You're (Not) on Your Own

Brian Jacobel

February 21, 2021

The past week saw a devastating winter storm sweep Texas, plunging the state into darkness and cold as infrastructure failed and politicians stood by. We stand in solidarity with our Texan comrades, and encourage those with means to donate to the mutual aid funds linked below.

Texas is a case study in the compounding crises of capitalism. Nearly 20% of Texans do not have health insurance, the highest uninsured rate in the nation and more than double the national average. The electrical grid has been systematically privatized and deregulated, allowing corporations to delay needed repairs in search of greater profits. Houselessness has skyrocketed as Texan cities have gentrified, especially in the Houston and Austin areas. Warming locations opened as the cold hit, but some were forced to stay away – police have been known to “sweep” encampments while houseless residents seek warmth, destroying the belongings of the unsheltered. For those Texans fortunate enough to have power and heat, another shock may be coming – greedy power companies have increased rates more than one hundredfold, and households are already seeing electrical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. One executive bragged that the storm was “like hitting the jackpot” for his oil and gas company. The death toll now nears 60, most of them Texans experiencing houselessness, poverty and unmet medical need.

This crisis is sadly not unique. Fires and hurricanes have ravaged American regions before, tearing a hole that allows capital to wreak even greater damage during “recovery.” But one novel aspect of the disaster in Texas was an unexpected theme: the idea that those expecting help from the government in surviving and rebuilding are weak and lazy freeloaders. This absurd response, infused with Texan frontier history and reactionary culture war politics, baffled me. Nowhere was it more visible than one local mayor’s social media screed against looking for any kind of help from the local or state government.

The City and County, along with power providers and any other service owe you NOTHING! [...] I’ll be damned if I am going to provide for anyone capable of doing it themselves!

These comments were roundly condemned on a humanitarian basis – surely someone sworn to lead and protect a community could not be so heartless. As socialists, our objection to them goes even deeper. What is the purpose of the state, if not to provide the services its residents need? What is the purpose of community, if each member looks out only for themselves? If selfishness and hostility are the products, why have we bothered to form a society at all?

Texans seemed to agree, as Mayor Boyd was forced to resign within days of the post.

We’ve heard strains of this same song from local leaders in the Upper Valley before. In November, Lebanon mayor Tim McNamara spoke in opposition to reallocating some of the enormous Lebanon police budget towards increased social services, including a community center and programs to address hunger and mental health, by saying:

One of the problems with allocating additional resources to human services is that people will tend to gravitate towards those areas where services are provided.

Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara, Nov. 18, 2020

Myself and others were stunned by Mayor McNamara’s comments in the moment, and they don’t age well in comparison with the views of his Texan counterpart this week. Lebanon provides services because they help its residents thrive and the City prosper. If those services bring new residents, each one will contribute something greater to Lebanon than it had before. This is the value of a community, and it grows by investing in its people. Mayor McNamara’s desire to starve out our social services so that “freeloaders” stay away will eventually lead our community to the same sad state as ex-Mayor Boyd’s Texan town: isolation, spite and disaster.

We are not on our own. Even if our local leaders disagree, residents of the Upper Valley know that a strong community is one where people help each other, and the government helps its people. If you’d like to help shape the kind of community you want to see in the Upper Valley, consider getting involved with one of Upper Valley DSA’s organizing groups, such as housing, mutual aid, or Care Not Cops. Lebanon residents are especially needed for electoral organizing, as we work to elect Devin Wilkie and Sylvia Puglisi to the City Council. Together, we can build the community we deserve.

If you have the means, please consider donating to one of these Texan mutual aid funds.

Lead photo credit: Corey Templeton, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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