A composite image created from a photo of Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott, a photo of a protest, and a set of power lines, superimposed so the cables and politicians seem to tower over the protest. A red/blue filter tints the whole picture.
Image Credit: Ivan Flores, Gus Bova, AP Images

Fight for Change Where You Live

“Our efforts can’t be limited to complaining on our social media accounts.” 

by

A version of this story ran in the January / February 2023 issue.

Watching the national media’s reaction to last fall’s midterm elections made my head spin.

While the cable news pundits and legacy media headlines spoke of the failure of a “red wave” to materialize, we here in Texas had to swallow the fact that our neighbors had chosen to reelect a governor who took no meaningful action to shore up our energy infrastructure after more than 200 fellow Texans died in an ice storm; who made guns easier to carry after the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, at Santa Fe High School and the El Paso Walmart and leading up to the Uvalde elementary school tragedy; and whose version of “securing the border” meant sending busloads of migrants to faraway states with false promises. Oh, and we also reelected an attorney general who’s been under indictment for the past seven years.

And in Tarrant County, where I live, Tim O’Hare was elected county judge. As a Farmers Branch city councilmember, he had tried to make it illegal for undocumented persons to work or even rent a place to live. In the GOP primary, he won by running to the right of a conservative and popular former Fort Worth mayor.

It reminded me of how I felt in the summer of 2020, when two years of activism on the part of myself and hundreds of others in Fort Worth seemed to have done nothing for those we were trying to help. But it also made me want to tell people what I’ve been doing here in North Texas rather than throwing in the towel.

In May 2018, as the Trump administration’s policy on family separations at the border took shape, I led an effort to get my representative in Congress to halt it. As the son of immigrants and a bilingual teacher, I care deeply about the issue.

U.S. Representative Kay Granger, a Republican in Congress since 1997, had worked her way into senior leadership positions on various committees and task forces. I felt if anyone was going to be able to get the White House to listen to our pleas for humanitarian action, it would be her.

I started a weekly sidewalk protest near her office that grew from six people to a couple dozen, then 40, then 80. The press covered our actions and more people joined each week, culminating in more than 200 protesters during the week of the Texas State Democratic Convention that June. It was remarkable to get that kind of consistent turnout in Tarrant County, where for decades Republicans have run unopposed in far too many local races.

We kept at it for two more years. But then we had to stand down. The COVID outbreak made it too dangerous to get together in such groups, and our numbers dwindled. We faced a heartbreaking reality: All those hours of trudging up and down in all weather, visiting her office and logging our complaints with her staff hadn’t reunited a single child with their parents nor nudged Granger into action.

I knew I had to do something beyond marching in the streets. I wasn’t ready to give up fighting for real change in Tarrant County.

What’s more, by 2020, progressives and people of color in Fort Worth were seething over two police abuse cases that seemed to show nothing had changed here, including one in which a black woman, Atatiana Jefferson, had been killed by a police officer responding to a request for a wellness check at her home. Then came the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the Summer of Justice, and protests through downtown Fort Worth, outside City Hall, and in the popular West 7th Street district. By the end of that summer, I knew I had to do something beyond marching in the streets. I wasn’t ready to give up fighting for real change in Tarrant County.

About that time, a young science educator and nonprofit leader named Jared Williams announced his candidacy for Fort Worth City Council in my district in southwest Fort Worth.

Donald Trump won a little less of the vote in my precinct in 2020 than he did in 2016: 49 percent to 54 percent. But John Cornyn won reelection to the U.S. Senate with 52 percent of the vote in my precinct, and Granger took 54 percent on her way to another term.

My precinct is not blue.  

So I reached out to Jared directly and offered to volunteer for his campaign. That’s where I thought I could have an impact on my community: the city council race in my district.

Over the next several months, we phone banked, we texted voters, and we knocked on doors—virtually every door in the district.

Advertisement
Advertisment

Despite being outspent 4-to-1, we forced a runoff in the three-way general election.

So we kept knocking on doors and calling and texting voters.

And despite being outspent 6-to-1 in the month leading up to the runoff election, we finished the job and made a little Fort Worth history, unseating 16-year incumbent Jungus Jordan and electing the first person of color to the District 6 seat in the city’s history.

Elsewhere, Tarrant County has become ground zero in the school board culture wars. Opponents of racial and gender equity work, backed by the resources of political action committees, have gone after superintendents, school board trustees, and teachers who seek to improve policy and curriculum for underrepresented students. They have organized and drawn media attention—at times flattering coverage. These PACs are laser-focused on school boards.

But while awful things have happened in Southlake and Grapevine, to say nothing of some rural school districts in neighboring counties, the Fort Worth Independent School District has held steadfast in its commitment to equity work, replacing its ousted superintendent with one who has a track record of championing such work.

That is due in no small part to the support that citizens showed for those values through emails to trustees and speaking up at forums and school board meetings.

The ultimate takeaway for a progressive such as myself—a husband, dad, teacher, and advocate—is this: In order to create the world we want, the one we envision, we have to find allies and encourage them to get in the fight. Right here, where we live. 

In order to create the world we want, we have to find allies and encourage them to get in the fight. Right here, where we live.

Our efforts can’t be limited to complaining on our social media accounts. 

If you have the means financially, pick a candidate or cause and support them. Donating has never been easier. Make regular contributions every few weeks.

If you can’t give money, find time to devote to the candidate or cause. Get involved. Stay involved. Go to city council meetings or school board meetings. Sign up to speak or give words of support to those who do. Write your local leaders and tell them what matters to you, how you want them to govern.

Make these things part of your weekly or monthly routine.

Little by little, we’re making it happen in Fort Worth with small victories. Doing that across the state, we could build a Texas that is a model of progressivism for the nation. If that sounds unlikely, remember that nothing in Texas politics should be taken for granted. The Republican margins of victory in Texas are getting smaller. Democratic strength is growing in many major cities.

This is the struggle of our lives. We have to spend our lives winning it.