Hundreds rally to resist special session agenda

Wesley Story

“Classrooms not bathrooms,” echoed the chants of more than 100 people throughout the Capitol rotunda Tuesday afternoon as a coalition of protesters stood in opposition to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s special session agenda.

Tuesday marked the first day of Texas’ month-long special session, during which time legislators intend to address unfinished sunset legislation and Abbott’s list of 20 priorities, which includes education, tax reform and a transgender bathroom bill. More than 300 people showed up to rally on the south steps of the Capitol in the blistering Texas heat to oppose the special session and Abbott’s list.

One Texas Resistance, a coalition of more than 25 progressive and social justice advocacy groups, organized the rally.

Carly Hudson, a member of the One Texas Resistance coalition, passed out placards to people in the crowd that read “don’t discriminate in the Lone Star State.” Senate Bill 6, the so-called “bathroom bill,” would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities coordinating with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

“The overall message of this rally is that we want legislation that is for all Texans, not just the few,” Hudson said. “We all have different things that drove us to get involved in this resistance, but our end goal is the same.”

Several members of the House Democratic caucus participated in the rally, including Celia Israel, Donna Howard and Gina Hinojosa, all of Austin.

“We will do everything we can to resist and fight back in the Texas House and the Texas Senate over these next four weeks,” caucus chairman and Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, said in a speech. “But we need you to continue to speak out as you are today and let your legislators know … that their agenda is not the agenda for the people of Texas.”

Turner said instead of focusing on Abbott’s and Dan Patrick’s “dangerous agenda,” the legislature should be talking about other issues like public school funding, Texas’ rising maternal mortality rates and the gender wage gap.

After the rally, some members of the crowd funneled into the Capitol and circled around the rotunda to participate in different chants that addressed certain items on the special session agenda. The protesters shouted things such as “abortion is healthcare,” and “Greg Abbott has got to go.”

“If people don’t speak up, then the legislators will think no one cares,” said Janice Anderson, the mother of a transgender child who chanted with the crowd. “I have a child in public school and … if SB 6 is passed, the school will no longer be able to let him be himself, and he won’t be able to pee in peace."

Other controversial topics on the agenda that people showed up to protest include a "school choice” program for special-needs children, property tax reform and three items related to abortion rights.

Wendy Medrano, a 9-year-old member of the Worker’s Defense Youth Group, drew loud cheers from the crowd when she spoke about her opposition to Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill that bans sanctuary cities in Texas and allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment.  Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on May 7.

Medrano said she and her friends were ignored for months when they came to the Capitol to protest SB 4 and now, instead of having fun this summer, they’re having to come back to the Capitol.

“We know what it is like to worry about our parents being taken from us,” Medrano said. “My story, like the one of many people, is that my parents came here to give me a better life. They work hard to give me the things that their parents couldn’t give them.”