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Progressives in East Texas

Yes, they exist, and they are coming out of the woodwork these days.

“It was remarkable,” says Lee Hancock, a Tyler resident of over 20 years who formerly covered East Texas for the Dallas Morning News. Hancock is now a lead organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, one of several new progressive grassroots groups in the region, including Indivisible chapters in Lufkin, Marshall, and Nagodoches. Her group organized the showdown with Gohmert and a mid-March rally at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn’s offices against the Republican health care bill. Nearly 400 people follow the group’s public Facebook feed. “There’s so many options to be with people who share your values and concerns and feel like, hey, maybe I’m not the only one,” says Hancock.

The grassroots groups behind such events, some formed since the election, some much earlier, reflect a diversity of causes. There’s the local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step of the Bernie Sanders movement,” which has a member in Nagodoches running for a county commissioner seat. The Snowflakes, a Longview-based coalition of young folks who lean socialist, galvanized after white supremacist posters popped up in Tyler. Voices of East Texas, a nonpartisan group, has organized informational panels on the local impacts of national policy proposals, including a repeal of Obamacare.

A month before the election, My African-American Mothers’ Alliance co-organized a voter registration drive at the Foundry aimed at black women. The event doubled as a screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade — they called it Slay the Vote. Pineywoods Voice, an LGBTQ advocacy group formed after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting last summer, has organized against SB6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

And, of course, there’s the local Democratic Party, which recently held a summit on “turning East Texas blue” that invited leaders of the new groups in town to introduce themselves to the party faithful. A new subgroup, Democratic Women of East Texas, organized a bus to Austin for the Women’s March.

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So what are newly emboldened progressive East Texans fighting for? The bucket list varies widely: the demise of Louie Gohmert’s political career, the stamping out of white supremacy, capturing local school boards and council seats, keeping undocumented loved ones out of detention centers, protecting transgender school kids, desegregating housing in Tyler, safeguarding East Texas mosques and synagogues, defending the Affordable Care Act, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and a dozen other items.

In a way, that progressive-palooza weekend in early March — the multitude of events to choose from, some at the same time and drawing notably different crowds by age and race — points to the biggest challenge: achieving the local unity it’ll take to move the needle on any one of these issues, even by a hair.

The goals are all laudable. I’d focus on the capturing local school boards and council seats myself, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page, register as many voters as possible, and remember that this is a process that will take time. Good luck, y’all.

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