How to Cool Your Heels in Texas
On a hot day in July the chamber of the Texas Senate turns out to be a great place to catch some A/C and think about how there are two monuments to Confederate heroes on the front lawn of the Capitol.
Read that Southmost monument carefully. The only reason they lost that war, explains the marble script, was because the Heroes were outnumbered six to one. It never was a fair fight, and the monument testifies that the Heroes never lost it.
The Heroes put 400,000 lives on the line, but so did the Northern Aggressors, so the Heroes had not another 400,000 to waste, but the Northern Aggressors did. Jesus, what a bloody mess. In 1901, they were not at all ready to let that one go, so they built another monument on the South Capitol lawn.
And even today, over my bar-b-que lunch I see a fellow diner in a Confederate flag t-shirt. Here we are at Ben’s Long Branch Bar-B-Que on East 11th Street, where they serve Soul Food Wednesdays. And in walks this confederate flag. Do these fights never go away?
These are the things you can ponder as you stare at the chandeliers round about 1:30 PM Thursday, as the titans of the Democratis Party huddle on the Senate floor, having no company to keep with Republicans who were huddled somewhere out of sight.
There were, among others, Gonzalo Barrientos, the long-time survivor from Austin; John Whitmire, the filibusterer from North Houston; Royce West, the education whip, hobbling around with a kind of cast on his left leg no less (it was West wasn’t it with the cast? if I’d known that was going to be the best image of the day, I’d have taken notes); and Eliiot Shapleigh, the one who will tell you plain out that Texas would do much better having an income tax.
Other than that, all we see in terms of Senators is one guy on the Right side of the aisle cruising Google Earth in search of various properties that we up in the gallery suppose that he owns.
Everybody could see that these hapless pols weren’t part of the back-room deal making that, by day’s end, would be sure enough promised to deliver the Senate this time once more, yeah sure, to successful conclusion on education policy.
When Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst walked out to rationalize for the press, you could see that it was gonna be a little more talk and a lot less action. Not a bad time to get a Starbuck’s coffee, read the New York Times article about Rumsfeld in Baghdad and cross your fingers about mid-term elections next year.
It also helps to sit near lobbyists. "There she goes back to her office," said two well-heeled suits at the same time, indicating a well-placed staffer who smiled briefly into the galleries before disappearing. "It’s going to be awhile," they agreed.
But can you believe it? Not one, but two monuments to the Confederacy out front? The history of this legislature is surely written in granite priorities outside.
I had time to mosey through the monuments this morning, being as how I was early to the Latino Coalition’s press conference, and even after circling both Civil War monuments I was still early enough to catch the MALDEF team standing alone at the South Steps.
David Hinojosa, Luis Figueroa, and an intern were staking out the territory for this morning’s announcement of a six-point plan–a simple way of reminding Texas what a good education bill would look like–one that wouldn’t require court intervention either.
"They say we’re out of ideas and we only oppose bills," said Figueroa. "So we’re here to show them the ideas that we’re for."
"People have asked whether no bill would be better than a bad bill," said Hinojosa. "But what about a great bill?"
A great education bill would:
(1) Equalize Funding so that all children would share the wealth regardless of where they are born.
(2) Make sure facilities are up-to-date, a need that remains unmet in many of MALDEF’s client districts in the latest round of education litigation.
(3) Fund realistic "weights" for the education of English Language Learners (15 percent of all students) and Low Income Children (50 percent, yes half of all Texas Students are Low Income). These students need a forty percent increase right away.
(4) Pay teachers good wages. The Southwest Workers Union was on hand this morning with signs asking, "Living Wages for School Workers", and a huge banner demanding: "Mandamos Justicia".
(5) Accountability without high stakes testing. As the press kit explained, many students take tests that assume they have been taught the material in the first place by obedient if not qualified teachers.
(6) And finally (because there are only really five things that the legislature refuses to do, not six) why not give the kids of Texas a chance to excel in education. Give them the education they need to rank among the top tiers of their globalized peers. Wouldn’t that be the kind of thing a state would want for its kids? Isn’t this the kind of things heroes fight for?
But what does any of this have to do with tax cuts, you ask? And aren’t tax cuts the one thing that legislators have to bring back to their voters this year? The MALDEF team takes no official line on taxes, but they have noticed that cutting taxes is much more important to this legislature than doing six (or five) good things for education. But who hasn’t noticed that?
The message of the Latino Coalition is crisp and bright. But it ain’t a cheap message, that’s for sure. And Texas voters are having difficulty rising to level of maturity required to say: children first.
By afternoon Thursday, it’s not clear that any of this Latino Coalition sunshine has penetrated into the carpeted hush of Senate chambers where up at the gallery level children come and go quickly with their vacationing parents. It’s not a bad space to be walking around or sitting around as the July sun climbs up the ladder outside.
A dozen blocks away at City Hall I tug on the first door handle, my body looking forward to the whoosh of chilled air, but what’s that noise? Turns out that door handle is unauthorized entrance and I’ve just set off an intruder alert. A guy is wagging his finger at me. I don’t wait for him to finish his sentence. I step back out into the heat. Great. Shows you how well I know City Hall these days.
Okay so back out the door and around through the metal detector and x-ray, probably a video tape, too. Here I don’t set off any alarms, so I go stand by the Chief of Police for a second while I search for a seat.
Councilmember Brewster McCracken is looking over the freshly drafted city budget and trying to come to grips with the fact that the city is headed toward a police state far as the eye can see. Of course, that’s not the way he says it exactly. But he notices that the police portion of the city budget is up to 75 percent and climbing.
Give us a decade, and we’ll all be working for the police union, while not doing jobs like librarian, park maintenance, after school programs, health care–you know, all that socialist nonsense that we began to finally outgrow round about 1980.
So I’m not unhappy to go out and join the socialists, anarchists, greens, poets, artists, and possibly even Democrats who have gathered along Cesar Chavez Street this afternoon to protest the killing of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha, who, according to the sign I was holding, was shot in the back at point blank range. He was unarmed at the time, although possibly guilty of having smoked a reefer two hours earlier, if you believe the revised toxicology report, which folks out here with signs aren’t really wanting to to.
And even if Rocha had been stoned two hours earlier, so what? I mean you go around killing previously stoned people in Austin, Texas? No wonder Willie is keeping a heavy touring schedule these days.
Back inside the building, Councilmember Danny Thomas wants to know how police get a 2.7 customer satisfaction rating? Those are the kinds of questions you can sincerely wonder about in there with your air conditioners humming, behind your security screens, as you pass out an award to the cop who killed a mentally deranged woman who was threatening someone with a knife. Today it is official, that the cop has been cleared by the feds, so he is a hero, he saved a life. Now on to the Rocha killing.
And, um, I forget, what was that question you asked Mr. Thomas? Oh right. Why are people who are not federal agents or Councilmembers not impressed with police today? And I know you didn’t ask this, but why won’t they–even in the face of what a police state looks like–raise taxes for education?
"Money for jobs and ed-u-ca-tion. Not more po-lice oc-cu-pa-tion." I put down my sign and make a note of this chant. Sort of sums up my day. Two standing monuments to Confederate Heroes, can you believe it?
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org