Democracy Should Be Fun

The freedom to vote is a freedom worth celebrating.

by Alán de León

On the ballot this November are a litany of incredibly important issues — abortion access, climate action, racial justice and democracy itself, to name a few. The stakes are high and elections are certainly a serious business. But in all this one thing has become lost: that democracy should be fun. 

Up until October 11th, which was the last day to register to vote in Texas, we had dedicated the vast majority of our energy to youth voter registration efforts. We hosted over 60 events on National Voter Registration Day alone, featuring mechanical bulls, bouncy castles, pizza and paletas, celebrity guests, and thousands of young Texans eager to make their voices heard and empower their peers to do the same. 

We did all this not just because voting is important and we love to party (though it certainly is and we definitely do), but because research has shown that promoting civic participation through festivals is an incredibly effective way to increase turnout. We did it because feeding into the doom and gloom narrative that positions young people of color to save us isn’t sustainable. We did it because young people of color deserve to have their voices celebrated. We did it because we believe young people are more likely to show up, not only if they understand the stakes of an election, but if showing up itself is presented as an enjoyable, rather than a solemn obligation. Because it should be. It should bring us joy to show up for ourselves and each other. Fundamentally, the promise of democracy is all about community. And democracy really works when we make those with whom we share a community excited about our futures and the prospect of building power through the ballot box.

Across the board, our efforts this year have registered thousands of new young voters to cast a ballot in this election. That’s no small feat, but the challenge leading up to Nov. 8 is making sure the people who are registered to vote show up and do so — a challenge toward which we apply the same principle: democracy should be fun.

To kick off these efforts, we held a joint event with Deeds Not Words, NextGen America and Lin Manuel Miranda at the University of Houston campus. Now leading up to the big E-Day, we’ll be hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, and encouraging people to get out and vote. We’ll be canvassing in the morning and holding youth power happy hours in the evening. Come election day, we’ll be throwing parties at the polls on college campuses because the freedom to vote is a freedom worth celebrating.

A proactive, grassroots outreach approach rooted in collective joy is what we envision and what we strive for. Through peer-to-peer democracy, we know we can create an understanding of the stakes of this election through the relationships we build.  We can make the case for democracy accompanied by hope and the excitement of political possibility.

We do this by working to ensure that young voters can make the connection between civic participation and protecting the freedoms they hold dear: the freedom to choose when and if to start a family; the freedom to live without constant fear of gun violence; and the freedom to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and leave behind a livable planet for all. 

Protecting these freedoms requires engaging in the political process. Our mission is to make that engagement an appealing exercise — it can and should be a joyful experience to shape our future for the better.

Politics is a serious business, we don’t deny that, but it doesn’t need to be a somber one. We are engaging, empowering and appealing to young people across the state through celebrations of civic engagement because it is what the moment demands. Young people are the moment and the movement, and we are declaring the future is ours to determine, and that we will do so with joy in our hearts, passion in our souls, and lightning in our shoes.

WTFTxLege?!: Whose House? Our House

Today’s Lesson: The Texas House of Representatives.

We can bare bones this then go into more detail of how the House acts in the legislative session (call it txlege for funsies). For starters, let’s talk about the history and purpose of the House. The house is the lower house half paired with the Senate upper half which makes our lege whole. The point of having two chambers of  lege is to make it more difficult for the whole branch to coordinate efforts for any particular legislative agenda. But also lol because we live in a trifecta state where our Governor, House, and Senate are all ruled by one party, but bipartisan faith or something like that! Our House itself is made up of 67 Democrats, 82 Republicans, and one vacancy which is set to be filled after a runoff in February.

We all have one representative. There are 150 of them in our state, so that’s a lot of names to take, and hold accountable for the culture we want to see in Texas. House members are elected every two years. Let’s reiterate that this is a redistricting session meaning new boundaries are redrawn which determine the districts the representatives, ya know, represent. We have the right to testify for fair and transparent maps for our communities during the redistricting hearings.

Quiz time: Do you know who your House representative is?

Jk no quizzes here, find out who your representative is by following this nifty link from the Texas Tribune.

Role in legislative session:

Members of the House can introduce bills to their chamber then the Speaker of the House will refer legislation to the committee dealing with the direct subject matter. The committees form research, collect opinions on the bill, and edit the bill before approving or denying it to go to the Senate. Many bills die in the committees.Then it goes to the Senate. They can make amendments and send it back or not. The House can agree to the amendments or not, send it back, rinse and repeat, until an agreement is reached. If passed, it will generally go into effect in 90 days.

Speaker of the House:

On the first day of a legislative session, the Speaker of the House is elected, but campaigning for this position starts way before. The newly elected speaker of the house is Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who secured the position with 143-2 and four non-votes.  Many house representatives – Republican and Democrat – have expressed good faith that Phelan will lead with a bipartisan lens.  Fingers crossed, toes crossed, and whatever else you can cross in hopes that this is true. But, what exactly does Phelan control as Speaker of the House? What does Dade do?

Dade Does

  • Appoints members to committees (honoring seniority,)
  • determines which bills get discussed in committees, 
  • keeps order during debate on the House floor,
  • serves on the Legislative Council and the Legislative Audit Committee, and serves as vice-chair on the Legislative Budget Board. He is also a member of the Legislative Redistricting Board.

Dade does be doing a lot. Phelan holds a lot of power on what legislation is prioritized and by who. Read more on what Phelan’s priorities for this session are here.

Committees:

Committees and leadership were assigned Feb. 4, and they are a doozy. Read about the assignments and see the full list here.

Meetings of a house committee are generally required to be open to the public and can hear testimony from the public on the subject at hand.  When holding a public hearing, the house must post notice of it at least five days before the hearing during a regular session. So, keep an eye out for important hearings. And testify pleeeease. Please. Please. 

Dance break:

For more legislative updates sign up to be a part of our legislative email list. If you want to testify at a redistricting hearing, we have a training camp in partnership with Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Rising! Sign up now.

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