In Texas, Voting Is Now an Act of Civil Disobedience

·6 min read

With the enactment of antivoter Senate Bill 1 earlier this year, it became clear beyond all doubt that Texas leadership is intent on silencing the voices of a new and diverse generation of Texans. Our leaders would rather put up intentional barriers to the ballot box to silence our voices than take action on the real issues affecting working Texans, especially young people of color. Under these circumstances, when the established authority has demonstrated a desire to deter people from voting, the act of voting itself becomes not just our civic duty, but a noble and necessary act of civil disobedience.

Our leaders would rather put up intentional barriers to the ballot box to silence our voices than take action on the real issues affecting working Texans, especially young people of color.

But let me be clear, ours is not a movement limited only to those who can vote. Even those of us who are denied the franchise because we're too young, or because we're returning citizens, or because we're not citizens at all - we, too, have an important role to play. Take it from me, as a queer DACA recipient who leads one of the largest youth-powered civic-engagement organizations in our state, there's plenty of work to be done outside of punching a ballot. We can engage, educate, activate, organize, and empower the people around us to make a real difference in our communities - that's how we build lasting social, cultural, and political power from the ground up.

The fight to stop Senate Bill 1 was long and hard-fought. Hundreds of Texans from all walks of life who make up a diverse multiracial and multigenerational coalition drove for hours across our sprawling state to have their voices heard. They fought to ensure our leaders knew that the vast majority of Texans don't support their attacks on our freedom to vote. The aggressive and partisan manner in which this bill was forced into law ignited widespread outrage against voter suppression on a scale we have not seen in this country since the civil rights era. Now, that same spirit of defiance, which has throughout history repelled the most aggressive assaults on our freedom to vote, is again gripping our nation.

I want to take a moment to hone in on this point, because it is an important one. The attacks on democracy in Texas find their focus at the intersection of race and class, and so any effective response to these racist, oppressive measures must, in turn, have this intersectionality at its center - just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s did a generation ago. We must be grounded in the radical roots of our movement and remind ourselves that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream for the future of America, he did so at the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom. The ability to make our voices heard in this democracy has always been and will continue to be intrinsically tied to the fight for economic and racial equality.

It's no coincidence, for example, that granting special protections for partisan poll-watchers was a key provision of Senate Bill 1 and that Texas GOP officials were training their - largely white - supporters to target Latinx and Black communities, specifically, for voter intimidation through the use of poll-watchers. Nor is it any coincidence that early iterations of the voter-suppression bill referenced the "purity of the ballot box," language that was historically used to exclude nonwhite Texans from the voting process in an earlier version of the Texas Constitution. Nor that the bill eliminated 24-hour early voting and drive-through voting, when communities of color made up the majority of voters availing themselves of these secure voting options. Proponents of this voter-suppression bill gave up the game when they rejected a proposed amendment that would track the impact of their bill across different racial groups - they knew what they were doing.

[Decennial census] data showed that 95 percent of the growth Texas saw over the past decade was driven by communities of color. Nonetheless, Texas lawmakers have shamelessly proposed racist maps that deliberately dilute the political power of Black and Brown communities.

More recently, Texas lawmakers have - on dubious constitutional grounds - begun the process of redrawing Texas's electoral districts based on decennial census data. This data showed that 95 percent of the growth Texas saw over the past decade was driven by communities of color. Nonetheless, Texas lawmakers have shamelessly proposed racist maps that deliberately dilute the political power of Black and Brown communities.

The numbers are astonishing: while white and Latinx Texans make up virtually identical proportions of the state's population, the new maps drawn out include 23 districts with white majorities and just seven with Latinx majorities; one fewer Latinx-majority district and one more white-majority district than the current map. Similarly, the new maps include zero majority-Black districts, removing the single existing majority-Black district from the current map. It is truly hard to contemplate a more blatantly racist attempt to stack the deck against communities of color.

The common thread that connects all of these assaults on the freedom to vote is their deliberate, disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Texans. The only way to fight back against these measures is to leverage the power of these communities by engaging, educating, organizing, mobilizing, and empowering the passionate Texans that make them up against the oppressive power over these communities that cynical politicians are desperately trying to retain. Bad actors know how much power our communities have, why else would they be trying so hard to keep us out of the process?

Texas leadership has gone to extraordinary lengths to cut communities of color out of the process. The upshot, however, is that we have the power to change the systems of power that seek to silence us. By setting out to engage communities of color, educate young Black and Brown Texans, and empower people all across our state, we can undo the damage done to our democracy. But it's going to take a lot of hard work.

We're going to have to realize that the right to vote is not just a freedom we enjoy, but an obligation we have to one another.

We're going to have to realize that the right to vote is not just a freedom we enjoy, but an obligation we have to one another. We're going to have to build up and empower people from all walks of life, even those of us who cannot vote, because this fight is our fight too. And we're going to have to embrace fully that enduring spirit of defiance and civil disobedience that has, time and time again, changed the course of history.