Someone recently asked me, “so how do you like session so far?” Being a first-year staffer, I have been asked this question more times than I can count. However, the longer I’m in the Texas Capitol, the harder it gets to find the words to describe my experience thus far.
I’m fortunate to be at the center of where change happens. I work with people in power that want to make a difference and advocate in a way that can transform people’s lives. However, sometimes it is true that ignorance is bliss. The pure hatred, lack of care, and disrespect for people that I witness on a daily basis has exhausted every cell in my body.
When I was preparing to write this blog post, I couldn’t decide what to talk about. Should I talk about how major voter suppression bills have gained momentum or how legislatures care more about what trans kids can and cannot do more than they care about the nearly 200 lives that were lost in the recent winter storm because of their lack of leadership. Or we can also talk about how leaders want to take a women’s choice away through abortion restrictions or how legislatures are imposing a state-wide ban on homeless camping while claiming to be devout Christ followers.
I can’t help but think about how all of these issues have one very specific thing in common. We know that issues of abortion, voter suppression, and camping bans impact the majority of Texans. However, the group that would be most impacted by these atrocious and abhorrent bills are Black and brown people in our communities
It seems as though issues brought forth by Republicans are issues that are especially prominent in communities of color. Homelessness, for instance, is not only an issue of poverty in America but also race. African Americans have been and continue to be disproportionately represented in the homeless population. Heavy policing, mass incarceration, the gentrification of black communities, and structural and systematic racism still play a significant role in the disproportionate homelessness rate. Despite only representing 13% of our nation’s population, African Americans make up 40% of the total homeless population. Poverty and mental illness, the two main causes of homelessness, are rampant amongst African Americans. African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to experience poverty than white Americans and as a result are more likely to report severe psychological distress (Mental Health America, n.d. & NAEH, 2020).
Let us also look at abortion rates in America. Low-income women and women of color have higher rates of abortion as compared to white women. A 2011 report by the CDC stated that African American women have the highest abortion rate in the country.
Voting rights, although on first glance seems like an issue that does not involve race, Black and brown people have been and continue to be disfranchised in our democracy. Elected officials imposed poll taxes on Black and Mexican American laborers before casting a ballot. Many eligibility requirements that were enforced by local election officials resulted in Black Americans, women, and Hispanic voters having unequal access to the ballot box. While the poll tax was later banned in 1922, Texas has a continued history of disenfranchising Black and brown voters by closing down polling sites in counties with the largest growing Black and Latino populations.
These bills are not just an attack on Texans, they’re an attack on Black and brown people in this country. It’s not a coincidence that this same population continues to be at the center of these issues and of all the restrictive and abhorrent bills that members have been trying to pass these past few weeks. However, as I look around at who is in power, I am still surrounded by white men here at the Capitol. How ironic is it that white men are responsible for creating bills that will impact the lives of the same Black and brown people they have oppressed and disfranchised for centuries? White men create problems in communities of color and then ensure that these communities stay in cycles of poverty through racist policies. I believe this is important to highlight because the longer I am in session, the more I understand the dire need for representatives with lived experiences. We need representatives who have seen issues that communities of color face firsthand and are willing to look at the implications of ALL policies on black and brown individuals. We need to advocate for these communities because every issue we discuss here at the Capitol disproportionally impacts these communities 10 times more than their white counterparts.
This unprecedented session has been much more difficult than many anticipated. I can’t fathom how exhausted advocates and people of color have been these past few months fighting for human rights, fighting for having personal autonomy, and fighting to simply be treated with dignity and respect. This fight is still not over yet. If bad bills are going to pass because Republicans are the majority in the House, it is our responsibility to at least minimize the impacts of these bills in our communities. Playing defense is one of the most exhausting and draining tasks at the Capitol. The horrendous bills introduced heavily impact not only you yourself but also those you dearly love. This job is far beyond just a job. It is a fight for human lives, it is a fight for freedom.
So to the question “How do you like this session so far?”, I am exhausted, like many others. I have a deeper understanding of policy that impacts Texans and an even deeper resentment for members that have little to no care for human beings and their neighbors. This session has deepened my love for advocacy, for being a voice to the voiceless, and for understanding intersectionality of issues discussed here under the dome.
by Tsion Amare, intern with Rep. Rafael Anchia
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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