The Austin Chronicle

Opinion: Why Texas Is Ground Zero for Change

With untapped voting power of Latinos, Texas has enormous potential, but the Lone Star State must modernize to pave the way to a stronger, more inclusive America

By Antonio Arellano, October 9, 2020, Columns

From the northern High Plains to the valleys in the Deep South and the 171 some-odd million acres in between, the Lone Star State possesses unmatched potential for progress and leadership. The vast area of Texas alone, which embodies the ability to lead the nation in climate justice and economic prosperity, coupled with the untapped voting power, presents more opportunities than challenges, so long as Texas is willing to modernize. To reclaim our place as a leader of the nation on multiple counts, Texas must be willing to spearhead the charge for true democracy and environmental justice.

The high volume of untapped voter potential in the state of Texas is enough to redefine America's core values to meet the true demands of its citizens. In 2018, we saw an almost 500% increase in voter turnout among young voters, and a 250% increase in voter turnout among the Texas Latino population during early voting. The rise in Latino voter turnout in the 2018 election is merely a foreshadowing of voter registration progress to come.

To further advance voter turnout among young voters and Latino voters, Texas must embrace the digital frontier alongside the majority of U.S. state governments by actively opposing voting suppression and enacting online voter registration. Elections that disenfranchise voting populations are, at their core, anti-democratic. The onus is on the state government to serve its constituents by investing in their power, potential, and providing them with the opportunity to voice their opinions.

As the fastest-growing population in the U.S., Latinos have raised an empowered collective of young, female political activists. Jolt Initiative's recent analysis, "We Are Texas," found that Latina women ages 18 to 24 not only outpaced their Latino male counterparts by nearly 24% in voter participation but are also the only age group to outpace their non-Latina female counterparts in voter turnout.

One in three Texans are either immigrants themselves or children of immigrants. Fully aware their home state has become synonymous with family separation and detention centers, it's no wonder that Latino voters in Texas are motivated by immigration reform and health care for all. Modernization of Texas' political landscape calls for a humane immigration system, including accountability for lives lost in the hands of border patrol. Texas' racist legacy stands in the way of true progress, and in order to flourish as a state, we must be intentional about detaching Texas from the grips of its racist past.

Despite the challenges faced by Texas' political landscape, the Lone Star State is chock-full of change-making potential. In the next 10 years, America is destined to follow in the diverse footsteps of Houston, and our policies should follow suit. By investing in our diverse constituency, the state of Texas will reap overdue systematic changes.

On top of the valuable asset of diversity enjoyed by Texas, the state also harbors economic power and environmental potential en masse. Home to the second largest economy in the country and the 10th largest independent economy in the world, Texas is an enormous economic powerhouse. This level of economic security provides the state with the capacity to lead on a number of different fronts, one of which is climate justice. As a state, we must rise to the occasion of tapping the potential of our wind and solar power capabilities. With a healthy investment of resources and a pledge to detach from toxic relationships with leading contributors to our current climate problems, Texas can house a grid of wind and solar energy to power the entire country.

Progressive momentum in Texas must be met with an unprecedented investment in modernizing established practices. We must match the innovative pace nationwide, as well as pave the way to a stronger, inclusive America. Progress is not defined by an "us against them" mentality. Instead, progress asks that each citizen look to themselves to build and uphold the standards of the Lone Star State.

Antonio Arellano is interim executive director of Jolt, a progressive civic engagement organization focused on building the political power and influence of young Latinos in Texas. He is a human rights advocate and is passionate about creating systemic change and is innovating civic engagement for a new generation.

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