April 7, 2014
This week, Texas will welcome four U.S. Presidents and dozens of dignitaries for the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. It’s a chance to honor an essential movement that’s reshaped, and is continuing to reshape, our great nation.
It’s also a chance to reflect on what “civil rights” — ideas like freedom, fairness, equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — mean to 21st century Texans. There are still unfair laws to fight. But in Texas, the civil rights struggle has expanded to unfair budgets as well.
Make no mistake: Education is a civil right. Healthcare is a civil right. So are the rights to drink clean water, move freely about our communities and, most importantly, vote.
For years, these rights have been undermined, and even openly attacked, in the Texas Capitol. There may not be the same grainy, violent news footage that people associate with the civil rights struggle, but the basic stakes of fairness and equality haven’t changed.
Texans love this state. We settle and stay here to pursue our fair share of Texas’ prosperity. So we rightly demand a fair system that provides real, meaningful freedom and opportunity to each of us — no matter our ethnicity, our gender or where we live.
But when we look to those running state government, Texans don’t always see fairness.
Instead, we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle-class working Texans.
We see a school finance system that’s so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts felt compelled to sue the state over it.
We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewash the record, and ignore the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.
We see a murky, incomprehensible budget that makes it difficult to determine how much of our money is going to school kids and how much is going to billionaire sports team owners.
We see budget writers who piously scold others about “budgeting like a family” while they watch state highways grind to a halt, allow rural areas to fall into drought, and ignore the obvious investments that would keep the state’s infrastructure from crumbling like a neglected house.
And in clear echoes of struggles from 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.
These are subtle attacks. They generally occur in back rooms and behind closed doors. They don’t make for iconic television.
But for children, women and men of all races – for hard-working citizens across Texas – these are attacks on dignity, opportunity for prosperity, freedom, and, yes, civil rights.
For these millions and millions of Texans, the fight for freedom and fairness is as much about the present and future as it is about the past.
We’re glad so many people have come to Texas this week to take part in this critical conversation. Let’s make sure it extends beyond this event, through this year’s elections and into next year’s legislative session.
This article was co-authored by members of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, including Senators Kirk Watson (Chair), John Whitmire, Judith Zaffirini, Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Royce West, Leticia Van de Putte, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Carlos Uresti, José Rodríguez, and Sylvia R. Garcia.