Another Republican member of Congress announced their plans to vacate their seat, reinforcing what we know: Texas is a swing state. Thanks to a renewal of the long-held tradition of organizing by people of color in the state — Texas is up for grabs as the biggest prize on the electoral map.
Many predicted Texas would turn blue in 2014 as flashy names like Jenn Brown and Jeremy Bird failed to deliver. Out of that disastrous defeat came a transformational new wave of operatives who aren’t household names, but know Texas communities inside and out like Oscar Silva and Michelle Tremillo. Organizations like Texas Organizing Project, Workers Defense Project and MOVE Texas are leading the way forward talking to communities of color about what really matters to them and those folks are turning out because of it.
In 2018, former Representative Beto O’Rourke took advantage of this new infrastructure and became a figurehead in the fight to flip Texas, but it’s the hard work of these organizations that has turned Texas into a true battleground state. MOVE Texas registered a voter every 6 seconds on National Voter Registration Day, while Texas Organizing Project and Workers Defense Project provided the real backbone to the results of 2018 on election night as part of a coalition knocking on over a million doors — when O’Rourke lost by 220,000 votes it represented the closest margin in nearly 40 years.
This powerful new infrastructure was built by listening to people of color who have long been silenced in the state. These Texans care about health care, while Texas Republicans have refused to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Where Latinos, Black people and immigrants care about their take home pay, Texas Republicans settled for the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
How large is the voting power of these communities? Well, there are more registered Black voters in Texas than any other state except California. And, the Latino community showed up like never before last year, increasing turnout by 11%, compared to 2016. This shift in demographics, coupled with grassroots organizing the transforming the conversations around the policies that directly impact these communities.This coalition of Latinos, Black and Asian-Americans have forced their issues into mainstream conversations in Texas.
Because of the organizing and subsequent turnout efforts in the urban metro areas, Dallas County saw turnout increase by 40%, Harris County was up 43% and Bexar County saw Latino turnout increase 43% — because there were fights that these organizations led that made a direct impact on people’s lives. Heck, white young people, strangled by a mixture of stagnant wages and college debt loans are voting differently than their older white relatives too. Texans of all races don’t care about palace intrigue or party labels, they want to see their lives improve and they’ll talk to their friends and neighbors about the issues that matter. Paid sick leave (which passed thanks to legislative pressure by these groups in San Antonio and Dallas), transforming the immigration system, and reforming the current cash bail system that keeps a disproportionate amount of Black men behind bars are all at the forefront.
The key part of the Texas success story is simple: issue organizing and empowered communities have to be registered to vote. In a state where voter suppression is the key to the GOP staying in power — remember this is a state that basically committed hearsay about voter fraud with 25 year old data. In Texas, the swing voters aren’t Republicans to Democrats or vice-versa, it’s non-registered to registered. This group dwarfs the 220,000 vote advantage Republicans held at the end of the last election.
So get ready to be bombarded by TV ads, mailers and to fear your telephone every October — because both parties know that Texans are changing, and with it will go the balance of power in this country. No one will be more to blame than the community organizers leading conversations in neighborhoods and changing the country one conversation at a time.