Following Tuesday’s announcement about a new statewide campaign targeting corporations that have remained silent in the wake of proposed voter suppression bills moving through the Texas legislature, several civil rights organizations and leaders gathered at AT&T headquarters in Dallas. At an outdoor rally on Thursday in AT&T Plaza, numerous speakers called on AT&T to join fellow Texas-based companies like American Airlines and Dell to denounce Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6.
Minutes before the rally started, outdoor speakers were activated, and the sound was turned on and boosted for a large television screen in the plaza. Former State Rep. Lorraine Birabil, now the Executive Director of the Barbara Jordan Leadership Institute, kicked off the rally and vowed to shout even louder than promos for AT&T properties like Justice League and Mortal Kombat.
Another speaker at the rally was Crystal Mason. The Fort Worth resident was sentenced to five years in prison after casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Mason did not realize she was ineligible to vote, and her ballot did not count. Though voter fraud is exceedingly rare in Texas, Mason’s mistake has been amplified by Texas Republicans, most notably AG Ken Paxton.
After Mason became emotional during her remarks, her attorney Alison Grinter addressed the crowd about her client’s ordeal. “She didn’t pick the fight against voter suppression, it picked her.” Grinter then recounted that Mason has been working ever since her conviction to combat voter suppression, and even has several family members who are now voter registrars. The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals recently announced it would hear an appeal on Mason’s conviction.
Grinter then called upon AT&T to both lend their voice to their community and democracy. After Grinter and Mason finished speaking, Birabil thanked them for their impact, and also reiterated the injustice of Mason’s sentence. “When they came after [Crystal Mason] that was an assault on democracy, but when they came for Shelley Luther, that was about protecting freedom.”
Brianna Brown, the Deputy Director of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), used her time at the rally to specifically call out SB 7 and HB 6. “Make no mistake about it, SB 7 and HB 6 are voter suppression legislation, just like the grandfather clauses, just like literacy tests, and just like poll taxes before them,” she said. Brown was joined by several members of TOP, who were also holding signs and shouting, “say no to Jim Crow 2.0.”
Dallas attorney and board member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Regina Montoya called on more corporations around Texas to speak out against voter suppression, especially as it threatens the Latino community. “Dallas businesses – AT&T, Frito Lay, and others, must follow the example set by American Airlines and Dell, and condemn these bills. You cannot say that you support social justice, and you cannot say that you value the Latino community if you remain silent on this issue,” she said.
Ending the press conference was Senior Pastor Dr. Frederick Haynes III, from Friendship-West Baptist Church. When Haynes took to the podium, he recalled that just last night he saw a commercial for AT&T and noticed that their slogan was “it’s not complicated.” Haynes looked back toward the entrance of AT&T and invited them to follow their own slogan in denouncing voter suppression. “You can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter’ last summer, but then you don’t affirm that black and brown votes matter now. It’s not complicated.”
With HB 6 making it out of committee, the clock is ticking to stop a massive voter suppression bill in the Texas legislature. Organizers of the rally insist today was just the start, and corporations around Texas are on notice about denouncing voter suppression.