Austin Bus M1It was an chilly July day in Austin. Highly unusual. In the morning we stepped out to watch the downpour and a neighbor emerged from his apartment across the hall and asked, “have you lived in Austin long?”

“No,” I replied. Actually we had just got here Friday night and were leaving this afternoon.

“I’ve lived here since I was five,” he continued, “and this weather is really strange. Plus all the parrots.”


“The Parrots.”

“Oh yes,” I said.

He added something about the changing angle of rotation of the earth and that we were approaching the equator.

I politely retreated back into the apartment. The apartment belonged to Sucheta. To the left lived Parvathy and downstairs was Moy. We were in the AID House of Austin … every chapter has one, where the volunteers gather before meetings, after events and store all the material in between.

We had arrived late Friday night.  Akhilesh and Parvathy received us.  Senate Bill 5 was on the agenda and I wondered if people would be in the Austin capitol till midnight as they had done in June. It was midnight when we reached home and indeed the next morning protesters were at the capitol though I don’t think they had stayed overnight.

IMG_0938We prepared for the chapter event Utsav.  In a move that reminded me that even the humble student-apartment dweller can take part in AID Cares, Parvathy clipped some mint from the plant she was growing in a pot and we went to Avni’s place where some volunteers gathered to get set for the evening. We ran through presentations, looked at the posters, learned about the feats of various new and old volunteers, and meditated upon the poster hanging in Avni’s living room. It said “take risks” and “make a scene” and “rock the boat,” among other things.  We took them to heart.

AID Austin holds a General Body Meeting every year, and invites the community supporters as well as previously active volunteers who remain interested in the chapter though they aren’t able to attend weekly Community Service Hours. AID Austin has kept in touch with these volunteers and kept them involved through the annual GBM and other special events.

Parvathy welcomed everyone – more than 90 people attended – and Avni presented the highlights of the previous year. Avni also talked about the monthly project meeting that Austin chapter has started where they talk about one project in depth each month.  She invited those who could not come in person to join the meeting via video conference.

Volunteers and supporters join in singing Is Liye at the close of Utsav 2013, AID Austin’s General Body Meeting and Fundraiser.

Volunteers and supporters join in singing Is Liye at the close of Utsav 2013, AID Austin’s General Body Meeting and Fundraiser.

Ravi and I talked about our work and invited the audience to contribute, which they did with enthusiasm. Some lucky winners even took home a painting, contributed by local artist Anwita.  Afterwards we all sang Is Liye together and went home, buoyed by the energy of the event.

The happy mood was rudely interrupted when we saw the news of the acquittal of the man who had murdered Trayvon Martin, in accordance with the Stand Your Ground law, which struck me as something akin to unleashing a Salwa Judum.

Decolonize Wall Street.  Autographed poster displayed in Monkee Wrench Bookstore, Austin

Decolonize Wall Street. Autographed poster displayed in Monkee Wrench Bookstore, Austin

Sunday morning we had the Austin special “Taco Breakfast” and met some of the volunteers including volunteers who have been more active in the past.     Many were now married with children, who played up a storm while we chatted.  Some of them we hadn’t met since the Texas Retreat of 2006!  Parvathy and Sucheta reminded them to dial into the meetings on video conference – either skype or google hangout.

We tried to find out where any protest actions might be taking place regarding justice for Trayvon Martin but we could not get any specific information. Naveen and I did manage to visit Monkee Wrench bookstore – even they were not entirely sure where any actions were happening.  The bookstore however, stimulated deep conversations, connecting wide-ranging concerns, as only bookstores can.

Monday I was keen to visit the State Capitol Building in Austin where Wendy Davis stood for the historic filibuster and where so many people had stood in protest and even courted arrest over the past few days. In the back of my mind I had a feeling that even if I had managed to come at the time of a protest action, I would just be one among hundreds of people. Still I would want to be there in support.

In spite of the aforementioned rain and the possibility of the earth’s axis tilting, I went out to the bus stop at the corner of 45th and Guadaloupe. I imagined myself in a dimestore novel.  What was more glaring, the headlights at noon on this rainy Austin day or the reflection off the wet roads.

I got off the bus at 11th street. As I walked towards the Capitol I saw some people carrying signs.

Austin Capitol Trayvon1

Denise and her daughter stood outside the Capitol Building in Austin, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin

They wore hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon, though on that chilly wet day,  one would not necessarily have figured that out.

I joined them for about half an hour. Denise, the mother said, “That could have been my kid. You can’t have everyone playing cop.”

I was somewhat surprised to see few passersby take notice, let alone stop and join.  Some of the cars honked though.  I could have stayed longer had I known that our bus to Dallas was going to depart 3 hours late, but as it was I had to leave at 2 pm.  Denise said she planned to come and stand whenever she had time to do so.   Her father called her while she was standing and he passed along his solidarity.  Had I found the protest on Sunday I doubt I would have come to the Capitol in the rain on Monday, but I am glad I did because it made a difference to two people who were prepared to stand even if no one else was there.

Austin Capitol Trayvon3b

Solidarity, Tour, Volunteers

Texas / LA Regional Conference

Following up on key action items from the Columbus conference and ongoing discussions over the past few years, we had a series of regional meetings on AID philosophy and strategy for improving the quality of our work towards sustainable and just development.  In the South, AID Houston hosted such a meeting on Sept 16-17, 2006. 
In a brainstorming thread earlier, Srinadh wrote: 
 … broadly speaking it would be nice to re-emphasize (and revisit) our core AID principles:
  • For example why Sangharsh, Nirman and Seva?
  • What are our partners on the ground saying and feeling about the effects of rapid globalization?
  • Why do we oppose centralized planning without local context and input?
  • Why is peace important (example Gujarat) to development?
and the like.
In June he wrote: 

Houston, Austin, Baton Rouge and Dallas chapters are planning to have a retreat over the Sept 15 weekend in Houston, TX. (Haven’t heard from College Station folks but hoping they make it too!).Ravi and Aravinda have indicated that they will be there and join! Other interested people are welcome to join too.The Houston chapter has agreed to host the event and details are being worked on regarding logistics, agenda, schedule etc.

This is an early heads up to enable out of towners to begin planning.

More details here!


Houston, Austin, Baton Rouge and Dallas chapters

Nirveek wrote:

the recent philly workshop and the AID conference has given us several ideas as to how we can explore contemporary issues relevant to AID, constructively discuss any issue with an open mind, train each other in effective communication, i would think that in this retreat we can spend some time looking beyond just reports-kind-of-sessions – for example we can look at how we can creatively communicate with each other, new volunteers, and the community in general … since we have much more time to prepare than before the columbus conference, we can come up with a decent, well thought-out such interactive sessions. we can also take up the eFAQuate session that Aravinda started at Columbus and enrich it further.The Philly workshop brought us in touch with a group called “training for change” … and i think there are a lot of things in “effective communication” through role-playing that we can learn from them.  

After 30 posts and weekly conference calls organized by Priya, Sandhya and others in Team Texas, the dates & agenda were set, rooms booked, university support secured and one fine weekend in September, 50+ volunteers from Austin, Dallas, Houston, College Station and Baton Rouge converged in Houston for the retreat. Smaller than an AID conference, no parallel sessions, nothing to vote on, volunteers opened their minds and hearts to explore difficult questions concerning corruption, gender equality, diversity within AID, and the role of sangharsh.   Betsy from Training for Change engaged us in activities that gave us models for thinking about change, such as figuring out how to make radical change while including everyone … symbolized via an exercise where a group of us stood on a sheet and had to turn the sheet upside down without having a single person move to the floor – everyone must remain on the sheet, and the sheet must be overturned.  

Betsy of Training for Change conducted some exercises to help us think about models of social change.  At the official release of the 2007 AID Calendar Nurturing Nature, she received the first copy. 

We also had the release of the 2007 AID Calendar, whose theme was Nurturing Nature.   Betsy received the  first copy.
Yes the house is that close to the factories

On the third day of the retreat, we had a Toxic Tour of Houston, conducted by Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.  Yes, the house is that close to the factories.

The second superfund site we visited

On the third day of the retreat, we had a Toxic Tour of Houston, conducted by Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. This is the second superfund site we visited.

The field trip on Sunday was eye-opening and disturbing …. we went on a “toxic tour” of the city, visiting the neighborhoods in close proximity to factories emitting toxic waste.  
We read and talk about the common experience of injustice among communities across the globe.  Sometimes when we talk to people about the struggle in Bhopal or the villages along the industrial corridor of Gujarat, people can’t believe that such things are happening, and continue to this day.  Now we were standing right in the midst of it, feeling the same sense of incredulity that things could actually be this bad
Would this leave us in despair of ever making change?  Or would it empower us to recognize the struggle everywhere, in our own backyards and even within ourselves, and to BE THE CHANGE?
Exuding Passion

Volunteers on day 3 of the Texas / Louisiana Retreat, following the Toxic Tour of Texas, conducted by Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS).

More photographs taken by Keshav Narayanan during the Texas / Lousiana chapters conference: TX LA Retreat