It 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.”
“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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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.