Must I recap the winter storm that swept across Texas and many other southern states last week? I’m sure we have all heard of the disaster. Power and water were shut off across the state as energy plants of all kinds froze in the cold. Multiple homeless people died. But, you know, that’s what they get for voting Republican!
Hopefully, readers, you noted the sarcasm. We cannot blame the people for the failures of the elected officials. This is an incredibly cold take that reeks of classism and shows a complete disregard for Texas’ history of not-so-subtle racial gerrymandering. In fact, polls showed that “the majority of Texans, if they were in the ballot box, would vote for Democrats. The problem is that Republicans have a higher likelihood of turning out.” Why don’t people show up at the ballot box? It could have something to with the fact that Texas is a state where voter suppression laws run rampant, which certainly doesn’t help people who are already disadvantaged make themselves heard. I don’t think that I have to remind you that, while people of color are not a monolith, Black and Latino people have consistently been more loyally Democrat than Republican. In fact, Texas itself is not a monolith. It was actually one of the most closely-watched states in the 2020 presidential election because, despite its history of being solidly red and its eventual declaration for Donald Trump, it was considered a potential “purple” state. States with Republican leaders often have policies that disproportionately affect Black, indigenous, and Latino people, and the climate crisis in Texas last week is a perfect example; lower-income and minority households and neighborhoods had higher rates of blackouts and water outages, while richer neighborhoods remained comfortable the whole time. Black and Latino neighborhoods, after having already been hit disproportionately hard by COVID, were among the first people to be hit by the storm and, likely, will be among the last to recover.
The point is that it doesn’t matter whether people vote Democrat or Republican. Too many people scapegoat the South — blaming it for all of America’s issues, insinuating that everyone down there is stupid and poor (or stupid because they’re poor), and completely ignoring the work that activists, particularly Black, indigenous, and Latino activists, have been doing for generations. Simply put, too many people, conservatives and neoliberals alike, are comfortable with blaming the people for their own oppression, instead of blaming the oppressors — the people in power. This is exactly what the mayor of Colorado City, Tim Boyd, did in a distasteful Facebook post that was promptly deleted after righteous backlash, where he stated that “It’s not the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!” The trying times he is referring to, is, of course, the winter storm that wreaked havoc especially on lower-income and non-white Texans. It prompts me to ask this particular elected official of public service, Mayor Boyd, that if the purpose of the government is not to serve the public, especially during crises, what, pray tell, is the purpose of the government? We should look not at the people who are fighting for their lives at this moment, but rather at the people who are supposed to be their leaders. Because of Texas’ deregulated energy system, companies have more free reign in Texas than in the rest of the country to abuse their customers — people who were fortunate or privileged enough to still have power through the disaster, or get it back early, faced energy bills in the thousands, just because the companies knew they could. Power plants across the state, renewable and fossil fuels alike, were simply not prepared for this kind of extreme weather — because although they had been warned years ago to “winterize,” they did not find it profitable to do so, and so simply did not. Texas, home to conservatives such as Ted Cruz, has championed itself as a free-market state: “free” from regulations and from “big government.” But when this “freedom” from “government” turns into a disaster for the people itself, it goes to show what political leaders really value: money, over human lives. The government in Texas is, apparently, only there to help companies like Griddy protect their profits and increase the money pouring into their pocket at the expense of the people. Again, I cannot stress this enough: people died because politicians from Texas were more concerned about setting the state as an “example” of the “free market” to the rest of the country, when what we really need now more than ever is an example of a state, of a government, of a country that cares for the livelihoods and for the safety of its citizens, not its companies.