I’ve always been one to say exactly how I feel, and honesty is one of my most important values. Yet, writing this blog post has been next to impossible for me in the last few weeks. In addition to being slammed with work before the deadline to hear House bills, I found myself unable to access emotions relating to topics I have always felt passionately about. All I can feel are surface-level emotions of anger and disappointment.
Cutting off access to emotions is a bad place for a social worker to be. Most people in the profession are there from true passion and care for the people society chews up and spits out. For me, not feeling the anger and pain is losing touch with my purpose.
I’ve often been told the toxic environment of the legislature is something I will have to process after session, and I agree. Keeping in touch with the emotions caused by the truly unjust and reprehensible actions taken by the Texas Legislature impacts my ability to do the job. And the people of Texas need the job done, even if we lose.
I went back to Houston for the first time last weekend since before the legislature started hearing bills. I saw friends and family members who all wanted to know how my prestigious internship at the Capitol was going. I really didn’t know what to say to them, and the few times I shared, my honest experience quickly turned into angry rants.
- Some of the most egregious voter suppression laws since Jim Crow
- Legislation specifically targeting and punishing cities who defund their police as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement
- Anti-critical race theory bills trying to prevent children from being educated on racism in this country
- Even more restrictive laws prohibiting abortions, past 6 weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant
- School takeover bills giving schools an “accountability” rating, but really with the goal of punishing them without giving them more resources to succeed
- Lack of federal Medicaid expansion or even a substantive effort to keep people from getting dropped off their existing Medicaid
- The adoption of permitless carry and an overall lack of any improvements to gun safety
I’ve always believed hope is the only thing that keeps social workers going. Police reform was a legislative issue that was really giving me hope this session. Although law enforcement agencies (and CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, working behind the scenes to sabotage policing reform) made it clear ending qualified immunity would never be an option, many good bills were filed addressing policing reform. However, watching the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement get killed, alongside other TCOLE reform legislation, due to complaints from certain interested groups killed all my hope for seeing any meaningful anti-racist policing reform legislation this session.
I think about Ms. T (Rep. Senfronia Thompson) every single day lately. When she was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives, Black people weren’t even sitting on juries. I think about Mickey Leland, Irma Rangel, Chairman Garnet Coleman, and all the legislators who created additional access points for young people and social workers to have a voice in this state. These legislators fighting for equity and rights for the most vulnerable people in this state, who have spent years tolerating outright racism and blatant attempts at oppression to keep fighting for our future. And even more staffers and policy analysts who are never remembered but were the driving force behind huge social change. Every time I find myself entering a dark headspace thinking about how recent legislation will impact the people of Texas, I think about all the people who came before me and how they never gave up on making the world a better place, no matter the cost to them.
On the last day to hear Senate bills in the House, the bill banning trans kids from participating on gender-affirming sports teams (SB 29) was scheduled to be heard on the Major State Calendar. This bill in particular pushed me over the edge. I was formerly a mental health caseworker for kids and young adults, and I couldn’t stop thinking of my wonderful trans and queer clients who already go through so much they shouldn’t have to. Just when I had really hit peak hopelessness, the Democrats killed the bill by stalling until the midnight deadline. SB 29 dying was the relief I needed, and on top of it, the Democrats stalled by reading our work, the floor report prepared by the Texas Legislative Study Group, on the last bill of the night.
Texans are being severely let down by our government, and we are letting down democracy. The representatives elected to office by in large represent the opinions of Trump supporters because they are the most civically engaged group and they participate in local politics. It’s seriously disappointing how many friends and acquaintances regularly post on social media about federal political issues or protest police brutality yet have no idea what is happening in their own state. Something must be done to remedy the disconnect between what happens nationally and the laws at the state level that impact every single day of our lives.
If you care about the future of our society, I beg you to get involved in local and state politics. Redirect all your attention and energy from the federal level to the state level. Talk to your state representative. Pay attention to who is running and when elections are happening. Get bad politicians out of office and replace them with people who look and sound like the people of Texas and believe in progress! Texas will not continue to move forward if we continue to neglect state politics and fail to hold representatives accountable for their actions.
By Cassidy Kenyon, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
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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