Op-Ed: Why 2021 is a year worth celebrating for Texas progressives

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Progressives are winning. More and more of our candidates are being elected. Our issues are becoming more mainstream. We’re building the Democratic Party into a more progressive machine. While the naysayers like to pin the loss of candidates like Deborah Peoples in Fort Worth on progressivism, critics fail to see all that we have achieved and the power of our dreams.

2021 was our best “off” year of all time. In fact, our movement had 3x the number of victories this year as compared to 2019 and 2017 combined. Even in our electoral shortcomings, there are valuable lessons that show that we’re on the right path. These wins and losses also provide a strategic guide for the future.

Let’s start in San Antonio. In the city council, we elected Bernie Sanders-endorsed Teri Castillo, re-elected John Courage and Ana Sandoval who were challenged by far-right candidates, and elected our first progressive on the SA ISD school board Sarah Sorensen. We also elected Jalen McKee-Rodriguez to city council, the first openly gay Black man elected to office in Texas.

And then there’s San Antonio’s Prop B, which would have brought more accountability to SA’s police department. While we fell slightly short of our desired outcome this year, something incredible happened. SA’s Prop B brought more voters than the “high profile” mayor’s race. In other words, progressive values bring out voters, sometimes much more than candidates do.

Meanwhile, in Dallas City Council races, we beat the Dallas Police Association’s conservative stranglehold by electing Jesse Moreno, Omar Narvaez, and Adam Bazaldua. In a conservative city council district in Denton, Sanders delegate Alison McGuire also won her race. In Fort Worth, Councilman-Elect Chris Nettles was a part of the team that turned the Fort Worth City Council blue for the first time in a generation. In Grand Prairie, Junior Ezeonu beat a city council incumbent who openly used dog whistles against him.

Deborah People should be on this list. She won the most votes on May 1st only to have her win, like many progressives, taken from her due to our brutal and taxing runoff system. What her loss shows us is that we must abolish or otherwise replace the runoff system — its current Southern variation was, after all, created in Georgia in 1975 to deny Black candidates from winning.

Thankfully, elsewhere in Texas, progressives helped pass Ranked Choice Voting in Austin, thereby replacing the runoff system. We also supported Katy Jackson and Bulldog Sieloff in Rockport and Port Aransas city council respectively. In El Paso, we helped Leah Hanany and Josh Acevedo win their El Paso School Board races.

Let’s talk about Austin’s Prop B, which re-criminalized homelessness. We must be honest with ourselves that many progressive-leaning folks voted for this measure (though most likely claimed that they didn’t). There are two great lessons here. First, we must always be vigilant towards protecting our victories as they can be taken from us. Second, we must change the mindset that criminalizing something is how you stop it. Criminalizing homelessness doesn’t stop homelessness no more than criminalizing cannabis stops 55 million Americans from using the plant.

Thankfully, that mindset is starting to shift. Take, for example, HB 2593, the first cannabis penalty reduction bill to pass both chambers since 1973. While this Texas Lege session was a true Rattlesnake Rodeo, if by that we mean the GOP snakes threw us Texans into a pit of angry rattlers, the progressives did very well fighting for and passing several great bills. Rep. Thompson’s George Floyd Act, Rep. Talarico’s Insulin as a Human Right Bill, Rep. Crockett’s fight to end no-knock raids, and so many other great progressive bills were heard. Several, like the Texas George Floyd Act, even passed the Texas House! Sadly, the meanest and ugliest of those GOP snakes reside in the Texas Senate, where good bills went to die.

Not all snakes belong to the GOP. “Democrat” Rep. Harold Dutton supported the anti-Trans bill — a mean-spirited bill designed to harm our Trans family. And while most Democrats took a stand to kill the snake’s Voter Suppression Bill by walking out, Reps. Dutton, Guerra, Guillen, King, Morales, and Raymond did not. I wonder when moderates say we should compromise with the GOP if this is what they mean? That’s the thing about compromise, a bit here and there is natural, but too much and you’ll find yourself a little too at home in a snake’s den.

Thankfully, our progressives in the Texas Democratic Party aren’t taking Dutton’s support of the anti-Trans bill laying down. Progressive elements are pushing the TDP to censure Rep. Dutton. Rumblings of primary challenges are beginning to appear. And those aren’t the only rumblings in party politics. Progressives in the party are working to oust several precinct chairs for racist comments, many of our supporters in the party are demanding greater support for local parties (especially rural ones), and progressives are cautiously hopeful what changes a new wave of TDP leadership could bring.

2021 has been a tremendous year. It has given us some amazing victories, but it has also shown us how those victories can be taken from us. I believe we’re reaching that point where either our successes will soon create a positive feedback loop and our movement will become unstoppable, or it’ll fragment and shatter like in eras long past.

So here is what I believe we need to do to become unstoppable:

  1. We need all progressives to run for something, but not all the same thing. We need folks running in every seat everywhere. Thankfully, some bold progressives are starting to announce their candidacies. Remember, it took Bernie four tries to win his first election, and Bernie was mayor first.
  2. We need to get exciting local props on the ballots in every city to boost turnout. The more exciting the better!
  3. We need to continue building the Texas Democratic Party into a progressive machine. As of the last convention, we have at least 200+ identified progressives in party positions from precinct chairs to the DNC. We need to grow this number.
  4. Finally, we need to form a statewide Grassroots Alliance with all partner organizations. A lot of our victorious candidates mentioned earlier received help from Texas Working Families Party, Texas Organizing Project, and others. Just as “America First” meant America Alone, the same is true with organizing. AOC won because she had a grand coalition. We progressive organizations need to come together — from the above mentioned to Indivisible, Sunrise, DSA, Powered by People, Register2Vote, and more, we all need to come together. By doing so, we’ll maximize our individual strengths, cover our individual shortcomings, and we’ll become the force that will turn Texas a progressive blue.

At the end of the day, what it ultimately comes down to, is that we must build power. Grand ideals are great, but without power to implement them, we’ll just be running our mouths. While the Reagan Revolution turned Texas red, it’s going to take Our Revolution and every single one of our allies to reclaim Texas.

Clayton Tucker is the State Director of Our Revolution Texas

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