Texans Speak Out on How They’ve Been Failed

A governmental failure from top to bottom

Fort Worth Texas on February 18, 2021. Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

First, it began with a deadly 135-car pileup in Fort Worth, Texas, and then everything quickly spiraled out of control. Last week, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and several other states suffered from blackouts. Half a million people in the country did not have electricity, with Texas taking the lead in its cases, and in that same state, 14 million citizens have boiling water notices. Not only has climate change reared its ugly head again, but also the costs of the GOP backing a privatized power grid. An 11-year-old boy died after his mobile home lost power. Another almost ran out of oxygen. One froze to death in his bed.

We at ZORA are listening, watching, and donating to Texans in need, and we have been fortunate to find those who had the energy and strength to give us eyewitness accounts of all that is going on. Pay attention to this space as we will be updating with dispatches as more come in.

Von, Austin

To be honest it has been miserable and more traumatic than March 2020 when there was no food. We are dealing with no heat, water, or electricity. It’s cold and wet. I needed to leave my place because I ran out of wood to burn. It was not safe to burn just anything to stay warm. The first few days it was unsafe to drive on the roads because of the ice. It had been devastating overall to know that Austin Energy turned off our power and didn’t think to give us a warning or let us know why. Everything is an afterthought and puts the lives of children, disabled, elderly, and homeless in danger.

The day after there were very few stores open in south Austin. We are back to long lines to get into stores and there is no bottled water or bread in the majority of these stores. The preparation for this disaster seemed to be a lack of planning or leadership.

I was only able to access a hotel because of the generosity of Twitter users. I live paycheck to paycheck and a hotel expense for me would have been impossible without their help and monetary support and donations.

Daniel Peña, Houston

I’m exhausted trying to love a state that doesn’t love me back. I think we’ve seen a reenvisioning or rewriting of Texas that glosses over the way it systematically destroys Black and Brown bodies still: with cancer and water and flooding and drought and fire and guns. Historically, the state has tried to eliminate bodies like mine from this landscape — the Mexican body, the Coahuiltecan body. But also the Black body too. You saw this laid bare with the freeze. With who got power and water abs who didn’t. With who gets the vaccines and who doesn’t. By who gets incarcerated and who doesn’t. Of course, what happened in Texas was criminal and we were at the mercy of criminals to undo it. Unlike a hurricane, there was nowhere to go, no evacuation plan. You just had to sit in it. And endure.

True, Texas is the homeland to my Coahuiltecan ancestors. But they were also a wandering people. They knew to move on when shit wasn’t right.

La’Kayla Williams, Austin

It’s unsettling to think about how experiencing poverty in childhood “prepares” you for the precarity of capitalism as an adult. When the temperature in my home in Austin, Texas, dipped below 50 degrees I cuddled under the covers in bed with my partner, getting up only to use the bathroom. I shivered, teeth chattering, in my own home, trying desperately to warm myself and struck by the futility of this effort. Still, I felt able to withstand this, because of years of instability wrought by the brutal dispossession of poor, Southern Black folks. I felt inhuman, but this was nothing new. However, nothing could have prepared me for the increasingly desperate situation this became. Having to escape from my home and brave the dangerous, icy roads in search for shelter. Having to be packed into a dorm with others in the same position, risking transmission of Covid-19. Having to hear from my property manager that a pipe had burst in the apartment above mine. Having to witness the utter destruction of my home once the roads were clear enough to return. Having to reckon with the fact that if the cold had not killed us, the collapsed ceiling would have. Poverty did not prepare me entirely for what I experienced, but the wisdom of my ancestors protected me. Every part of my apartment was destroyed, but my Altar remained untouched. They protected us in my home, on the road and back. Now, I can feel nothing but gratitude.

Karen Attiah, Dallas

We knew winter weather was coming. We knew that temperatures were gonna drop. People need to understand that it’s not always an every year thing but it’s not that uncommon. I grew up with school and road closures because of snow and ice. But as the power went out, I personally knew, at least from my energy company, that there was a possibility for outages but we never prepared for outages for days.

I don’t have running water in my apartment. It’s just a cascade of public leadership failure. What should be looked at a lot more is communication failure. Everybody is now seeing that governance matters. Regulation is there to build resilient systems that are able to withstand the inevitable shocks that Mother Nature and human error are going to provide, right? So this catastrophe, in my head, is very man-made. It’s just so unfortunate that Texans are already going through Covid and job losses and now they are worried about their property and massive electric bills that they didn’t prepare for.

I think it should be a message to America and its crumbling infrastructure. Honestly, the sun is shining right now and we are so lucky that Mother Nature gave us a break. Otherwise, things could have been so much worse.

Morgan Jerkins is the Senior Editor at ZORA and a New York Times bestselling author. Her debut novel, “Caul Baby,” will be published by Harper in April 2021.

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