UT Austin Trump protest

Four Texans on How to Fight Back in the Age of Trump

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Women’s March-Austin  Jen Reel


Such are the watchwords of this moment, the casual but sincere belief of too many Americans. Even in this era of casually hyperbolic opinionating, many reasonably believe that the threats of a Trump presidency are too great to overcome. Just to name a few: runaway climate change, a new nuclear brink- manship, a dangerously destabilized world order. Trump seems not only constitutionally incapable of rising to complex global challenges, but also hell-bent on reviving old crises and creating new ones. The line between alarm and paralysis is thin.

At home, the nation faces an unraveling of the social fabric and the rise and mainstreaming of a racist movement almost unthinkable just a few years ago. Congressional Republicans are eager to get to work jackhammering the remaining cornerstones of the Great Society and the New Deal.

In Texas, we’re going on three decades of near-total one-party rule, with no end in sight. The public sphere has shrunk and become increasingly the domain of short-sighted ideologues who play to the worst instincts of their base. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is the personification of the current regime — all circus, no bread. He distracts with demagoguery about trans people haunting restrooms while he also squeezes the lifeblood out of public schools. All in all, it’s a grim time.

And yet… the world has not ended, nor will it. The time for conviction and action is now. The Trump agenda can be stopped. Our problems can be solved, or at least mitigated. The radical right in Texas can be sidelined. The big question facing us now is not “Should we?” Rather it is “How?” We’ve asked four Texans — an elected official, an activist, a political consultant and a journalist (our founding editor, no less) — to address a simple question: How do we move forward? What follows is an attempt at reasoning together in the interest of spurring action. The quickest way to shake off that sense of doom is to get to work.

A Texan’s Political Guide to Resisting Trump by Sarah Slamen

To fight Trump, we must fight his brand of corruption and state-sponsored bigotry at home, too. We must beat back his appeasers and appointees, and, more important, resist local and statewide politicians who enact micro versions of the Trump agenda.

Illustration by Adam Maida

Increasingly, it appears that many of our very worst Texan politicians will be exported to Washington in the form of cabinet appointees. If you never found time to resist Rick Perry and Sid Miller while they were on the rise here, the responsibility lies in your hands in this moment. A tolerance for indignities, small and large, in daily Texan life has ballooned into a crude, international offense to us all.

It’s time to question yourself, your social network, your places of worship, the businesses and institutions you patronize or work for. Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest make Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund look like the model of public rectitude. Ask yourself, “Can I afford to spend money at businesses that enrich the Trump agenda?” One Texan resister, Debra Haas of Austin, has been participating in #grabyourwallet, a boycott of all Trump family products and hotels, since before Election Day. She dutifully avoids any outlet that carries Trump products or supports the administration. It may be awkward, but standing with neighbors who are vulnerable to indefinite detention means no longer buying meals prepared or services rendered by neighbors who welcome his agenda.

Just before the holidays, I watched as an Austin Energy employee called out her employer on social media. She listed all the reasons why it was disingenuous for her company to assert before City Council that every poor family knew how to navigate paying late bills. She clearly spelled out all the ways a customer could fall through the cracks.

Demand critical thinking, confront racial and religious scapegoating and threaten estrangement if your demands are not met. In January, Jan Chamberlin of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided a great example of spiritual resistance when she resigned from the choir after she could not reconcile performing for the Trump inauguration with Christ’s teachings.

Applauding or sharing your thoughts on social media is not enough anymore. Offline, attending protests unattached to any real demand and engaging only people we already know is no longer enough either. Commit to making local politics a weekly (if not daily) exercise. Issue advocacy is a great way to learn how bills are crafted and passed in your cities, counties and state capital. Look up a local, active, transparent advocacy group dedicated to your issue of choice and ask them if you can become a citizen lobbyist. The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty runs an excellent training program every legislative year. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, which is tasked with protecting reproductive rights and resisting injustice around the state, also holds training for Texans across suburbs and major cities.

The possibilities for participation are endless, but one certain way to challenge abusive power at home is for progressives to start winning elections again. In Texas today, we face a true crisis of even the most basic civic participation. We must take our voting rights in local elections more seriously — if not for ourselves, then for those disenfranchised masses trapped in immigrant detention and those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses or mental illness. Every year, politicians run unopposed up and down our state ballots. To gain a healthy bench of candidates, we must strengthen parties other than the GOP at home and in Washington, D.C.

Democrats in major Texas cities must move beyond making ActBlue donations and voting straight ticket every presidential election. A small group of people have been doing the work of the Texas Democratic Party for almost 30 years, and it shows. Relieve them in your resistance. For Texas Democrats, this means showing up to county executive meetings, club meetings and county conventions. (I took my own advice in 2016 and joined the leadership of the Texas Young Democrats so I could start taking responsibility for the choices I was asking voters to make.) Reject alienation by becoming a precinct block captain or filling one of the thousands of empty precinct chair positions across the state. Doing so will give you access to your neighbors who have been showing up to vote or who voted eight years ago and haven’t been back to the polls since. Talk to each other and figure out why most of the people in your community aren’t voting. Your answers are more valuable than the pundits who told a different story for the last 18 months.

There are alternatives to the current party in power and the Democratic Party in Texas. However, voting for a third-party candidate every four years is not building an alternative. The Green Party of Texas, Democratic Socialists of America and the Libertarian Party all exist and can be contacted today. By writing to them or contacting them online, you can join in building infrastructure that could rival the votes and dollars of the major parties.

It will not all be grand, heroic gestures in our Texan resistance. There is no task too small or out of reach. If you have social anxiety or are confined to home, find a way to research bills online. Make yourself available to support the volunteer work of those who are ready to be on the ground by giving rides across our sprawling cities or hosting meetings for those who need escape from conservative communities where they can’t gather openly yet. Every hour we dedicate early on to this resistance and its support network will help us find more Texans to carry on the work for the next four years. Stepping out in your suburban community today will empower the closeted progressive down the street to enter the fray. There is much resistance to sow across these 254 counties. I hope to see you out there.

The Resistance Against Donald Trump Begins in Texas by Greg Casar

Greg Casar is an Austin City Council member.

The resistance against Donald Trump and everything he represents should have its headquarters in Texas.

We are the largest state in America governed by a Trump-aligned regime. Trump’s government will have the support of the state Capitol as our leaders act to dismantle public education, destroy our social safety net and tear apart families.

There are many of us in Texas who will likely be their first targets. Our state is home to more refugees and undocumented immigrants than almost anywhere else in the nation. It’s for this very reason that Texans must take center stage in the Trump resistance.

During the civil rights movement, many Northerners made great sacrifices and played critical roles in defeating Jim Crow. But the true battle was fought and won in the South, where organized resistance and civil disobedience challenged segregation and Klan violence. Alabama was home to both Bull Connor and Rosa Parks. Georgia was home to both Lester Maddox and Martin Luther King Jr. There’s no better time than now to continue the South’s strong history of resistance.

We’ve all been told to “give Trump a chance.” Many leaders and talking heads, including Trump, are calling for healing and unity. I believe that’s wrong. There will be no healing for families who will be impoverished or torn apart by Trump. We can’t “give him a chance” to take away health care from people who will die without it.

In Texas, many of us who have advocated for policy change have gotten used to cutting deals, respecting the other side and playing nice. Things have changed. Trump’s followers will not go easy on us for playing nice. There is no compromising with hate and fear.

Texas’ right wing may have gerrymandered districts to deny representation to our communities, suppressed voter participation and handed public policymaking over to corporate interests — but even still, there are millions of progressive Texans with real political, economic and electoral power in our cities.

The lion’s share of local elected officials in San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Dallas, El Paso and throughout South Texas are left of center. That’s because, even though a majority of those throughout the state who go to the ballot box vote Republican, the hearts of Texans — especially in our cities — are populist, progressive and thirsting for change.

The progressive movement in Texas, more than ever before, can take the bold action necessary to inspire the residents of our cities to become a part of the Trump resistance. This is a movement moment. Fighting for expanded workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights and environmental protections may sound risky in the face of Abbott, Patrick and Trump. But our families will face greater, long-term risks if we do not expose the Republican Party for the discriminatory, misogynist, anti-democratic, anti-American institution it has become.

In Austin, we’re getting started on that work. In the weeks following Trump’s election, immigrants’ rights advocates won a commitment from the City Council to fund nonprofit legal services and deportation defense services for our immigrant community.

Capitol, activists
Demonstrators hold a sign reading “We are the American children of immigrants.”  Gus Bova

Last year, Austin activists successfully demanded a review of the city’s policing practices before any budget funds could go toward new police officers. Formerly incarcerated people advocated for anti-discrimination policies so that people with criminal histories have a better chance at getting a job, and their work led to Austin becoming the first city in the South to pass a Fair Chance Hiring ordinance.

Low-wage service workers won a union at Austin’s airport, and they’re on the way to winning in Houston, too. El Paso passed new laws to hold employers accountable for shorting workers their fair pay. Dallas County’s sheriff bravely limited cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Travis County’s new sheriff promised to go even further toward justice.

These local victories, and the progressive wins to come, are a direct rebuke to the politics of Trump. We’re gaining momentum, and we know Trump and his sympathizers will do whatever they can to slow us down.

This is a call to action: Build the resistance against Trump in your city. Trump may have won our state’s 38 electoral votes, but that doesn’t mean he’s won Texas.

Now is the time to get involved. Go to a protest. Call, visit or write your city council members, county commissioners, mayor and state representatives and demand that they openly resist Trump, and then support them if they do so. Make a donation to, or volunteer for, a progressive movement-building organization in your community.

Act in solidarity with your neighbors, follow the leadership of those whose lives are most at risk and mobilize with them to defend everyone’s rights against vigilante violence or government violence — especially people of color, Muslims, immigrants and others who will be scapegoated. And even when despair and cynicism seem rational, keep hope in your heart instead. We’ll need it. There’s a long fight ahead.

The Observer’s Founding Editor Ronnie Dugger: ‘Bring the Fight Back’ to Texas Politics

Ronnie Dugger, 1990  Alan Pogue

The presidency of Donald Trump is an emergency for the United States. Now is the time for each ethics-seeking American citizen to fight for democracy in a nonviolent revolution.

With the nation now ruled by Trump and Texas run by the likes of Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, what do we do next?

This moment is not about Trump — we’ve had too much of that. Now it is about us, free people in a still-free state and a still-free country. It’s long past time in Texas for straight talk, starting with the blunt facts about the nullity the Texas Democratic Party has become. What else can be said honestly about it in a state where the major cities vote Democratic for president but Democrats haven’t won a single statewide office for 20 years? Even in the state’s most liberal city the Democrats can’t get it right. When a friend and I arrived at the 2016 Travis County Democratic Convention — in a county won by Bernie — we were handed programs listing the convention committees, all of which were stacked with known supporters of Clinton. And then speeches, speeches, driveling-on speeches. Not once were we, the Democratic delegates, expected to do anything but say (and vote), “Yes sir. Yes ma’am.” Liberal Democrats have been beaten down so much that they’ve given up at exactly the wrong time.

Even more tellingly, precinct organizing at the neighborhood level is all but abandoned, even though it was responsible for the history-changing ascendancy of liberals in Texas from the ’50s to the ’90s. Where are Frankie Randolph and U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough when we need them? Randolph, who helped start this very magazine in 1954 and hired me as editor, was the chief organizer of precincts in Houston and the inspiration to organizers in other cities. Yarborough was the fighting Texas senator in the great liberal tradition who led the precinct-rooted Democratic revival in Texas. Among many achievements, Yarborough was responsible in part for two of the most liberal federal judges in Texas history, Wayne Justice and Woodrow Seals.

Randolph and others led the Harris County Democrats as they integrated silently and became a model in the other big cities. Her recurring four-word speech to the hundreds of Democratic meetings she addressed was, “Work in your precincts.” African Americans, Hispanics, women, white liberals, gays, citizens, waged a nonviolent revolution to launch a Texas Democratic Party that was ready to take over the state, and did govern, for a while, with the election of Ann Richards as governor. Where and who now are the Henry B. Gonzalezes? One night in 1957, I stayed up all night in the Texas Senate chamber listening to Gonzalez filibuster segregation bills. “Who speaks for the Negroes? What about them?” he roared. “Is Texas liberty only for Anglo-Saxons?”

And so many others: Senator and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, the most eloquent leader in the drive to impeach President Nixon; Bob Eckhardt, the representative and congressman whose faithful drive was “to advance my views,” and many’s the time he did; Mickey Leland, the brilliant black congressman headed for the U.S. Senate until he went down in a crashing airplane. And always Yarborough, a model of progressive integrity who kept orating on the stump, “Let’s put the jam down on the lower shelves where the people can reach it.”

We owe, each of us and all of us, as much time and effort as we can practically give to advance our deepest values and convictions.

By contrast, the leaders of today are following the advice of mercenary campaign consultants. Until late in Wendy Davis’ 2014 gubernatorial campaign, you’d have thought she didn’t even know the state GOP was (and still is) actively denying 1.1 million low-income Texans health insurance through Medicaid, health care that would be almost entirely paid for by the federal government. As Davis has admirably confessed, “One of the things I learned during my gubernatorial race was that allowing ourselves to be message-managed is not the right direction to take. People are looking for authenticity, even if they don’t agree with everything you say.”

I posit that taking back Texas will require three initiatives: (1) we reorganize as Democrats from the precincts up, starting with each one of us in our own precinct; (2) young people run for public office to rebuild a strong movement inside the Demo- cratic Party, starting with city council, school board and mayor; (3) we fight for a bold new agenda that requires courage to advance in the face of right-wing reactionaries.

What are some of the issues that will give millions of oppressed Texans more reasons to vote in order to improve their own and their children’s lives? Democrats must fight, fight, fight for those billions of tax dollars offered back to us by our federal government for Medicaid. (And resist the GOP’s efforts to destroy the health care system.) Fight racism at every turn and opportunity. Go to the mat for a $15 state minimum wage, especially since the GOP may abolish Medicare and Medicaid while calling it reform. Create a statewide health insurance program for everyone; make worker’s compensation mandatory (we’re the only state that doesn’t); institute a state income tax so we will have enough money to educate all our citizens well and pay our teachers respectably; refuse to give state money to religious schools; ban gerrymandering, which disempowers minorities by concentrating them in wiggly-waggly districts. Oh, and radically democratize the Electoral College by instructing our state’s electors to cast their votes for the winner of the national election.

We owe, each of us and all of us, as much time and effort as we can practically give to advance our deepest values and convictions. Our democracy is at stake. Democracy itself is at stake. It’s up to us.

What a 1940 Novel Can Teach Us About Fighting Trump by Glenn W. Smith

Jen Reel

If you want to understand the moral circumstances that Americans face in the dawning Trump era, you could do worse than The Ox-Bow Incident, a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The book was published in 1940 and a film version starring Henry Fonda was released in 1943. It’s no coincidence that these were the years of the fight against fascism.

The story, set in 1885, is this: A pair of cowboys, Gil Carter (played by Henry Fonda in the movie) and Art Croft (played by Harry Morgan), ride into the town of Bridger’s Wells, Nevada, just as word is received that a popular local cowpoke has been murdered. The sheriff is, of course, out of town. A posse led by a strongman glory-seeker ignores the pleadings of the town’s shopkeeper-with-a-conscience and rides out to the Ox-Bow, a bend in a river, looking for vengeance. Carter and Croft go along.

We expect the story to develop into a conventional “horse opera” in which heroic Western individuality prevails over evil. But author Clark and director William Wellman are all about confounding expectations. And they don’t flinch.

The posse finds three men asleep at a campsite. The surprised campers plead their innocence. Though Carter, Croft, the shopkeeper and a few others protest meekly, the posse is not persuaded. None of the uneasy ones, despite moral misgivings, summon the courage to stop what happens next.

The mob hangs the three men. Later, it’s discovered that the alleged murder victim is very much alive. The hanged men were innocent after all.

This bare-bones account doesn’t adequately convey the dark theme. The film, reviewer Manny Farber wrote, “shows the failure of liberal men, inspired by justice, when they are opposed by irrational and powerful men of anger.”

Wallace Stegner, in his introduction to the Modern Library edition of Clark’s novel, calls the story “a probing of the whole blind ethics of an essentially false, imperfectly formed, excessively masculine society.”

America has entered an Ox-Bow moment. Trump was dangerous as a candidate and he’ll be dangerous as president. This is not politics as usual. He has already named a white nationalist agitator, Steve Bannon, to a top advisory role. His ugly scapegoating of large segments of society as well as his public brags of sexually assaulting women tell us what he thinks of a majority of Americans.

Trump publicly pushed his rally goers to violence against protesters. His assertion, as president-elect, that a president “can’t have a conflict of interest” when asked about his business ties to foreign governments also signals the uncharted territory we have entered.

Trump has Republican majorities in the House and Senate. He will get at least one Supreme Court appointment. At the state level, allies like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick promise to march in lockstep with the new regime. Texas is one of 25 states in which the Republican Party controls the state House, the state Senate and the governor’s office.

It’s in this context that Americans and their elected representatives need to think deeply about how to respond to what is already a crisis of American democracy. This is not the time for officials to comply with Republican demands so they can get meager pork barrel rewards for the folks back home. Monuments to their service — streets named for them, buildings with their names upon them — are beside the point.

Here in Texas, a stubborn lawmaker risks (gasp!) making Texas Monthly’s list of 10 worst legislators if he or she regularly stands on principle to the point of obstruction. But collegiality and a kind of value-free, mediator’s neutrality are poor measures of legislative success. Generally, they do little more than improve one’s re-election chances. No, without consideration of the moral substance of efforts or achievements, such scales are justice-free.

In his novel, Clark writes that the rumored murder victim possesses “a gentle, permanent reality that was in him like his bones or his heart, that made him seem like an everlasting part of things.” A sentimentalist might refer to America’s “greatness” in just such an anthropomorphic way.

Like the power-mad leader of the posse in The Ox-Bow Incident, Trump tells us that national greatness has been destroyed. But that’s a lie, and we don’t have to wait for the end of this terrifying tale to know it. One hopes that real American greatness, the kind we celebrate in the usual tales of the mythic Old West where true hearts always prevail, will arrive just in time. But that’s not how the world works.

Clark’s story is a cautionary tale about passivity in the face of evil. We all know how hard it is to put it on the line, even when the line is in schoolyard chalk and the risk is minor. When faced with ostracism, ridicule from pundits or physical threats, the temptation to do nothing can be almost too much to overcome.

Here we are at the Ox-Bow. The consequences of passive compromise are not hard to see.

At the end of the book, Carter, the character played by Fonda in the film, has some tough words for himself. “I’ve thought of all the excuses. I told myself I was the emissary of peace and truth, and that I must go as such. … I was righteous and heroic and calm and reasonable.” It was, Gil says, “all a great, cowardly lie.”

We have the advantage here, though. Unlike Carter, we know ahead of time what’s coming. The rest of the story is up to us.

These essays appear in the February 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. Read more from the issue or subscribe now.