It’s an organization that advocates for the unhoused in Austin. We’re fighting Prop B, which criminalizes houselessness.”
“Have you voted yet?” Tyler asked the woman.
“No,” she said. “I’ve been conflicted on how to vote.”
A few other people in line were listening.
“Don’t be. Prop B is right-wing and cruel, and it doesn’t solve the problem.”
“Yes, it seems harsh, but on the other hand there’s an encampment outside my apartment. They have lots of trash, and they yell at night when I’m trying to sleep. I’ve also been catcalled and harassed by them.”
“Well, I’ve never had any problems with the houseless.” He shrugged. This girl is cute, he thought. But she’s probably just another heartless NIMBY.
A man in line spoke up: “Prop B is not intended to solve homelessness.”
Tyler’s fist tightened.
“The city has turned into an unsanitary dump,” the man continued. “The prop is to return us to the 2019 baseline and force the city to do more to fight homelessness.”
“Prop B doesn’t fight homelessness!” Tyler said angrily.
“Well, yeah. I said that.”
“So how can you support it?” he demanded.
“Because tents are overwhelming the city, and they start fires that get out of control, damaging infrastructure.”
“So what you’re saying is, you just don’t want to see houseless people.”
“That is not what I’m saying. They also have taken over the trails by the lake. People don’t bring their kids there anymore because of the needles and drugs.”
“You just hate poor people. That’s what this is really about.”
“Well, no. I’m not exactly rich myself. I work paycheck to paycheck. I just don’t think letting people camp wherever they please serves the city.”
“Where are they gonna sleep then?!”
“The city can designate a site.”
“So what you’re saying is, the houseless should be swept under the rug.”
“No. You’re not understanding me.”
“No I understand. You are a heartless evil right-winger, and you clearly aren’t interested in a good faith conversation,” he said. “Fuck yourself. Get out of my city.”
Tyler turned back around. Evil conservatives, all of them.
He took a deep breath.
When he reached the front of the line, he asked for three migas tacos. Scrambled eggs with onion, jalapeños, garlic, corn chips and cheese. They’re delicious.
“Sorry, we stop serving breakfast items at 10:30.”
Tyler smiled and shook his head. “So what you’re saying is, you just don’t serve breakfast anymore, huh. Real nice.”
“Sir, we do serve breakfast, but it’s lunch time now.”
“You just want to get rid of all the breakfast tacos in Austin. Don’t you.”
“Sir, I make ten dollars an hour. Would you like the Dirty Dog Fajita?”
“Real fucking good. Sure, I’ll have the Dirty Dog. I’m surprised you would sell that, given how dirty and poor it looks.”
Having paid for his classist tacos, he headed to his apartment. It really is me against the world. That cashier is probably voting for the prop. The cute girl too. All of them are. I can feel it.
On Cesar Chavez, he was blocked by a number of tents on the sidewalk. He walked into the street to get around them. On the other side, an elderly woman with a walker was coming the opposite direction. Engrossed in Twitter, he brushed shoulders with her.
When he reached Lavaca Street, he was stopped by a homeless man. You got any change he said.
“Oh sorry man, I don’t have any cash on me. But uh. Do you want a taco? It’s fresh.”
“I don’t want any fucking food man.” Between speech, the man’s lips twitched. “You’re fucking lying. Give me some money!” He reached for Tyler’s pocket. Tyler dodged him and ran away.
Poor guy, he thought. Capitalism has failed him. But Austin can make this right. We can save him. We can save all the houseless in the Southwest.
In his room that he pays $500 a month for, he composed a tweet: “The median home price in Austin is 500k. Any idiot can see the relationship between expensive housing and houselessness. Vote NO on Prop B!” 42 people liked it.
We just might beat this. We might.
May 1, 2021. 8:36 pm.
Prop B had passed by a double-digit margin. Catastrophe.
Tyler watched a live feed of the results and accompanying analysis. His eyes were as glass.
Some cope with heroin. But Tyler has social media.
“Criminalizing homelessness doesn’t solve ANYTHING! This day is a historic stain on the city of Austin. Shame!”
The tweet went moderately viral. Support poured in from around the country.
“Disgusting!” wrote a product manager from Madison, Wisconsin. She had vacationed in Austin in 2014.
“This is practically a death sentence for the poor!” wrote a graduate student in New York, who has never visited Austin and knows little of its issues.
“With a skyrocketing housing market, how could they vote for this?!” wrote a user in Los Angeles, who has never been to Texas and whose knowledge of Austin is “It’s like the Portland of Texas.”
Though most of Tyler’s dreams that night were turbulent and perilous, one dream stood apart: tens of thousands of Twitter likes rallied, and they turned the tide of the prop vote. The road to Portland utopia was unobstructed yet.
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