voice for democracy

Commentary: Texas lawmakers suppress vote, education – San Antonio Express-News

Conservative lawmakers are perverting the building blocks of our democracy by making it more difficult to vote and suppressing young people’s desire to vote and engage in the first place.
Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia
There’s something sinister happening in the state of Texas. Rather than trying to win on policy, conservative lawmakers spent this year’s special sessions perverting the building blocks of our democracy by making it more difficult to vote and suppressing young people’s desire to vote and engage in the first place.
Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3979 are a two-pronged approach to ensuring people of color do not turn out on Election Day. The first makes it more difficult to vote today, and the second sets up a generation to be excluded and uninvolved in our democratic process.
As the executive director of Jolt Action, an organization dedicated to voter registration and youth leadership, and a public school board of trustee, I have the unique perspective to see how the lessons learned in our classrooms impact the future of civic engagement.
SB 1 limits 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting. It prohibits election officials from proactively sending out applications for mail-in ballots. It empowers partisan poll workers and makes it more difficult for anyone to help a voter — including those with disabilities — fill out a ballot.
The new restrictions will disproportionately impact people of color and low-income Texans. How? Harris County, home to more than 4.7 million people, embraced drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting in the 2020 election. We saw in that election that young people voted at all hours, while working-class voters need extended and weekend hours.
Emboldening partisan poll watchers will leave some voters feeling intimidated. And the move to make it more difficult for people to help other voters is designed to discourage turnout in the Latino community, where non-native English speakers often require assistance in completing and submitting ballots.
But lawmakers are not content with simply making it more difficult to vote. HB 3979 will chill civic engagement in the first place. This bill discourages teachers from fully addressing the role race has played in American history. It shuts down lessons on the contributions of people of color, including Mexican Americans and Black Americans. Essentially, this legislation restricts how teachers can talk about both the history of this country and its current events.
The bill also prohibits students from getting credit or extra credit for participating in civic activities, including political activism or lobbying elected officials.
Why would lawmakers want to discourage our students from learning about the democratic process? Because if they don’t learn the process, they won’t know how to engage with it and wield power.
More than 200,000 Texan Latinos turn 18 every year. We owe it to our young people of color to educate them on how to be engaged and productive members of our democracy.
This starts by knowing the history of this country and the contributions of all people — not just white men who look like the traditional Founding Fathers. Whether it is Cesar Chavez organizing farmworkers or Harriet Tubman helping slaves to freedom, when students see people who look like them in the history books, they’re more likely to feel inspired and see the ways in which their civic participation can make a difference in their communities.
When we whitewash history, we’re telling entire communities like mine that our ancestors’ stories don’t matter. Our nation’s legacy is built on all of our stories, and yet, some students may never see themselves in the history books they read. That is a disservice to all children.
The right to vote is sacred. Our communities must stand together to protect that right and prepare our students to be fully engaged members of our democracy. Let’s double down on lifting people up and telling them they matter — particularly while they are young — to shape them for the rest of their lives. We must tell people of color their votes matter and encourage them to pursue leadership positions to more fairly and accurately represent the fabric of our society.
Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Ph.D., is the executive director for Jolt Action (jolttx.org) and a school board trustee for the Leander Independent School District. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Gonazles-Dholakia and do not necessarily reflect the views of Leander ISD.