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Alter: Austin needs strong local leadership in uncertain times

Like most American cities, Austin has at times perpetuated inequality and hate. In our best moments, local officials have shown courage in defending our values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance. Austin needs leadership of that kind today — more than ever before.

We have some inspiring historical precedents. The peaceful desegregation of Lions Municipal Golf Course in advance of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 is one such example. In late 1950s, two African-American youths trespassed on the course and were allowed to play their round. Shortly thereafter, in 1951, Council Member Emma Long proposed that the city integrate the facility.

Today we stand witness to extreme hatred and, at times, violence. In Austin we have children afraid to go to school, hardworking immigrants fearful of deportation, and loving couples worried about how long their same-sex marriages will be honored.

We need our local leaders to reject hatred and division in all areas and to provide humane alternatives for residents living in fear. When people in our community feel unsafe and threatened as they do today, our community leaders have a duty to stand up and speak out. They are elected to make everyone in our community feel welcome and contribute to our city’s flourishing.

Here in Austin we have a number of nonprofit programs already in place to promote the strong values of our community. The Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program provides tools to address bias and bullying and create a welcoming space in schools across Austin. The Volunteer Healthcare Clinic offers basically free, high-quality health care to low-income and uninsured Travis County residents. The Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) provides skills and employment to the many refugee women who resettle to Austin each year. The Workers Defense Project helps low-wage and immigrant workers to improve their working and living conditions.

I applaud Council Members Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen; Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo; Austin Mayor Steve Adler; Interim City Manager Elaine Hart; Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt; District Attorney-elect Margaret Moore and Travis County Sheriff-elect Sally Hernandez for condemning racism and anti-immigrant policies at a news conference last week. They have been courageous in calling for inclusion over division. We need more city leaders who will work closely with them and not stay silent.

These uncertain times require us to raise our voices together to support our values and prevent hate from tearing us apart. As President Roosevelt once said: “ The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If our local leaders are too afraid to stand up against hatred and fear, then our city will rapidly decline. The greatness of Austin has always been its openness as a frontier for diversity, innovation and a better America.

Alison Alter is candidate for the Austin City Council District 10 seat and a philanthropic advisor.

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