Liberals who made fun of Texas need to understand that your political party shouldn’t be a death sentence

Texas storm
Volunteers load cases of water into the bed of a truck during a mass water distribution at Delmar Stadium on February 19, 2021. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Texas’ massive freeze left Texans feeling abandoned not only by leadership but by critics of the state who jeered at victims of the winter storm.
  • Rather than judge the state by its politics, it’s crucial to understand the state’s diversity and history of voter suppression.
  • Regardless of party lines, no human deserves to freeze to death in their own home.
  • Jillian Goltzman is a freelance journalist covering culture, lifestyle, and social impact.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Winter Storm Ura tore through Texas with a vengeance that uncovered just how poorly out-of-touch some politicians are in a crisis – and how uncouth people on the internet can be. Texans were forced to endure subfreezing temperatures for days without electricity, heat, and water amid a deadly pandemic. Republican leaders like Governor Greg Abbott incorrectly blamed green energy, and Senator Ted Cruz, both literally and figuratively, left his constituents out in the cold by fleeing to Cancun. Of all the reactions to the downfall of Texas’ electric grid, one rang loud and clear on Twitter: “we told you so.”

Texas deserves better

It was 40 degrees inside my house when I saw the tweet from Stephen King. “Hey, Texas! Keep voting for officials who don’t believe in climate change and supported privatization of the power grid,” he jeered in a tweet. A succession of “too bad” and “they shouldn’t have voted for Trump” tweets soon filled my screen. As someone living in Texas, I wanted to hurl my phone across the room, but I knew it would mean having to get up from under the layers of blankets keeping me warm.

The individualism that flows through the Lone Star State has suddenly become its demise. Our residents don’t deserve your misplaced blame. If you’ve seen the map of the United States’ power grid circulating online, you’ll notice that the Texas Interconnection stands alone. Further isolating Texas, the Texas Senate Bill 7 – signed into law by George W. Bush in 1999 – ushered in Texas’s opportunity to deregulate electricity and switch to a free-market approach. Despite a 2011 winter storm and the growing challenges of climate change, Texas energy plants failed to winterize their equipment for the future. Exactly a decade later, we learned the cost of that mistake.

Contrary to what Twitter keyboard warriors think they know about Texas, the state isn’t completely made of oil rigs and MAGA flags. To claim some sick version of schadenfreude for social clout isn’t just uninformed; it’s amoral. Our state felt abandoned by politicians but we also felt jilted by fellow Americans who turned Texas into the butt of a joke. The political affiliation of your state shouldn’t be a death sentence. No human being deserves to freeze to death.

Misplaced opinions only undercut the massive trauma and loss Texans are experiencing. Homes were destroyed, people starved during food shortages, and residents tragically fell victim to hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning while struggling to stay warm. This is only magnified by the sad fact that we’ve already lost 43,341 residents to COVID-19. While the system that enabled the power grid’s failure is evidently damaged, snide jabs won’t help our community move past the devastation it’s endured.

I was one of the 4.5 million people who lost power in Texas as the temperatures dipped into single digits across the state. For three days, my partner and I grappled with the surreal reality that Texas – a state that boasts of everything being bigger and better – could let this happen. It was sometime between my Googling symptoms of hypothermia and trying to unsuccessfully build a furnace out of a terracotta pot that I realized the weight of our situation.

When I moved to Houston six years ago, I could have never imagined a freeze paralyzing the state. My group chats turned into a survivalist manifesto as my friends shared tips, offered up supplies, and tried to keep each other informed with our single bar of cell service. One friend sent a photo of her lunch – a tin can of soup heating over a tealight candle – while another posted a photo of a frozen stream of ice escaping her kitchen sink. The visual that left me eviscerated was a video of a friend warming her baby’s bottle using the heater in her car.

All of this, and we were the lucky ones.

Like most disasters, the winter storm disproportionately affected low-income and historically marginalized communities. This crisis is only compounded by a pandemic that has impacted Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities throughout the state. There have been 80 deaths accounted for thus far, with more predicted in the next three months as autopsy reports become available. Christian Pavon Pineda, an 11-year-old boy, died of hypothermia in the bed of his family’s Conroe mobile home while trying to keep his brother warm. Did he or any other victim deserve this because he lived in a red state?

Petulant opinions like King’s have only continued in the weeks following the freeze.

Earlier this week, Abbott made a shocking announcement that Texas would be reopening and lifting all COVID-19 restrictions, including life-saving mask mandates. This announcement came a day after Houston became the first city to have all COVID-19 variants.

Despite the backlash Abbott received from his constituents, notable progressives made sweeping generalizations that left us feeling worthless. Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann asked Twitter, “Why are we wasting vaccinations on Texas if Texas has decided to choose the side of the virus?”

Documentary maker Michael Moore went on to say Texans think COVID-19 is a hoax and don’t need the vaccine. “We’ll send it to ppl who are saving lives by wearing masks,” he tweeted. The “Fahrenheit 11/9” creator – quick to point out how political decisions can devastate communities like Flint, Michigan – should know that no good comes from writing off populations in crisis.

Party lines

The view that Texans keep voting for Republican officials is myopic at its best and dangerous at its worst. To say the state fully supports our privatized power grid is to disregard the grassroots movements that have steadily worked for progress in Texas and advocated for green energy.

The most populated cities in Texas, like Houston and Austin, are widely led by Democrat leadership. Last week Brittany Packnett Cunningham tweeted, “Texas isn’t red – it’s suppressed.”

Republicans have held onto their 20-year majority, but it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to the state’s 150-year history of voter suppression, as documented by Texas Monthly. Most recently, the Texas GOP challenged the legality of 127,000 votes made at a drive-thru voting site in Harris County in the 2020 election but the move was thrown out by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen.

Like the misunderstanding of Texas politics, people often misunderstand Texas’ people.

More than cowboys and cacti, Texas is home to some of the most diverse cities in the United States. We have the second-highest Hispanic and Latinx population in the country, with that total growing by two million in the last decade. There are 145 languages spoken in Houston alone. Montrose, the historic Houston neighborhood that birthed the city’s LGBTQ movement of the ’80s, continues to be an eclectic haven known for pride.

In the 2018 midterms, 19 Black women were elected as judges in Harris County, celebrating with the group name “Black Girl Magic.” In that same year, County Judge Lina Hidalgo made history as the first woman and first Latina elected to the role. My city is vibrant, progressive and teeming with a culture that outsiders rarely acknowledge or understand. Before you make generalizations, I challenge you to spend a day here.

I am defensive of Texas not because it’s perfectly run, but because it’s my home.

I finally understand the pride that so many Texans feel because of the unpredictable challenges we’ve faced. I’ve seen good Samaritans raft through floodwaters to rescue strangers during Hurricane Harvey. I’ve witnessed neighbors grocery shopping for one another during a deadly pandemic. Last week, I saw Texans jump at the chance to share their electricity to provide warmth and a hot shower to others.

We are not 38 electoral votes or a red body of land on a map. We are more than 29 million of your neighbors. We are not fodder for your 280 characters – we are human beings who need your support.

Jillian Goltzman is a freelance journalist covering culture, lifestyle, and social impact. You can follow her work on her website and Twitter.