The author addressing the crowd at Sunday's rally. Photo courtesy of Shelby B.

Barton Springs is a Public Treasure Created by the New Deal

The New Deal created public luxuries enjoyed by successive generations of Americans like Barton Springs here in Austin. Now, it’s incumbent on us to win the Green New Deal, not only to save the planet, but also and create more luxuries like Barton Springs in the process. The following is a speech delivered at the rally for a Green New Deal hosted by Austin DSA, Education Austin, Sierra Club, and Sunrise Movement and headlined by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

By Amanda CW

What’s up Austin, Texas? My name is Amanda Cavazos Weems, I’m a labor organizer and a member of Austin DSA. I was born and raised right here in Austin, and I am beyond proud to call this community my home. We survived the winter storm last year together, leaning on the collective strength of our neighbors and community organizations. As Dave Cortez said, we have the opportunity right now to transform our collective trauma into collective liberation by winning a Green New Deal. Change is possible if we work together. I know it because I’ve lived it. So I’m going to take y’all back in time a little bit to talk about why winning a Green New Deal is the most Austin thing we could possibly do.

Barton Springs Pool is often called the soul of our city – if you love Barton Springs, make some noise! We all have strong feelings about the springs, but not everyone knows its history. Every generation of Austinites has fought to preserve the pool as a gathering place for all people. The springs were considered sacred by the Native Americans on whose land we sit, and the springs have been blessed by many faith traditions since then. During the 30s, in the New Deal era, public workers and the Civilian Conservation Corps built Barton Springs Pool for the working class.  In 1960, Joan Means and students from Austin High School held “swim-ins” all summer and helped spark integration across the city. In the ’90s, the springs were the site of a resurgence of the environmental movement. They succeeded in protecting the water for future generations to enjoy. I am very proud to stand on the shoulders of those that came before me in a tradition of activism spanning generations.

I worked at Barton Springs Pool as a lifeguard. I organized a bunch of my coworkers into our union, AFSCME [American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union] local 1624 – if you’re with AFSCME 1624 make some noise! Those are my union family out there now. My union was fighting for me before I even knew I had the right to join a union – they were organizing for a living wage for city employees long before I ever came on the scene. I was working as a temporary employee for the city, guarding at the Springs, when the news came down that all city employees, including temps, were going to get a living wage of $13 an hour. Our department decided not to give us the wage that the city council had promised us. So we wrote a letter outlining the dangerous working conditions that this broken promise created and joined our union. When our union found out what was going on, they fought for us at city council – and we won! Not only did my two dozen coworkers who worked at Barton Springs get the living wage we were promised, but all 700 lifeguards who worked for the city that summer got the raise. And now, all city employees start at $15 an hour.

I didn’t know how totally that experience would transform my life. It showed me that change was possible. I didn’t really believe it before, but now I’ve seen that change ripple out into our community, affecting thousands of people in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I got to teach high schoolers at Northeast Early College High School how to be lifeguards. Those young lifeguards are going to know their worth for the rest of their lives. I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformation that comes when someone has a good union job and fair wage. I know people who have gone to school with that money, who are making more than their parents, who are building a life here with the living wage that we won. Every worker deserves a living wage, a union, and the opportunity to transform their community for the better – that’s why the Green New Deal is so important. When I swim at Barton Springs, I am so grateful for the people who fought for this treasure to belong to all of us. I cannot wait to see what gifts we build together for the people who come after us.