I, Thor Harris, am not an activist. This is no time for any of us to wait and see what happens. I am a percussionist and multi-instrumentalist. I play with Thor & Friends, Swans, Ben Frost, Bill Callahan, Adam Torres, Shearwater, Amanda Palmer, and others. I write bossy lists such as “How to Tour in a Band or Whatever” and “How to Live Like a King on Very Little.” I also talk openly about depression. I’m pretty good at Twitter.
I live in Austin. Weirdos, writers, queers, musicians, and other riffraff congregate here in solidarity. We don’t want to climb the shit-covered corporate ladder. (This used to be even truer.) We just want to do the things we love, eat tacos, and go swimming. It’s a liberal city in a sea of oppressive conservatism otherwise known as Texas.
There is a city like Austin in most conservative states. Lawrence, Kansas. Fayetteville, Arkansas. Saint Pete, Florida. Asheville, North Carolina. Missoula, Montana. Seattle and Olympia, Washington. Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I don’t know, Idaho. Wherever people live in close proximity and make art. I think being liberal cities in these deserts of oppressive conservatism gives us even more spirit—more piss and vinegar—as the surrounding ’burbs and rural areas remain tolerant of intolerance.
The current governor of Texas is named Greg Abbott. He HATES Austin. He spouts scripture and hatred toward immigrants on his Twitter account. He supports everything Trump vomits out. In recent months, he vowed to “hammer” us for being a sanctuary city, a term which can mean different things across the country. In Austin, it signaled that our police force would not be used for Trump’s deportation machine.
Isn’t that funny that Austin, beloved around the world for its music and culture, is despised by our own governor? I love my city and the people in it. It infuriates me to read the words Abbott spews about Austin. For a majority of people, Austin is the only place in Texas they would like to visit (although Houston, another sanctuary city, is now the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S.). Texas is, in some ways, a pretty crappy state: It has one of the worst environmental records of any state. Access to mental healthcare is ranked 32nd in the country. Our state government is currently trying to push through a transphobic “bathroom bill” like the idiotic one in North Carolina. Now, in one more thing to dislike about it, Abbott is jeopardizing undocumented people in Austin, and in the whole state.
Earlier this month, Abbott passed Senate Bill 4 (on Facebook Live in the middle of the night, to prevent protests, like a coward). The bill is an attack on undocumented people, and their families, in Austin and throughout the state—it is a “show me your papers–style law that permits law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country without authorization.” What this means: Parents with no criminal records who have been in America for decades are at risk of deportation if police suspect a person of being undocumented based on their skin color, accent, or whatever else and decide to find out, say, during a traffic stop. Our excellent sheriff, Sally Hernandez, fought Abbott’s hateful scheme, and continues to fight, but she must follow the law.
This bill WILL, as feared by so many of us in Austin, allow ICE to tear families apart, and discourage undocumented people who might be endangered in some way from calling the police. This is done in the name of “preventing crime,” although guns, a lack of mental healthcare resources, and poverty are far more responsible for that. The statistics are available: Undocumented immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes than American citizens are. I can vouch for this! I done crimes! Got away with it, too! It’s easy, with this white skin all over me!
Let’s be clear. This is absolutely institutionalized racism. This is the party of old, white, moneyed men attempting to hold back the tide of diversity. Latinos are a huge, important part of American culture, especially in the Southwest. I have done construction with, played music with, and lived around brown people, documented and undocumented, my whole life. Texas is a majority-minority state—it was actually stolen from Mexico in 1845. Mexican-born people and their families belong here, and they are here to stay. We all know “Make America Great Again” means “Make America White Again,” but it never was. It ain’t gonna happen. It makes families live in fear. It hurts children. We have to be better than this.
Laws like these are harming people all over: The House in Florida just voted to ban sanctuary cities. Lots of states in the South have banned them outright, some having done so years ago, and over 20 states have laws pending that threaten sanctuary cities—including many of the ones that are home to the liberal cities I listed above, which are havens for artists, but not necessarily for immigrants and their families. Last month, a federal court in California blocked an anti–sanctuary executive order Trump made in January, but his proposed budget, which came out on Tuesday, snuck in language expanding the crackdown against undocumented people to largely the same effect. (Also: That is not how legislation works.)
I see today’s conservatism as the inability to accept the world and people as they are. I see the Trump supporter as a lonely old white dude afraid to lose his dominance over the rest of the world. I do see it as weakness. I see it as fear of change, which is inevitable! I won’t hate the people, but I do hate their fear. We are not going back to some time when America was great, because it has yet to come. And, honestly, I do think it is a great place. But you know what makes it great? Diversity. People from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Native America, and Antarctica (in the case of GWAR)-making music, art, food, and babies together. Again: America ain’t, nor has it ever been, white.
America is not some goddam golden city on a hill, largely because of people-hating politicians like Abbott and Trump. With our crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, gun violence, religious zealots in government, and lack of social services—all problems that Trump and his cronies are feeding—it’s actually kind of a shithole that thinks it is said golden city. On November 8, 2016, we woke up to the fact that America is more gullible, racist, and cowardly than we thought, and we are seeing this expressed throughout the country in sanctuary cities like Austin.
We are nothing without our allies. This means we have work to do. Not just the Democratic Party—but all of us, in whatever ways we are skilled, in cities and beyond. Text RESIST to 228-466, a service that will text you daily actions to stop what these assholes are doing. Call your senators and reps. Remind them that they work for you! Convince your conspiracy friend to turn off Alex Jones and turn on NPR. If you live in a sanctuary city—and if you don’t—find out how you can support those saying NO to Trump and his Final Solution. If you see Immigration Customs Enforcement fucking with people, film it. Come protest this weekend. This administration has many living in fear. Spineless white power groups feel emboldened with the elf of hate, Jeff Sessions, at the helm of our justice system. We who have rights and papers must stand for those who are marginalized by this fucking insane government, who have been put in a position where advocating for themselves is too dangerous.
Successful resistance is possible. I see community-building all around me like never before. I go to protests and meetings. I go to the Capitol at least once a week to try and stop some atrocity the Texas legislature is trying to shove at us. This is not the way I would have chosen to spend these years—fighting the government—but this is the shit sandwich we have been served.
At some point, I hope to have the luxury to write about something besides politics.
(Photo Credit: Anna Klausman)