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A nearly 30-mile “Selma-to-Montgomery” style march from Georgetown to Austin ended with a rally at the Texas Capitol to push federal voting rights legislation.
Some 1,500 people completed the final stretch of the march Saturday morning. With Beto O’Rourke and Luci Baines Johnson joining those at the front of the line, participants held signs to “End the Filibuster” and “Pass All Provisions of the For the People Act.”
Some had been marching since Wednesday. The walk, organized by the The Poor People’s Campaign, was separated in to chunks over the course of several days.
Protesters lined up in the street as they prepared to complete the trek. Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, called on the marchers to be silent as they began.
“Let’s let our silence speak loud and clear,” he said.
It would soon be time to sing into the streets. Fellow co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis said into a megaphone: “Which side are you on my people? Which side are you on?”
“We’re on the people’s side,” the crowd called back.
The march comes as lawmakers in Austin consider election bills that prompted Texas House Democrats to break quorum and travel to Washington, D.C. There, they are raising awareness of the Texas bills they say would disenfranchise voters and advocating for federal voting rights laws. Supporters of the Texas bills, stalled in the House during a special session, say the measures would make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
Among the speakers on Thursday was Johnson, who’s father U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Texans O’Rourke, who previously represented El Paso in Congress, and Julián Castro, who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under former president Barack Obama, also spoke. Willie Nelson performed from the steps of the Capitol.
“Are we going to fight for the right to vote,” O’Rourke said, “Yes” echoing back at him. “Are we going to give up until we get it. No. We’re going to push through. We’re going to push through until we win this.”
Benjamin Chou, walking on Friday from North Austin to a church near the campus of UT-Austin, wore a shirt emblazoned with a call to save drive-thru voting, a pandemic-era voting method used in Harris County during the 2020 general election. The proposed bills in the Texas House and Senate would do away with the voting option, though people who qualify would still be able to vote curbside.
Chou, who works in Harris County’s elections department, said drive-thru voting was used by thousands of Houstonians and was particularly popular with mothers of young children who wanted to vote but didn’t want to expose their kids to COVID-19.
“This is a form of voting that Republicans and Democrats used,” he said. “So when one party tries to eliminate it, they need to keep in mind that they’re going to anger a lot of their own voters.”
Participants in the march and event organizers, in addition to demanding full restoration of the Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act in Congress, were asking for an end to the Senate filibuster rule, a $15/hour minimum wage and fair treatment for immigrants.
“We’re not just asking for something small, we’re demanding something great, and they have to see that there are real human beings, everyone has to see the real people here behind this ask,” said Rev. Erika Forbes of Dallas, who works for the Texas Freedom Network.
As she and others walked down Lamar Street on Friday, some stopped to look on and observe. One woman held her fist high and firm into the air as the marchers passed.
The marchers on Saturday were met at the Capitol by a few dozen counter-protesters. One held a sign reading “We Are For Election Integrity.” Other signs questioned “Who Paid for the Jet?” alluding to the Texas Democrats who went to D.C.. and read “Read the Bill Democrats Lie.”
Inside the Capitol grounds, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Victor Taylor estimated “several thousand” were in attendance for the rally.
“The reality is we need help from the federal government given the situation of the calculus in the state legislature,” said Brody Mulligan, a Democratic party precinct chair in Tarrant County.