I woke up this morning feeling like I had been beat up. After a week of activism along with thousands of other people trying to stop a bill intended close abortion clinics in Texas, I am dehydrated and tired. The funny thing is, my primary feeling today is of a returning hope for Texas politics. I am eating breakfast in a restaurant overhearing a conversation of people who saw the march last night and are genuinely curious to learn more about a woman’s right to choose.
Ann Richards used to speak of a “New Texas.” I loved those years because, as a native born Texan, I too dream of a Texas not equated with ignorance. Texas Republicans have come to perfectly exemplify everything I hate about the Old Texas. I hated it as a child and I hate it now. They slash funding for public education. When confronted with scientific data on issues like abortion, they simply ignore such findings as if they were a kind of conspiracy of the elite. I have never thought such willful ignorance was the real Texas.
I dream of a Texas not equated with intolerance. Texas Republicans have come to exemplify the cruelty of the Old Texas. They call undocumented workers “illegals,” they lay out voting districts intentionally to deprive people of color equal representation, and they have historically seen gay and lesbian people as an aberration of nature. For Pete’s sake, the word “Texas” means “friendly.” I have never thought such narrow mindedness was the real Texas.
Finally, I dream of a Texas not equated with fundamentalism. I want the religious freedom not to have anyone else’s religion crammed down my throat. As a child I resented teachers sneaking their own religion into the classroom. As an adult, I don’t want Texas children to have to learn the biblical story of creation in a science class. I have never thought Texas belongs to any sect. I have always thought our state belongs equally to Texas Christians and Texas Jews and Texas Muslims and Texas Atheists as well as all the other wonderful faiths of Texas.
This morning I had a flashback moment. On the evening of Ann Richard’s election as governor of Texas, I was invited to her hotel suite to celebrate. As a pro-choice clergy I was something of an oddity and so I would find myself in all kinds of strange places I did not deserve to be. When I arrived at the hotel suite, the room was dark. Only one of her staff had arrived and I was surprised to see her crying. When I asked her why, she lifted a weary head and sobbed, “I just realized that now that abortion is safe we can focus on reducing teen pregnancy.”
It was a naive hope, but that statement, even today, represents my hope for the people of Texas. Whatever else one thinks of the Richards administration, she allowed an inner circle of her staff to work for the poor, for education, for women’s health care and to lay a foundation for marriage equality. To me, they were the New Texas.
So I awoke tired this morning in a state that is dominated by Republicans who war against everything I care about. But I woke up feeling hopeful. This week I have seen social workers, and teachers rise up to be heard on behalf of women’s rights. I have seen activists of very different causes come together in solidarity with women’s rights. I have seen a crowd of pro-choice women supported by a huge group of very dedicated pro-choice men.
This week we weren’t just dreaming of a New Texas, we were being the New Texas.