Texas organizers are a different breed entirely from your garden variety east or west coast activist. Austin, an oasis of liberal bustle in the thick of Texas’s vast conservatism, seems to be a springboard for bad-ass women committed to local organizing. We talked to 3 native Texans these last few days, all of whom feel an urgency to put into action the change they want to see.
Elsa (left), the chief-of-staff for state representative Trey Martinez Fischer, chose the world of politics to pursue what she believes in. She grew up in the border town Pharr, surrounded by “incredibly tough” Mexican women and her activist father. She is a feminist, putting issues like sexual health and family planning in the forefront of her politics. Elsa splits her time between Austin and San Antonio, which makes her contemplate the dynamic of activism in each place. “It can be soul-killing to organize outside of Austin,” she says, “but it’s tough to be in an urban area where the same ideas are thrown around.” Mostly she sees her job as “connecting the dots,” and besides convincing the other side, “work[ing] with like-minded groups to build coalitions.” Elsa is hopeful about the future of feminism. “If you’re an organizer, you have to be optimistic about change…or else you might as well get off the wagon right now.”
Laurie (right), the 27-year-old political director of Texas’s branch of NARAL, was born and raised in both Austin and South Texas. She has spent years committed to pro-choice activism in Texas, reaching out to as diverse groups by arguing in logical, relatable terms. “Of course I am a feminist, but I would never call myself that at the Capitol,” she says. “Why poke that hornet’s nest? I tell people, ‘Texas is the #1 state for teen pregnancy—at least we can all agree on pregnancy prevention, right?’” Meanwhile, she says, she frames the issue differently when talking with Mexican-American women in border towns. Condemning teenage pregnancy is “not appropriate,” Laurie says; in communities where young pregnancy is part of the culture, she frames the issue as the right to prenatal health care. No matter who she is talking to, her Texas roots come in handy. “I’m aware, and I think it comes across to people, that I’m sweeping my own doorstep.”
Erika (below), also 27, grew up in the border town of Eagle Pass in a trailer park. Her father was a Tejano musician and her mother worked at Walmart for many years before she got her teaching degree, a goal which Erika also pursued. But later, Erika became involved with PODER, which she now co-directs. PODER was started by a group of Chicanos to challenge environmental injustices in East Austin, an area to which people of color were once forcibly relocated. Erika would have called herself a feminist a few years ago but now feels less comfortable with the title. “I call myself a woman or a woman of color…but also I don’t have a problem with the term ‘Chicana feminist.’” She acknowledges that feminism isn't a priority for most women, explaining “If you asked the women of Juarez facing femicide if they were feminists, they would say, ‘I don’t care, I’m just trying to get my children back.’” Regardless of the barriers between women and the issues they face, she hopes to see all women “come together somehow” in the future.