In Texas, Voting Rights Four-Day March Ends in Capitol Rally With Thousands in Attendance

Updated Monday, August 2, at 10:45 a.m. PT.

On Saturday, a four-day, 27-mile Selma-to-Montgomery style march from Georgetown—a suburb north of Austin—ended with a rally at the Texas Capitol attended by almost 10,000 people.

The rally was the culmination of a four-day march from Georgetown, a suburb north of Austin, which began on Wednesday, as a way to pressure the U.S. Congress to pass voting rights legislation. The marchers—coordinated by The Poor People’s Campaign and Powered by People, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s voter outreach organization—reached the Capitol in time for the voting rights rally Saturday. Additional partners for the march include Black Voters Matter, Texas AFL-CIO, YWCA Greater Austin and other organizations, churches and leaders.

“They’re marching, they’re taking action,” said O’Rourke, who joined at the start of the march on Wednesday. “They’re not just waiting at home for someone to save the day. All of these folks are going to save the day. All of us are going to be a part of it.”

The four-day march covered the 27-mile stretch from Georgetown to downtown Austin—despite temperatures in the high 90s—and drew inspiration from the historic Selma to Montgomery, Ala., marches that played a key role in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“We are here today because of a mandate,” Rev. Dr. William Barber told the crowd of marchers before the start of their journey on Wednesday. “These state legislators have mandated that we must have federal intervention.”

Already, voting laws in the Lone Star State are the most restrictive in the country, according to an index compiled by political scientists at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and Wuhan University in China, and over the past eight years, several major polling places in Democratic areas have closed. Unsurprisingly, voter turnout in Texas is also among the worst in the country. The restrictive voting bills at the heart of the demonstrations taking place over the last several months ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting options, further restrict the state’s vote-by-mail rules and strengthen protections for partisan poll watchers. 

The Texas GOP argues the new provisions are a way to safeguard the integrity of Texas elections and reduce the possibility of fraud—despite the fact that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state, according to the office of the Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs, the top elections official and a fellow Republican. (Hughs stepped down from her position on May 31.)

The marchers and activists hope the demonstration will build pressure on the federal government—particularly the U.S. Senate—to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would offset the contentious voting bill that, despite the House Democrats’ quorum break, the Texas Senate is expected to pass.

Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, asked the crowd on Saturday: “Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on?”

“We’re on the people’s side!” the crowd chanted back.

“The attack on democracy currently playing out in D.C. and in state legislatures like Texas is the worst we have seen since Reconstruction,” wrote Theoharis and Roz Pelles, both of the Poor People’s Campaign, in an op-ed for Ms. “At the center of this crisis are poor women, especially poor women of color, who are facing increasingly unlivable conditions, none of which will change without a democracy that works for them.”

“You cannot quorum break to victory against voter suppression and the right to vote,” O’Rourke said on Wednesday. “All you can do is buy us time.”

Editor’s note: Republican lawmakers in Texas passing extreme voter suppression legislation, banning critical race theory and outlawing abortion outright. … House Democrats fleeing the state en masse. … Governor Greg Abbott threatening to arrest legislators. … What the heck is happening in Texas?! If you haven’t been following along closely, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered the latest episode of “On the Issues With Michele Goodwin,” 15 Minutes of Feminism. (Okay, 17 minutes!) Listen below:

… Or head to the episode landing page for a full transcript, background reading and more:

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Roxy Szal is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.