Five homeschoolers pick fist-size garlic cloves, green jalapeños, strawberries, squash and kale on a breezy Thursday morning in late June. They’re volunteering at a local food garden where bright orange marigolds attract bees from a local keeper’s hive. The 1-acre garden has yielded about 10,000 pounds of produce for six food pantries since it began harvesting in April 2022. Texan by Nature, which manages the garden and was founded by former First Lady Laura Bush, estimates it has served approximately 2,000 people per month in Limestone, Freestone and Leon counties. Located in Freestone County about 60 miles east of Waco, NRG Dewey Prairie Garden is a part of a massive effort to restore a 35,000-acre lignite coal mine.
Austin, Texas - On Aug. 30, at the end of a summer in which the temperature in Austin topped 100° for a record 45 consecutive days, a local judge ruled unconstitutional a new state law intended to nullify local ordinances that require water breaks for construction workers. Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble held that the law violated a 1912 amendment to the state constitution that gives cities and towns with more than 5,000 people the power of self-government. “The Court DECLARES House Bill 2127 in its entirety is unconstitutional — facially, and as applied to Houston as a constitutional home rule city and to local laws that are not pre-empted under article XI, section 5 of the Texas Constitution,” she wrote in a two-page order.
In 2015, El Paso became the second city in the country to safeguard its workers by passing a historic wage theft ordinance. As a sweeping new state law aimed at handicapping Texas’s more liberal city governments is set to take effect Sept. 1, that protection is now facing an existential threat. House Bill 2127 — also known as the Super Preemption Bill or, among opponents, the “Death Star” bill — aims to regulate many aspects of commerce and trade in local jurisdictions that differ from state-imposed directives. Passed in May and signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a month later, the legislation could affect local policies dealing with ordinances – including agriculture, insurance, labor, natural resources, and occupation codes — that contradict the state.
The largest public school district in the state of Texas is converting libraries in 28 schools into disciplinary centers and eliminating school librarian positions, local news outlets reported on Thursday. The alarming change comes as part of a sweeping reform program led by the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) new superintendent Mike Miles, who oversees 85 schools. Of the remaining 57 schools with libraries, the district said each will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, indicating more libraries could be closed. Under Miles’ New Education System (NES) program, libraries in the 28 schools will become “Team Centers,” where “kids with behavioral issues will be sent,” per the Houston-based NBC affiliate, KRPC.
Houston — Luz Martínez was working on remodeling a school without air conditioning in the summer when one of her coworkers fell over, vomited and passed out from the heat. On Friday, she joined other workers, labor advocates and politicians on the steps of Houston’s City Hall to protest a new Texas law that will take away cities’ power to help workers who must endure the Texas heat. House Bill 2127, which takes effect on Sept. 1, will do away with local rules that require water breaks for construction workers. The cities of Austin and Dallas, for example, require 10-minute breaks every four hours. San Antonio officials had been considering a similar ordinance.
On June 1, the state of Texas removed Elizabeth Santos, an elected school board trustee, from office and replaced her with Janette Garza Lindner, the candidate she defeated in December 2021. The ousting was part of a larger takeover of the Houston public school system by the Republican-led Texas state government — a process that began in late 2019 and became formalized June 1 when Mike Miles, a charter school owner whose school administrator license lapsed five years ago, was installed as the new superintendent of the district by Gov. Greg Abbott along with an appointed Board of Managers.
Through wet weather in Wichita, Kansas, and scorching heat in Austin, Texas, hundreds of nurses walked picket lines June 27 in a one-day strike for safe staffing and patient safety. Nearly 2,000 nurses represented by National Nurses United (NNU) walked out. They’re trying to get the company to bargain in good faith after winning union elections in the last year at the three struck locations: Ascension’s two campuses in Wichita and Austin’s huge Ascension Seton Medical Center, where 900 nurses work. “Our patients are being shortchanged by management, because they are short staffing our units,” said Monica Gonzalez, a medical-surgical nurse and 19-year veteran of ASMC.
Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas at three Ascension hospitals are moving forward with historic one-day strikes on Tuesday, June 27, to protest management’s resistance to bargain in good faith with RNs for union contracts that would help correct the endemic staffing crisis, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). Driven by their concerns about patient safety, these will be the largest nurse strikes in Texas and Kansas history. Ascension management’s punitive three-day lockout of nurses who go on strike has failed to intimidate them.
In March, a man named David Irizarry wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in support of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project to be built in Brownsville, Texas. The Rio Grande LNG project (RGLNG), estimated to cost more than $11 billion, would be the largest private sector investment in Texas’ history. But it was awaiting a key decision from FERC. “As you know, the US appeals court of the DC circuit rejected all but two of the claims put forward by opponents of RGLNG related to RGLNG’s FERC order,” Irizarry wrote. Irizarry is not in the gas business, nor does he deal with energy policy.
When El Paso teen Alex Reyes read the “Magnus Chase” fantasy trilogy while in the seventh grade, they immediately identified with one of the main characters Alex Fierro. It wasn’t just because of their shared first name, but because of their shared experience as gender fluid teenagers. “It was the first time I had read a book where I saw something that I kind of felt similar to, relate to,” Reyes said. “It’s stuck with me for so long. They have so much more going on, and the sexuality is just a part of it. … It’s not all that I am, but it’s a part of me.” Rick Riordan’s “Magnus Chase” series, like many of the books Reyes reads, is being targeted by Texas legislators and school boards nationwide.
On May 6, voters in El Paso, TX will decide on Prop K, the Climate Charter amendment that would pave the way for a Green New Deal in this metropolitan area of 985,000 residents, 81% of whom are Latinx. The Prop K campaign has placed environmental racism and local control over powerful corporate interests squarely before the public. It grows out of decades of organizing and resistance in El Paso and the frontera communities—from El Paso and Doña Ana Counties to Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico. Eddie Wong interviewed Crystal Moran and Mike Siegel for Convergence. Moran is a local Chicanx, Indigenous community organizer working in environmental, immigration, and social justice.
Last Tuesday, Republican legislators in the North Carolina state house of representatives proposed H.B. 715, the so-called “Higher Ed Modernization and Affordability Act.” Its actual purpose is to destabilize academic jobs and exert political surveillance over North Carolina’s sixteen public universities and 58 public community colleges. Last Thursday, the Texas state senate passed a similar bill, S.B. 18. The North Carolina bill has several provisions, but the prospective elimination of tenure is getting the most attention. Under this provision, the tenure system would be eliminated for all new hires from July 2024 onward, and all future faculty would be employed at-will or on fixed-term contracts between one and four years long.
Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation South Texas shrimper who took on a multi-billion dollar corporate polluter in court and won, has received a 2023 Goldman Prize for environmental activism. Wilson’s $50 million settlement with Formosa Plastics Corp. – for illegal pollution of the bays surrounding its Point Comfort, Texas plant – is the largest monetary settlement to date in a lawsuit brought by a private individual under the Clean Water Act, according to Texas RioGrande Aid, the legal aid agency that represented Wilson. The prize money is helping fund local community efforts to slow coastal erosion, build a park, and send kids to camp.
Civil rights organizations have filed a federal complaint on behalf of several parents against the Texas Education Agency because of its plan to replace the Houston Independent School District’s democratically elected school board, claiming the move takes away the rights of Houston voters of color to choose their own school officials. The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Friday morning, with a claim by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Houston NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice that the state’s takeover violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
In Houston, TX., where the NCAA Final Four (college basketball tournament championship games) will take place March 31 – April 3, the mayor’s office has taken it a step beyond displacing the unhoused. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office has ordered police to target people feeding those in need. After opening a facility to move people miles from downtown from a homeless encampment near Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center, Mayor Turner began invoking old city ordinances to ticket Food Not Bombs Houston (FNBH) food-sharing volunteers and trying to discourage them from doing what they’ve done for decades: feeding people at the Houston Public Library every night.