April 8, 2014
A remarkable event kicks off here in Austin today.
Four US Presidents and dignitaries from across the country will arrive at the LBJ Presidential Library for a summit commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
This is a great event — if you’re in Austin, I hope you get a chance to go. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honor a movement that reshaped and continues to mold our great nation.
But more than that, it’s a chance to reflect on what “civil rights” — ideas like freedom, fairness, equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — really mean here in Texas in the 21st century.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, partly because the struggle for civil rights, fairness and equality was such a driving influence on me as I went into public service decades ago.
But even more than that, these issues are still so relevant for Texas and Texans today.
I put together this video about civil rights in Texas. It ends with one of my favorite speech passages ever, a moving excerpt from President Johnson’s 1965 speech on voting rights. I hope you’ll check it out.
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.
Whether you’re at the summit over the next few days or not, thank you so much for your concern about these issues. Thanks even more for your passion in taking them on.
And don’t forget the words of President Johnson that are just as important today as they were when he said them: “… Really, it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
“And we shall overcome.”