Tayhlor Coleman keeps a framed Texas voter roll from 1867 in the van she calls home to remind her why she chose to live there in the first place. Names from her family tree appear here and there throughout the document — proof that when Black people in Texas were still fighting for their legal right to vote, the Coleman family took that fight seriously.
One-hundred-and-fifty-five years later, that right may be written into law, but barriers to voting in Texas remain. Long lines and sparse polling sites already made it difficult for poor people to vote, and recent legislative restrictions to mail-in ballots and ID requirements have only made voting harder.
Coleman, 33, set out in December on a nearly yearlong journey to tackle those obstacles firsthand. The Houston native will live out of her van — lovingly named “Barb” after Barbara Jordan, the first Black congresswoman from Texas — until November. She will spend that time driving to every corner of the state and registering as many voters as she can.
“What we’re going through right now reflects some very tense moments in our country’s past, and voting rights for me is how I knew I would be able to make sure that people who looked like me would continue to have a say,” Coleman said during a stop this month at Houston’s MacGregor Park.
“There are people who want to make voting rights a partisan issue, but increasing access to the ballot does not benefit one party or the other,” she said.
Coleman’s #vanlife adventures began like so many other endeavors at the beginning of the pandemic. The idea was sparked when she started tracking “cool teenagers” who posted their hobbies on the internet.
She had just moved back from Washington, D.C., where she worked for years on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. So she found herself wiling away hours scrolling through Instagram in her parents’ Third Ward home, and quickly fell into a rabbit hole of influencers living out of large, refurbished vans.
Coleman bought a 2021 Ram ProMaster a few months into the pandemic and set to work making it livable.
The idea to use the van to advance voting rights came later, as Texas Republicans drew closer to passing a bill which they said would strengthen election integrity. Opponents argued it would make voting more difficult for marginalized people.
Coleman’s career in politics made living out of the van a relatively easy adjustment.
“In my job, I’m used to traveling to visit my candidates and being on the road, so van life seemed perfect,” said Coleman, who also works remotely from the van as a Democratic strategist at a private media company.
I met Tayhlor a few years ago when she was working for a City Council candidate. I follow her on Instagram, and saw the evolution of her van over the months. She’s doing great work and I wish her all the best on her journeys. Go read the rest of the story.