Monday, May 29, 2017

A Lot of Drama at the Texas State Legislature Today

Happy Memorial Day today, everybody!  And what a day to remember!

Check out what happened on the floor of the Texas House while we were peacefully protesting (you can actually view the actual protest in the Statesman video that accompanies this story here).  As we availed ourselves of our First Amendment right to protest Senate Bill 4, the so-called "Sanctuary Cities" bill which we all agree is harmful and discriminatory, a fight, together with death threats among legislators, played out.  So much drama.

Us protesters were indeed very loud and demanding, but we were also peaceful and united.  Meanwhile, this story tells of near fisticuffs among legislators on the House floor as we were getting escorted out by authorities.  Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) himself admitted that he called ICE (federal immigration authorities) so that they could make arrests of presumably undocumented, immigrant protesters.  

Had they come, one must ask how they would have known the difference in who is documented and who is not? Plus, talk about a public relations disaster had they decided to make arrests if they even showed up, to begin with.  I certainly didn't see them.  Strength in numbers matter.

While we were inside the House gallery, all four floor levels of the rotunda were filling up with protesters clamoring for justice, awaiting our exit from the House so that we could join them in what ultimately became a rally outside on the South steps of the capitol upon getting forced out of the rotunda by state police.

Thousands of folks participated, emanating from all over Texas, but also other states like Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.  Mostly Latino/a or Mexican, I would say, but also some Asians, African Americans, Anglos, and Muslims.

The presence of Texas Handmaids lined up, looking down, wearing their signature red cloaks and white bonnets as a sign of protest, on the ground floor of the rotunda, was eye-catching, too.  N.B. Read Margaret Atwood's classic and best-seller, Handmaid's Tale, to learn more about the origins of this new feminist movement.  Their presence was deeply felt and appreciated.

We chanted for hours.  The chant I loved the most is "This is what democracy looks like!"  Why?  Because this, along with the First Amendment, seems to be an inconvenient truth for folks like Rinaldi.

Check out this news bit from today's Dallas Morning News that lists Rinaldi as one of the worst legislators this legislative session.  It would line up for someone like him this way and speaks to the need for our community in Irving to show up in great numbers at the ballot box.  In fact, among other things, this is what the protestors were announcing.  That they would remember who voted how on SB4 and that legislators will be held to task.

The "Dreamer Movement," in case you don't know, began in Texas and goes back to the 2001 legislature with the passage of House Bill 1403.  We now, of course, have many states throughout the country that have similar bills that allow undocumented students to go to college without having to pay the tuition costs of out-of-state, foreign residents. And now we have the federal DREAM Act.  By virtually any measure we might fashion, this is an impressive achievement.

That said, the maturing of this movement is palpable to me.  In fact, this attack on our undocumented community via SB4 is having the opposite intended effect of making them—and all of us—stronger.  These bright, young, committed people are our future, my friends.  And we could not be in better hands.

Like it or not, our community is #HereToStay.  In the larger scheme of things anyway, we didn't cross the border.  The border crossed us.  See what happens when settlers invade countries and then dress it all up as "Manifest Destiny" or "American Exceptionalism?"  There IS a demographic reality that faces you sooner or later.

And what does that mean anyway? No, it's not to invert logics, with the oppressed becoming the oppressors.  I'm saying something different.  I'm saying that this psychological, emotional, and ultimately, tactical, relational, and policy shift to genuinely engaging "the other" to address human problems has become a begrudging matter of "survival," for some, and a long-awaited "opportunity," for others. 

I'm obviously in the latter camp as I see an enormous opportunity to make our lives richer and deeper through community engagement.  It takes us outside of our comfort zones, and we invariably discover that we always still have much to learn at the same time that we realize that we know a lot and have a lot to offer.  

Being involved in the community is intellectually stimulating, as well.  Kind of like learning a new language. According to research, learning a new language will forestall Alzheimers by a few years (especially see Stephen Krashen's piece, "Keep your brain young: Read, Be Bilingual, Drink Coffee"). I see these similarly—language, culture, and intellectualism, brain and heart development.

Let's honor the indigenous voices in our society, as well as the indigeneity around and within us.  Let us honor our elders.  Let's have an "abuela (grandmother) epistemology," or way of knowing.  After all, I am a mother and a grandmother.  The idea here is not to establish a new orthodoxy, but rather to liberate ourselves to diverse ways of knowing and being in the world.  What that looks like is democratically negotiated and determined.

If our goal is greater equality, world peace, and frankly, living above sea level, let's re-commit to democracy and democratic processes, and let's build a kind of life and society premised less on competition and individualism, and more on collaboration and compromise—the price of democracy, no less.

As Mexico’s greatest, most beloved president Benito Juarez once expressed, 

“Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.”  (“Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”)

Indeed, but this is a praxis, a healthy, green, organic revolution of the heart, mind, and spirit.  This is a way of knowing that is nurturing and life giving. We need to love and care for our youth. So many of them are in crisis.  They need us.  We need them.   

Let's join together as communities and work in partnership to engage global issues of individual, group, and societal concern locally, not the least of which is eliminating not just the letter—but perhaps most especially, the spirit—of the law that undergirds this hateful legislation. Same for myriad other social issues, as well.

We all benefit from Dreamers’ call to a life of dignity.  To quote fierce, local immigrant rights lawyer, Virginia Raymond, "We are never as a democracy ever hurt from the expansion of another's rights.  And we frequently benefit.”  

Please say no to SB4!  Now, on to the courts where the constitutionality of SB4 will get challenged—and, I anticipate, successfully.

Sí se puede!  Yes we can!

Angela Valenzuela

By Sean Collins Walsh - American-Statesman Staff
1Updated: 3:16 p.m. Monday, May 29, 2017 |  Posted: 11:04 a.m. Monday, May 29, 2017


3 p.m. update: Following his confrontation with Democrats on the Texas House floor, Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, issued a statement confirming that he reported protesters at the Capitol to federal immigration authorities and saying that he is under police protection after being “physically assaulted” and threatened by other legislators.
Rinaldi said that Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, said he would “get me on the way to my car, prompting Rinaldi to respond that he “would shoot him in self defense.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said that he heard Rinaldi make a threat, directed at Nevárez, that he would “put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads.”
Rinaldi also said that Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, assaulted him on the floor but gave no details. Earlier, Rinaldi told reporters that Democrats had pushed and shoved him during the showdown on the floor, which occurred as officers were removing protesters from the galleries.
The protesters were there to oppose the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 4, which bans so-called sanctuary cities that decline to assist federal immigration enforcement.
1 p.m. update: On the final day of the legislative session, a moment usually reserved for congratulatory speeches, a shoving match broke out on the Texas House floor as Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, tussled with several Democrats.
The incident occurred as protesters opposed to the new law banning so-called sanctuary cities were being ushered out of the House galleries after disrupting the proceedings on the floor by chanting, “Here to stay!”
Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said Rinaldi then told several lawmakers that he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the protesters, prompting the confrontation between Rinaldi and the Democrats.
Asked repeatedly whether he called ICE, Rinaldi declined to say. Rinaldi said he confronted the Democrats because they were encouraging the protesters.
“We were just hawing back and forth they were bragging about inciting the protesters and calling us all racists,” he said.
During the heated exchange, Rinaldi said, the Democrats pushed and shoved him and threatened his life.
Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio, however, said he heard Rinaldi threaten to put a bullet in the head of another Democrat, Rep. Poncho Nevarez of Eagle Pass.
The clash put an exclamation point on the rancorous 85th Legislature, which was marked by intense battles between the parties over the sanctuary cities measure and by battles between GOP factions over controversial proposals like the so-called bathroom bill.
Noon update: As demonstrators protesting a new law banning so-called sanctuary cities were being removed from the gallery, a scuffle broke out on the House floor between Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, and several Democrats.
Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., a Fort Worth Democrat, said Rinaldi told lawmakers that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters, who were opposing a bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities that decline to assist federal immigration enforcement.
Rinaldi and Democrats then got in each other’s faces and had to be separated.
“This is an exercise of your first amendment rights, your freedom of speech,” Romero said of the protesters. Rinaldi “feels the way to deal with that, instead of letting troopers do what they did, which is exactly what they’re supposed to do, he felt like he needed to call ICE,” Romero said, referring to Texas Department of Public Safety officers that removed the protesters from the galleries.
“I hope that he’s embarrassed,” Romero said. “The price to pay for him right now was the loss of respect. I’ve served with him on committees. He fully lost my respect.”
Asked for comment, Rinaldi said that the Democrats had incited a riot by encouraging the protesters and that they threatened his life during the scuffle on the House floor.
He did not comment on whether he called federal immigration authorities.
Earlier: Chanting, “Here to stay!” protesters opposed to the new law banning so-called sanctuary cities briefly shut down proceedings in the Texas House on Monday, the final day of a legislative session that will be remembered for intense partisan battles.
The protesters wore red shirts and filled the House galleries as the largely ceremonial last day of the Legislature got underway.
House rules forbid spectators from cheering or jeering, and they were soon escorted out by officers from the Department of Public Safety.
Legislators from both parties looked up and took cell phone videos of the demonstrators as they were removed from the galleries.
The Senate, hoping to avoid a similar outburst, locked its gallery doors shortly before the session was to begin at 11 a.m.
Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, imposes stiff financial penalties on sanctuary cities, which are local governments that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement, and creates a criminal offense for local officials who implement sanctuary-style policies.
When the bill came up in the House, Democrats fought against it for 16 hours in an emotional floor debate before the Republican majority approved it.

About the Author
SEAN COLLINS WALSH   Sean Collins Walsh reports on state government and politics for the American-Statesman.

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