Axios Austin

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It's Wednesday, best known as the midpoint between Monday and Friday.

โ˜€๏ธ Today's weather: More sunniness, with a high of 82.

๐ŸŽ‚ Happy birthday to our Axios Austin member Amanda Frazier!

Today's newsletter is 915 words โ€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The challenges of campus dialogue

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As the Israel-Hamas war nears its six-month mark, we touched base with a couple of University of Texas students who are urging dialogue on campus.

Why it matters: UT, like universities across the country, is struggling with questions of free speech and sensitivity toward students and faculty members.

UT undergraduate Elijah Kahlenberg, who's Jewish and is from San Antonio, founded Atidna at UT in 2022 to bring Jews and Palestinians together โ€” and now runs the organization with Jadd Hashem, a Palestinian American from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

  • The word is a portmanteau of the Hebrew word atid, meaning "future," with the Arabic suffix na, for "our" โ€” meaning "our future."

The big picture: Gov. Greg Abbott, who journeyed to Israel in November in a show of support, last week commanded Texas universities to punish what he says is a "sharp rise in antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses."

What's the purpose of Atidna?

Hashem: "The goal is to tear down the tribalistic nature on campus. We want to bring people together who have never spoken to each other."

Students at a dialogue session.
Students at an Atidna dialogue session last fall. Photo courtesy Elijah Kahlenberg

How do you do that?

Kahlenberg: "Through peace events and dialogue sessions that bring together Jews and Israelis, Muslims and Palestinians. We are more similar to each other than any other peoples on the planet. We descend from the same peoples and from the same land."

What kind of reception have you won from Jewish or Palestinian groups on campus?

Kahlenberg: "The Jewish community has been quite hostile to getting into dialogue with Palestinians, and the chief Israeli-Zionist student organization sees our space as potentially a platform for Palestinian terrorism. The student Palestinian Solidarity Committee sees dialogue as normalization of Israel's actions, by letting Israelis into the conversation."

What's next for the organization

2. How to drive during the eclipse

A mock-up of an eclipse highway sign. Image courtesy of TxDOT

Worried about the prospect of car crashes during the eclipse on Monday, state and local officials are doling out special eclipse driving tips ahead of the celestial event.

Why it matters: A ton of people are headed to Central Texas, and many of them may stare skyward while walking across a street โ€ฆ or operating a vehicle.

Backstory: This is the first time Austin has been in the path of totality for a solar eclipse in more than 600 years and, as far as we can tell, there were no cars back then.

Fun fact: Texas Department of Transportation officials say they have been planning for two years to ensure smooth and safe traffic flow.

  • The agency will flash messages on highways that say "NO STOPPING ON HIGHWAY TO VIEW ECLIPSE" and "NO PARKING ON SHOULDER, KEEP MOVING."
  • Crews are also pausing some road construction and maintenance on major corridors in the path of the eclipse April 7-9.

Tips issued by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Austin Transportation Department include:

  • Expect sudden stops by drivers.
  • Watch out for distracted pedestrians looking to the sky.
  • Keep your headlights on while driving, even in the daylight.
  • Do not wear eclipse glasses while driving.
  • Find a safe, designated space to park before the eclipse. Do not stop in the middle of the road or on a road shoulder.

Plus: If you are using public transportation during the eclipse, be prepared for traffic delays.

  • CapMetro operators can choose to pull over during the period of total darkness, and CapMetro will be running a special rail schedule.

The bottom line: State officials are exhorting vehicle owners to "Drive friendly, the Texas way."

What about the wildflowers?

3. ๐Ÿค  The Roundup: Wrangling the news

Moon Pies for sale at an H-E-B, with a label reading "solar eclipse survival kit." Photo: Nicole Cobler/Axios

UT laid off at least 60 staff members who worked in diversity, equity and inclusion-related positions โ€” and the school is shutting down its Division of Campus and Community Engagement. (Austin American-Statesman)

๐Ÿงป All the planned outdoor watch parties mean the eclipse is big business for Austin-area port-a-potty purveyors. (KUT)

๐Ÿš˜ Social media personality Evil Mopac created a bracket of the worst drivers in Austin. (Fox 7 Austin)

4. Local car maker tumbles

An Austin Tesla dealership. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Tesla's vehicle sales declined as the automaker grapples with logistical challenges and the industry faces lower-than-expected growth in EV sales.

Why it matters: As the world's largest maker of premium EVs, Tesla's performance is a close EV market barometer, our Axios colleague Nathan Bomey writes.

By the numbers: The automaker delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide in the first quarter, down 8.5% from the same period a year earlier. Deliveries are a close approximation of sales.

The company also reported an unusually large gap between production and deliveries. Tesla said it produced 433,371 units, down about 7,000 from a year earlier.

The impact: Disappointed investors drove down Tesla's stock by 7.4% in pre-market trading.

5. 2 political blasts from the past to go

Joe Straus (left) and Beto O'Rourke. Photos: Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Two of the more intriguing Texas political characters of the last decade are giving free and public talks at the LBJ School this month.

The intrigue: There's little room for either Joe Straus or Beto O'Rourke to hold elected public office in Texas.

  • Straus, the Republican who as House speaker shot down Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's favored bathroom bill in 2017, represents a wing of the GOP on the outs.
  • After failed (if galvanizing) campaigns for U.S. Senate, president and governor, O'Rourke is sitting out this election cycle.

What's happening: Straus will speak as part of the Renewing Democracy Speaker Series at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs at 12:15 pm Thursday at the Bass Lecture Hall.

  • And on April 16, O'Rourke will deliver a lecture of his own. Both investigate "the future of democracy."

๐Ÿ“ If you go: RSVPs for the Straus and O'Rourke talks are required.

Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Yasmeen Altaji for copy editing this newsletter.

๐Ÿง Asher is reading in Texas Monthly about how Jesse Plemons has a "TVZ" tattoo on his index finger in honor of Townes Van Zandt.

๐ŸŒป Nicole is landscaping with all the native plants she just bought at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's spring native plant sale.