SXSW is a worldwide showcase of innovation in art, technology, business, and social justice. Along the streets of Austin, homeless residents sat, slept, and surveyed as convention goers filed into endless lines and celebrities shuffled to their keynotes.
Americans, Texans, sons, brothers and mothers are nothing more than a peripheral eyesore and potential threat to SXSW goers. As the Hollywood elite scurry in to brandish diversity and triumphs over discrimination in their multi-billion dollar industries, the not so diverse homeless community of Austin remains not so fortunate.
The fight for inclusion has merit and is ever present at a convention of cutting edges, but this issue is reserved for the financially stable and overshadows the much tougher fight for the basic human needs of food, shelter and healthcare.
SXSW has a moral obligation to invest a part of its earnings into homelessness relief for the downtown Austin area.
According to economic impact reports commissioned by SXSW, “In 2017 alone, SXSW’s economic impact on the Austin economy totaled $348.6 million.” Furthermore, in 2017 70,696 people attended the conference
FC’d and assuming each of them paid the least expensive admission cost, then it can be estimated that SXSW as a business grossed at least $58 million from attendees alone. This gross amount does not include the money SXSW makes from vendors, sponsors, and the number of other revenue streams involved in the week-long event.
According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, “The urgent need for housing is also coupled with many interconnected needs including living wage jobs and appropriate access to health care.”
With figures like these, the short list of justifications for the increasing homeless population in Austin becomes a blaring point of contention. Between the city of Austin, SXSW and the number of festivals that take place in Austin throughout the year, surely someone can afford to invest part of their earnings into fixed affordable housing. Perhaps there are even opportunities for work if the earnings really are like, “(hosting) a Super Bowl here every year,” as Austin Mayor Steve Adler described the convention.
The trendy man bun, Starbucks, and satchel culture that Austin bolsters every year of SXSW comes at the expense of Austin residents who are subsequently made homeless due to the resulting gentrification. Gentrification is an issue ECHO identifies as an “Affordability Crisis” and as one of the leading causes of increasing homelessness.
It is not practical to tell people not to move where they want to move in the U.S. but it is practical to request that they compensate for the displacement they cause. It is reasonable to suggest that these newcomers respect the space of the current residents, not entitleing themselves to a city they only recently moved to.
But the responsibility of assisting Austin’s displaced residents does not fall entirely on the shoulders of SXSW, but also onto the net worth of the expansive roster of speakers and the corporations they represent. In addition, attendees could assumably afford charity if they are able to comfortably fork over a thousand dollars to attend the festivals.
SXSW should serve the whole of the Austin community just as much as its restaurants, hotels, Lyft, and other businesses. There is no reason why the poorest of Austin should live in such close proximity to a showcase of excess and affluence while continuing to grow in poverty.
While it should not require a compromise to sacrifice a little capitalism for the sake of charity, the middle ground is that Austin and SXSW get to keep their trendy culture and in turn, 2,000 people do not have to sleep outside because of it.
SXSW has a social impact track during the festivals that, “highlights innovative ideas from creative industries that are contributing to a better, more equitable world.” While it is great that the convention attracts activists, politicians and thought leaders, highlighting is not worth much when the festivals enter Austin and leave without impacting any social or systemic change on the corner of Cesar Chaves and I-35.
This is not preaching from a pulpit of moral high ground, but rather to draw attention and encourage assistance to the people who need it the most. Not because it is the right thing to do, not for tax write-offs, but simply because we can.
– Carrington Tatum is an electronic media sophomore