Six months ago I drove out into west Texas. It had been years since I was here, but my connection to the land had never gone away. No matter where the world brought me; a piece of Texas had always remained within.
On one of my first few days out here, I ended up at a little event in the local library, for a candidate with a funny name. I’ll never forget what I saw that day. Farmers, ranchers, small town folks, standing up and raising their arms in the air, for a message that would make an abolitionist proud. Here, in the most conservative district in America - where folks voted for forty five in higher numbers than anywhere else - were every day folks coming out of their respective closets, and demanding something very different for our future.
The past of this land is something I know well. My great grandfather seven times past, fought in the battle of San Jacinto; the war that made Texas a nation. For his service in that war he was given five thousand acres of land. When he passed it split 6 ways, and his youngest daughter married a Greenwood. Our family has had a presence here ever since. And though my time has often been spent more central and in the northern parts of the state, I know this land and love this land. I know these people and love these people. This is the land my great great grandfather farmed, and where my great great grandmother bore more than a dozen children. The land that fed my great grandmother, who lived here till she was 104 years old. The land that shaped my grandfather and great uncle, two of the greatest men I’ve ever known. There is a hardiness to the culture of this land. A gumption. A willingness to go all in, as the forefathers & foremothers of nearly every settler in this region did.
This is a ancient land, this Texas. An old and ancient land. Land that was once roamed by Kiowa, Comanche, Kickapoo, Apache, Tonkawa, Caddo, Wichita, and many others, held thriving civilizations. Models for self organizing just as unique as their patterns and languages and modes of music. People who governed themselves, and protected themselves. People who survived a harsh and often unforgiving terrain. People whose creativity is still found in every corner of our culture.
After many thousands of years, the area was eventually claimed by Europeans. Those who came with a belief that the land was theirs. Ours. Yours. Mine. Made for you and me. The Pope had declared that all land taken from non-believers, was legally taken. And so it was. No matter the laws of this land, or the cultures that had protected it for so many generations before.
Eventually the land became populated by Mexicans, many who were of the generations born in war, and many who had been forced to leave their indigenous ways. They were then driven from the land by white Texans, generally Northern Europeans famous for their large physical size, who claimed it as their own and created a Republic. Even as Texas became a state, the color of your skin determined your capacity to own land, vote, posses your personal labor, and share in the larger society.
Much has changed since those days. Women can now vote. People of color can now vote. Everyone who can get a loan, can own a title to a piece of earth. Schools are built, and roads are built, and electricity lines are drawn, and water processing plants are built, and homes are built, and a whole massive infrastructure now sits on top of this soil.
And yet. And yet. We still have schools like the wild west, where men walk right in and gun down our children. We still don’t pay our teachers a living wage. Our economic growth continues to be rooted in a substance that is killing the land, and poisoning our water. We are now holding camps of human beings on the border. And less of us vote, than in nearly any other state.
I’ve spent some time at the camps. The makeshift cities, designed for children. The structures and infrastructure, that separate families from community. Communities from families. Mothers from children. Children from fathers.
We do not want this on our soil Texas. We really don’t. This devastation of life and potential and human connection. This violent rupture of the natural order. All we have is one another. Our families. The people who take care of us and who we take care of. We do not want the spiritual degradation of this pain, etched into our corner of the earth. It is a wrong too wrong to be righted with ease. Healing it will take the work of our children. It will take generations.
I won’t pretend that this election will be able to change all of this. President Obama deported people as well, and even placed some in camps that lined the border. Though the scale was smaller, and the pride of violence in the treatment of immigrants was more measured. But it’s not as though the answer is simply; elect democrats. It’s not. In state after state, county after county, decade after decade, there has been a part of the Democratic Party just as owned and controlled by the war machine; just as bought by corporate donors; just as willing to rationalize and defend the colonial project; just as willing to sell weapons to repressive regimes; and just as willing to perpetuate the human rights crisis’ of mass incarceration, mass deportation, and severely neglected reservations, as their counterparts in red.
And the truth is, I don’t know if Beto is gonna work to transform the war machine. I don’t know if he’s gonna work to shift multinational finance, or the global arms industry, or industries of extraction. I don’t know if Beto is gonna demand an end to the war in Yemen, or Burma, or Congo or elsewhere. I don’t know if he’ll demand dignity and protection for Palestinians. I don’t know if he’ll fight for the displaced tribes of Texas, or take their sovereignty seriously. I don’t know if he’ll work to protect the water, and end fracking once and for all. I just don’t know.
What I do know, is that on the day I first drove up to the border, he was there. He was there, demanding mothers be returned to their children, demanding families be released from incarceration. I know he had vowed to protect dreamers, and fight for their full citizenship, and equal protection under the law. I know that he has worked for years to create a safer border; not by hurting vulnerable people, but by demanding transparency from the industries that move goods back and forth across that invisible line established through war.
I grew up on a border. Or at least, within a few miles of one. We crossed it often, and many of my childhood’s favorite memories were spent on the other side. I remember asking at a young age, questions which hold few good answers. Among them; why? Why are they there, and we’re here? Why do they live like that, and we live like this? Who says so ? Who drew the line.
The only answers I’ve ever found, are rooted in white supremacy. Rooted in a colonial project with three extending branches; kill the natives for free land. Enslave the Africans for free labor. And expel the Spanish speakers to ensure white majorities. Absent those tactics, none of us are here in the way we currently are. And certainly none of us are on this land, passionately working to deport “immigrants”.
There is a lie we’re told in nearly all schools, museums, textbooks and papers. A lie so pervasive, many of us hardly notice. A lie so deeply written into our institutions and monuments, we can scarcely imagine it otherwise. But it is a lie nonetheless. That somehow history began, when Europeans arrived. That we were the beginning. That we are the beginning. The founders. The creators. Those this land has always belonged to, and those it must continue to belong to.
We can hold rallies and wave flags. Donate to politicians with the same myopic dillussion as ours, write op-eds defending our righteousness, and craft textbooks to defend manifest destiny. But none of it will change the fact that many, if not most, of the brown people on these continents have ancestral ties to this land. And the white people do not. Will not. Not now, not ever. Not even if your family fought in the original wars of Texas.
Our generation can no longer allow the vestiges of colonialism to define our lives. There is a great healing ahead, and whether it occurs in our time or the time of our children, it will occur. Every land claimed in genocide eventually has to face the full sweeping scope of what has been done. It has often found a formal home in Truth & Reconciliation commissions, but regardless of what it’s called, no land can heal until we begin telling the truth, and working toward reconciliation.
I’m fighting for Beto because he tells the truth. Or at least, he seems to try and tell the very closest thing he knows of as the truth. He tells the truth about justice, and what can be done to protect our communities. Not simply by police, but also from police. He tells the truth about schools, and the obvious consequences of not paying our teachers a living wage. Of the insanity of submitting our children’s brilliance to bubbles in a row, and answers on a form. He tells the truth about money and politics, and the pernicious ways in which one controls the other. He tells the truth about race and unequal protection under the law. And more than anything, he tells the truth about immigrants. People striving for their families and their futures. People doing what so many of our forefathers did. People who commit fewer crimes, statistically, than any other people. People who work hard, and take care of their families and communities. People who deserve protection, and a place to call home.
Being here, and supporting the army of volunteers he has mobilized across the state, has been a great honor. I won’t pretend to know what it has taken from his team, in sweat and anguish and love, to build this non-violent army, but every member of his team deserves our endless gratitude. They have connected us across the state, and given voice to what was in so many dusty counties, silenced. The voices of conscience. Rising against an old and fragile and seemingly unbeatable power structure, to demand something new. Something better. Beto may not be the end, but he and his team have certainly created a new beginning. And if I know the people of Texas, something tells me they will never let it go. This generation won’t roll over, and allow the good ol’ boys to determine who lives and who dies, who has a home here and who does not. The old guard won’t fall easy, but you can be sure; they will fall. The fire sweeping Texas will continue, and whether it takes a decade or generations, this will be a land of dignity, and equal protection for all.
Win or lose, this Senate race has been historic. It has laid the groundwork for those will come next, and reminded a hardy people to again be brave. Once revealed, courage cannot be contained. And the courage of this land will continue.
I’ll spend today driving a van from place to place, gathering folks who want to vote, and bringing them to the polls. For the first time in my life, there is an election here with a chance of moving us forward. Like so many thousands of volunteers today, I wont waste it.
Thank you Beto O’Rourke, for standing up. So many more now will because you now have. Here’s to victory, however long it takes, and justice in this land.