This piece originally published in the Austin-American Statesman.
When the governor announced his phased reopening plans in late April, he also said he would continue to allow restaurants to sell alcohol to go and, given its popularity with the state’s residents, he remarked he might just continue that forever. It was the most specific, permanent change he has suggested in the wake of this unprecedented public health crisis.
My interest in that announcement is not because I am a latter-day member of a temperance organization. No, I am concerned that is the extent of the governor’s vision of the future: to make up his own rules without the checks and balances our democracy demands.
There are, after all, much more pressing challenges to handle.
What I see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are the gaping holes left for families and individuals to maneuver on their own. Holes like the families with no health insurance and therefore no health -- let alone health care -- in this state that has long had the highest numbers of uninsured. Not far from where I live are children who can’t stay current with their educations because the school district couldn’t provide them with the necessary electronic tools they need and that not every family can provide. When my husband and I walk our dog we meet people experiencing homelessness with nowhere to go because the shelters are full as they try to provide the physical distancing that will limit the spread of COVID-19.
Then there are the other long-standing inequities that we see now with laser precision because of the virus. People languishing in jails, not because they have been convicted, but because they are unable to afford cash bail pending their trials. Limitations on access to abortion, an essential health need at any time but especially now, for people who fear the damage of illness and/or the damage to their economic stability would preclude their ability to raise a child. Continuing assaults on the immigrant communities that make up the backbone of so much of our local economies. Continuing suppression of our most fundamental democratic right: the right to vote.
These aren’t new issues. These are the parts of our society that weren’t working before the pandemic. Now, as we’re imagining the Texas that comes out of the pandemic, is our moment to address them, to demand a better version of our state – the Texas we deserve.
We must ensure the next legislature repeals Senate Bill 4, the 2017 law that bans so-called sanctuary cities. It only created fear in the immigrant community and undermined our safety, by stigmatizing immigrants who now fear any encounter with authorities. And the daily COVID-19 statistics show the inhumanity of immigrant detention. If we tackle these issues, there won’t be time to continue the extremist fringe’s attacks on abortion or LGBT Texans, attacks that do nothing to make our state better.
I offer these thoughts not because each of them is a civil liberties issue; I offer them because economic inequality is its own injustice, though one that intersects with almost every other systemic injustice. Those living in poverty have always been most vulnerable to the denial of civil rights.
As a fifth-generation Texan, I carry all the hubris that comes with being a Texan: pride in our tenacity and wildcatter spirit. I love bluebonnets, the beaches of south Texas. I love my fellow Texans, whether they are the ranchers of West Texas, the folks in small towns who know when you are born and care when you die, the salad bowl of our big cities where I can walk 10 blocks and hear more languages than I can identify.
They, and the rest of us, deserve a better Texas. We deserve bigger, more foundational changes than making carry-out cocktails permanent. The moment to make them happen is now.