Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Ike. The 2015 Memorial Day Floods. Hurricane Harvey. The 2019 ITC Chemical Plant Fire.
And now the Winter Storms of 2021.
Living in the oil and gas capital of the world, it’s no surprise that every few seasons come with another 800-year flood. Another explosion. Another heartache for our city.
In less than the span of a decade, we’ve seen multiple climate catastrophes destroy entire neighborhoods, uproot families and poison our loved ones. We’ve seen the life expectancies of our Black and Brown communities along the ship channel dwindle by the year. And still, our elected leaders proclaim normalcy and apathy. For them, this vicious cycle of trauma is business as usual. It is simply the price we must pay while surviving Ground Zero.
When we marched on the state capitol in the days after the Winter Storm, we asked Texans, “When will enough finally be enough?”
When our movement marched on the energy companies who price-gouged our families out of their life savings, we dared to cry, “When will they finally be held accountable?”
And when the President of the United States finally made time to visit our traumatized communities, we directed our charges to him, asking “How will you serve us, when ERCOT failed?”
Since its inception, Sunrise Movement’s Houston chapter has stood on the shoulders of giants, observing and learning from local organizers who’ve been fighting for social justice long before most of us were born. It’s their stories, determination, and perseverance that helped build our movement. So when historic voices of change channeled their energy into Texas for the first time in our memory, we couldn’t help but be inspired to take these lessons and act.
When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) announced her visit to Houston, we were compelled to see this as a game-changing moment. The most vocal and passionate advocate for climate justice in our government was finally bringing her voice to our city. The person who brought the Green New Deal to Congress was here in the fossil fuel capital of the world.
We learned that week that Houston was no longer the most guarded city behind enemy lines. It was now the front-line.
But this news also came with a shameful realization: a federal legislator from a distant east-coast city showed Texans more compassion in one day than our governor showed in his entire term. It was this same compassion that local mutual aid organizations like Say Her Name TX and Houston Democratic Socialists of America showed in the days after the freeze, where they delivered badly-needed essentials to thousands of families.
In spite of our people’s near-complete lack of access to state assistance, it was local organizers like us, who out of urgent necessity, created aid directories and organized strikes when our computers had no power and our faucets ran dry. We, a ragtag group of teenagers and young adults had to step up when our own governor refused to take this catastrophe seriously.
That same governor who posted Whataburger memes on Twitter while our loved ones nearly froze to death in their own living rooms. That same governor who this week gleefully announced an end to the state-wide mask mandate when less than 6 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated.
At the end of the day, it was solidarity that saved our city. Not Governor Abbott. But it doesn’t have to be this way forever.
This complete disdain for human life shown by Texas’ apathetic, self-serving governor is a symptom of a larger problem: the dark influence of fossil fuel money in our local, state, and federal politics.
It’s a problem that has seeped itself into Houston’s government, so much that oil and gas is nearly inseparable from our identity and culture. No conversations move forward without a greenlight from ExxonMobil. No one is held accountable without consent from Shell. It’s this barrier to change that breeds a vicious cycle of false normalcy. And it’s a vicious cycle that must come to an end.
Since 2018, two spokes of this wheel have broken: Representatives Al Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee. Due to movement building and public pressure, these congressional members have taken a bold stance against fossil fuel interests by signing onto the landmark Green New Deal, an unprecedented jobs program that rivals the scope of 1940s wartime production while centering the fight for climate justice. And after these recent storms and Gov. Abbott’s catastrophic failures, it’s imperative that we place our sights on the next two spokes of this wheel: Representatives Lizzie Fletcher and Sylvia Garcia.
These two congresswomen maintain massive positions of influence over the power of these fossil fuel corporations, and yet they have never shied away from their campaign contributions. Rep. Fletcher, who takes more oil and gas money than any other member of the Democratic party, sits on multiple committees that oversee the limits of their reach, while Rep. Garcia represents the district most affected by the toxins created within their chemical plants.
They sit at the precipice of this barrier to change, and Sunrise Houston stands ready to call out the unspoken mutual contract of East Houston laborers fueling the wealth of West Houston at the expense of their health and wellbeing. Our demands for ending this cycle of trauma are clear. We must redefine what Houston represents, and in the process, we must repair decades of wrongs.
To Representative Sylvia Garcia and Representative Lizzie Fletcher: we need a Green New Deal, specifically tailored to Houston’s needs and past traumas.
· It is time to stop subsidizing dangerous fossil fuel industries.
· Pressure congress to step in and federalize Texas’ energy grid.
· Winterize our energy infrastructure. Because we know this freeze will not be the last.
· Secure funding for the Ike Dike to prepare for the next hurricane season.
· Expand renewable energy production throughout our region.
· Provide equitable job transitions for petro-workers.
· Ensure that these workers have access to unions and 100 percent pay parity.
· Prioritize the needs of our most marginalized people.
· Sign onto the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.
And lastly, join our fight for climate justice by finally signing onto the Green New Deal resolution. Generations of Houstonians are counting on you to act. This past month has proven it is already too late.
Jacob Castillo is the Co-Hub Coordinator for Sunrise Houston and Mellissa Martinez is a member of Sunrise Houston’s communications team
Photo: USDA NRCS Texas / Wikimedia Commons