Some liberals love nothing better than a good protest. I’ve never been one of them. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve yelled against plenty of wars and sashayed through my share of Pride parades. I’ve protested executions and Ten Commandments monuments and international torture-training schools. But it’s never been my idea of a rocking good time. I don’t like holding signs with slogans any more than I like mouthing the lyrics to folk songs I’m supposed to have memorized, or responding in unison to the inevitable questions of seemingly every protest rally: “What do we want? … When do we want it?” Somehow, that 1967-era protest shtick always leaves me feeling like we’re never going to get what we want, no matter how much we chant for it.
But there’s a time to kvetch about style points, and there’s this time. It’s a time when Texas has a $27 billion budget deficit and a right-wing Legislature determined to balance the ledger by depleting schools and services. It’s a moment when every Texan who believes in building a better future rather than a second-world society needs to be getting up and out and organized. It’s a moment to stamp and holler and insist. To make the Tea Party’s rallies look like polite, lightly attended little affairs. To stand up or be streamrolled.
Of course, the facts of Texas’ budget crisis are so drastic and so grim that it’s hard to perceive any potential daylight through the gloom. How are rational Texans going to turn back a right-wing Legislature bent on using this enormous budget deficit as an excuse to eradicate social services, schools and other vestiges of civilization as much as they possibly can?
Well, for starters, we can make it vividly plain that there are Texans who aren’t going to sit back and silently watch it happen. That’s a powerful message by itself, as we’ve seen recently in Wisconsin, among other states. Right-wing Republican governors’ coordinated efforts to dismantle both organized labor and the social safety net have prompted vigorous protests elsewhere. But not yet in Texas, where there’s just as much at stake for vulnerable and middle-class folks as anywhere else.
The national context of Texas’ historic budget crisis—and its vital importance to moderate and progressive Americans everywhere—has largely been missed. The effort to break the unions in Wisconsin and other states is, at root, part of a larger push to replicate the “Texas model” across America. In nearly two decades under Govs. Bush and Perry, we have become the low-tax, deregulated, minimum-wage paradise of Wall Street’s dreams. And Perry has done such a hard sell of Texas’ economic miracle, on his perpetual national tour, that a whole lot of people still believe it’s true.
The national prominence of the Texas model—and the use to which the Republican right is putting it nationally—is one more reason for moderate and progressive and otherwise civilized Texans to start acting up. If we’re going to be used as a model for other states, how far back toward the 18th century are we going to let that model go?
And look: If you organize and the worst happens—you lose this budget battle—you still haven’t lost everything. If reality-based Texans can mobilize effectively, they will have built a base for the future. And they will have made an important fact known to legislators and Gov. Perry: that there’s a sizable number of Texans who think the right-wing ideologues are heedlessly destroying everything that gives Texas a future, not to mention many of the qualities that make it a state worth living in. The right is creating a place where the wealthy live one way, cordoned off from everybody else—and where everybody else lives harder lives with less. That place is not America, and it’s not Texas, and we refuse to live there. Saying that is not just important; it’s essential.
Stripping workers’ rights is one thing—and it’s a rotten, destructive thing. But here in Texas, we have our own brand of rotten. To balance the state budget, about one-fourth of our state spending would have to be cut if no new revenues are found. And that, folks, is something to organize around and protest and live on the Capitol grounds and even sing songs about. If there’s ever going to be a time for Texas progressives to fight like hell to reorient this state’s compass back toward the 21st century, here it is.