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  • Writer's pictureMimi Marziani

Our Next Steps At Texas Civil Rights Project

As the dust settles from the 2020 election, our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is taking time, yes, to rest and rejuvenate, but also to weigh how the results of the election will impact our work and shape our priorities in the months ahead, especially as the Texas legislature convenes for its biennial session in January 2021.

What do election results mean for TCRP and the communities we serve?

The news from Texas is a mixed bag.

The good news is that Texans voted this year, reaching record turnout of over 11 million despite the one-two punch of a global pandemic and the cynical attempts of Texas state leaders to suppress voting rights, including right up to the eleventh hour. That so many Texans, particularly young people who participated in record numbers, were able to participate is testament to the energy of our social justice movement and the strength of our election protection operation.

We are eternally grateful for the leadership of the Austin Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter: Houston, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Community Justice Action Fund, Emgage, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, MOVE Texas, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Freedom Network, Texas Organizing Project, Workers Defense Project, and many, many more. The organizers and leaders of these organizations — who are themselves overwhelmingly young, Black, people of color, women, LGBTQ and persons with disabilities — fought back against four years of assault on Texas communities by the Trump administration. But they also took on the herculean task of mobilizing and educating Texas voters that our political leaders neglect because they don’t fit into their narrow and exclusionary vision of Texas. We reject that narrow thinking at TCRP, and applaud the incredible work of our community partners in guiding us toward a Texas where everyone thrives with dignity, justice and without fear.

We are also proud of the work that TCRP and our allies made in battling voter suppression and breaking down barriers to participation in 2020 — no small feat in Texas where state leaders have fought tooth and nail for years to make voting more difficult. In particular, our Texas Election Protection campaign led by TCRP, ACLU of Texas, Common Cause Texas, League of Women Voters of Texas, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, helped mobilize close to 100 organizations and businesses to educate voters about their rights, deployed nearly 4,000 legal and field volunteers to monitor the polls during the election cycle, and pushed counties to address election issues affecting voters in real time through litigation and other advocacy. Together, we addressed more than 10,000 voting issues during the voting period, helping tens of thousands of Texans cast a ballot that counts, and forced enduring systemic change in several large counties.

But the challenges ahead are real. We know that despite the massive increases in voter turnout, Texas still ranks 44th nationally in voter turnout. Additionally, election results at the statewide level show that there is still much more work that organizations have to do to be able to advance progressive policies at the state and federal level.

In Texas, as we head into the new legislative session, we are worried that radical lawmakers will try to turn hateful rhetoric into hateful policy. For instance, as Governor Greg Abbott publicly proposed, will the State target movement leaders who are using public protest to ignite a long-overdue reckoning with race and racism? Will the State continue Trumpism and further waste money and terrorize South Texas communities with increased militarization of the Texas-Mexico border? Will Texas Republicans ignore community needs and connections to gerrymander districts that serve primarily to insulate their own power at the expense of communities of color?

What do these coming months look like for TCRP?

Our fight for justice cannot pause. We must continue bending the arc towards justice.

Our lawyers and other team members will continue providing the legal muscle our movement needs to resist these discriminatory efforts, while pursuing new openings to achieve reform. Already, TCRP’s Legislative Advocacy Committee has been meeting for weeks, identifying and preparing for threats like the ones flagged above. We will spend the weeks ahead continuing those efforts, and working with our community allies to identify shared policy priorities and creative impact litigation opportunities. We’ll ensure that our movement is united and strong as we head into the new year.

Some 2021 priorities for TCRP are clear, even at this early stage:

  1. We’ll build from success reforming bail in Harris County to challenge other financial injustices in Texas’s criminal legal system. Now, alongside wins in the courts, proponents of criminal law reform hold positions of power in Bexar, Fort Bend, Dallas, Harris and Travis County, and there is a growing public understanding of the failures of cash bail systems and other injustices based on wealth. We are well positioned to expand the fight against discrimination between the “haves” and “have nots” and to expose the corporate interests that drive the unfair status quo. We will accomplish this through a mix of litigation — both against the government and against private actors profiting from the current unjust system — with targeted advocacy in counties throughout Texas. And, we are ready to push back against efforts by the Texas legislature to target local officials who are courageous enough to refuse to do business as usual and who advocate for justice reform.

  2. We’ll fight to stop all new construction of Trump’s Border Wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, make sure our clients get their land back and seek to roll-back the decades of militarization sapping South Texas resources. TCRP has been resisting construction of the Trump Administration’s border wall in South Texas for the last four years, including with seven active lawsuits representing landowners. We are eager to work with the Biden Administration to settle these cases and revest our clients’ land back to their families. At the same time, we will resist new efforts by the State of Texas to further militarize the Texas-Mexico border under failed Trumpist rationale.

  3. We’ll protect the rights of asylum seekers at the border while urging the new administration to roll-back four years of the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants. For the last several years, TCRP has been at the forefront of responding to the Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of the asylum process — leading to horrendous human rights violations like family separation and new refugee camps in Mexico. Together with our national and local partners, and through a mix of advocacy and litigation (including our new class action lawsuit against Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policies, filed just last week on behalf of people with disabilities), we will begin the process of restoring the legal right to asylum at the Texas-Mexico border. .

  4. We will fight for a transparent, participatory redistricting process in the coming legislative session. Texas will redraw district lines in 2021 for the state legislature and for Congress. Given the lopsided partisan make-up of the Texas Legislature and Texas’ long, shameful history of racial gerrymandering, we’ll have to fight hard for a fair process that elevates communities over politics. The stakes are high: the typical closed-door process with backroom deals between politicians undermines our democracy by intentionally suppressing the power of large segments of our communities, especially Black Texans and other Texans of color. In 2021, we will fight alongside community partners and other allies to push this process into daylight, ensuring that all Texans have a real chance to influence the process, while also preparing for litigation to vindicate the civil rights of our communities, if needed.

What do we need from you?

This is a people-powered movement and would not be possible without you fighting alongside us. We hope that you will help carry the movement forward by volunteering, investing, joining our team when we have open positions, and helping us spread our message throughout Texas and beyond.

To learn more, visit  txcivilrights.org and follow us on social media for the latest news:

To contribute online, click here. To contribute via your donor-advised fund, IRA, or check, send it to our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project, 1405 Montopolis Drive, Austin, Texas 78741.

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