Bright Spots of 2021

The challenges of 2021 are widely known, yet this year also had its bright spots.

The challenges of 2021 are widely known, from the devastating winter storm to the Texas Legislature’s relentless attacks on our civil rights and liberties. Yet, this past year also had its bright spots. Below are a few of the many ways that the ACLU of Texas worked with communities and partners to build a Texas that lives up to its promise. 

We held politicians accountable for attacking our right to vote.

Texas politicians aiming to make voting harder and scarier for communities of color tried to jam legislation through in six days, but with our advocacy and the courage of certain lawmakers, the process took six months, attracted national media attention, and resulted in a few improvements to an otherwise terrible bill. We filed lawsuits with partners to challenge voter suppression bill S.B. 1 and Texas’ new racially discriminatory electoral maps. Additionally, we exposed the significant racial disparities in prosecutions by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Election Integrity Unit and we currently represent two Black Texans, Crystal Mason and Hervis Rogers, unjustly targeted by these prosecutions.

We fought on all fronts to protect abortion rights.

After Texas passed the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in the country, we challenged S.B. 8 in court with our national and local reproductive rights partners. Our case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to block the law and closed two of the most promising legal pathways. In coalition, we organized large rallies of outraged Texans across the state, met with members of Congress in our nation’s capital, and trained and mobilized hundreds of new local advocates through the Texas Abortion Access Network Academy. The fight for abortion access continues. 

We blocked efforts to terrorize immigrants and border communities.

Through litigation and advocacy, we stopped Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring the transportation of certain migrants within the state, persuaded the Biden Administration to halt any new border wall construction, and halted the Trump-era policy of rushing migrants through the asylum process while detained in horrendous detention conditions without access to attorneys.

We brought greater accountability to policing.

Early in the year, advocates in Houston pressured the city to adopt new practices to make policing more transparent, to ban no-knock warrants for most offenses, and to invest $25 million over three years in crisis intervention programs that reduce dangerous police interactions.

We worked to ensure LGBTQIA+ students can thrive.

Using advocacy and litigation, we pressured multiple Texas school districts to change unconstitutional grooming and dress codes based on sex stereotypes that resulted in the harsh punishment of students. We also collaborated with partners to equip students across the state to advocate for themselves at school through our Free to Be Me students’ rights toolkit.

We activated Texans to get civically engaged.

In addition to training and deploying poll monitors in Texas cities to support our democratic process, we worked with partners to mobilize thousands of Texans to contact their elected officials about the ongoing legislative attacks on our democracy.

We lived our values as an organization.

After hiring Executive Director Oni Blair, the first Black person to lead the organization, we updated our salaries to more equitably compensate staff, embarked on a strategic planning process guided by members at all levels of the organization, and took strides to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) a central feature of our organization. We also launched a groundbreaking development campaign to resource our work for years to come.

We know that 2022 will be another critical year for Texans as we elect new lawmakers, await pressing decisions from the courts, and build statewide power to reclaim the civil rights and liberties that legislators rolled back. 

It may feel like we have lost ground this year, but in the process of defending our communities, we discovered new ways to work together — and we the people are, and have always been, the most powerful force for change.