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

Exiles in Austin

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 Paul S

I want to start off with a section from a poem read by folk singer and labor radical Utah Phillips:

And the old hunger returned.

The terrible and obscure hunger that haunts and hurts Americans

And makes us exiles at home, and strangers in our own land

We, the workers of Austin, are exiles in our city. In Austin construction workers build high rises that we can never afford to live in. Bartenders in the Domain serve up cocktails that cost an hour of their wages. Teachers educate the children of people who make more in a month than a teacher’s yearly salary. We are strangers in this place that is supposed to be our home.

Almost exactly a year ago to this day, a winter storm swept through Austin. With work shut down for the week, I had a lot of opportunities to take long walks in the blasted landscape that was now my neighborhood. On one of those cruelest days, those days without power I walked by a housing development that was under construction. One of those cheaply constructed “luxury” apartments that is going to spring a leak within a year. You know what I saw? A generator powering a heat fan, trying desperately to save the life of these palm trees that surrounded the complex’s pool. Now that apartment complex is complete, and you can rent a studio there for $1600 a month.

Our city is being built up, but not for use by people like you and me. We see more Domains being built, more high rises. In the meantime our water treatment plants fail, our parks fall into disrepair, and our schools are decommissioned. What the Green New Deal promises is construction that prioritizes people, not profits. The “free market” of real estate development has done for this city exactly what the free market exists to do: make the rich richer. You’ll get a bunch of bull from these developer types that we just need to tweak the zoning code this or that way. The truth is that without a vigorous effort from the government to build the things that working people need, they will never be built. Austin will remain a city made for the rich, at the expense of workers. The Green New Deal is how we take power away from their hands and build an Austin that allows us, the workers who built and run this city, to flourish as humans and citizens, and finally enjoy the city we call home.

In the meantime, we need to get organized. We outnumber the capitalists, the rich, the business owners in this city. It’s not a question of “when” but “how”. The ruling class is organized, in the Chamber of Commerce, in the Federalist Society. The unions and DSA are our answer to that. The Democratic Socialists of America is charting a path that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have laid out for us, it is an answer to the dysfunctional politics of today, where the rich control both parties with an iron fist. We don’t need the Elon Musks or the Jeff Bezoses in our party. We only need ourselves. I look out over this crowd, and I say: this is a mighty fine start! All of us are out here on a Sunday to show our support for a new economic agenda.

Like the prodigal son, the working class will one day return from its exile, into the warm embrace of a society that once scorned it. The deprivation and injustice of life under capitalism–the hunger that haunts and hurts us–is a human creation. It can be overcome, and it will be. I promise you, it will be quite a homecoming.

Working class people are the vast majority in Central Texas, and yet their issues and interests are almost totally unrepresented in the local media. We’re trying to change that! Do you have a workplace story or editorial you’d like to share with us? Email us at!