By Priscila Martinez, Training Director

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring participants in the Battleground Texas Future Leadership Program (TX-FLiP), which trains people of color who aspire to run for office someday.

Marquis Hawkins is a dynamic and devoted Texan committed to closing the opportunity gap between impoverished communities and their affluent counterparts.

His passion to fill this gulf has propelled him to be a trailblazer in the movement for education reform in Dallas.

Marquis believes that TX-FLiP can help him develop the key skills that will be pivotal in engaging communities, and connect more young people to the issue of education disparity in South Dallas and beyond.

Marquis and 99 other future Texas leaders have already completed two trainings in Austin, and continue working with their professional mentors and networking with each other.

These awesome people will be running campaigns of their own before we know it! Make a donation to support the Texas Future Leadership Program today.

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By Jenn Brown, Executive Director

In the first six months of 2015, Battleground Texas has continued to make significant strides toward building a lasting infrastructure that will make elections in Texas more competitive in the years to come. Through our volunteer-driven organizing on the ground, targeted leadership development programs across the state, and voter registration and voter protection work, our movement is continuing the fight to ensure our leadership in Austin and Washington, D.C. reflects Texas’ incredible diversity and values.

GRASSROOTS VOLUNTEERS ARE ORGANIZING IN EVERY CORNER OF TEXAS

Our grassroots volunteers are still energized – and they haven’t stopped organizing. Since we started Battleground Texas two years ago, we have focused on training and developing our volunteers. Now, we are taking things to the next level: our best, battle-tested leaders are leading 14 Regional Councils to organize our 35,408 volunteers to participate in every level of the political process – all part of our plan to build this organization for Texans, by Texans. Since the beginning of this year, they have hosted hundreds of events: weekends of actions focusing on voter registration at local events such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parades, Juneteenth, and Pride, hitting the ground to participate in elections in their local communities, and recruiting 2,000 more volunteers since January to help expand this movement.

On February 21, more than 200 leaders from all 14 Regional Councils came together in Austin for our second annual Neighborhood Team Summit, where they shared lessons learned from the 2014 electoral cycle, attended trainings with organizing experts, and laid the groundwork for their regional plans for the year ahead. These volunteers are putting their plans in action – bringing thousands of voter registration volunteers back to their County Registrars to renew their status as Volunteer Deputy Registrars, hitting community events to register voters, and working to elect progressive leaders.

So far, Battleground Texas has helped more than 2,500 people get re-certified as Volunteer Deputy Registrars for 2015-2016 – on pace to surpass the number of voter registration volunteers deputized for the 2014 election. Our volunteers have hosted more than 250 voter registration events statewide. We are already seeing positive signs of progress from this overall approach – and we’re investing in staff to shore up this grassroots organizing structure. In the past several months, we’ve brought on full-time staff organizers to support the Regional Councils, help engage our volunteers, and connect with voters across the state.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING

As we continue to build out our organizing program, we’re also working to expand the bench of progressive leaders. This June, we launched our Texas Future Leadership Program (TX-FLiP), a program for Texans of color who hope to take leadership roles in progressive organizations and run future campaigns. Through TX-FLiP, 100 Texans are participating in a 7-month long training program that includes skills-based courses, regular meetings, and one-on-one mentoring by current political leaders. We couldn’t be more excited to see what our TX-FliP alums do in the years ahead.

We also completed the Executive Latino Leadership Program (ELLP) this February with a final session with our 50 participants to debrief on their experiences and cement their relationships for the future. Since launching that program last year, ELLP graduates have won seats on City Councils and run our Voter Protection Hotline.

Finally, we welcomed a new class of Battleground Texas Fellows in May – volunteers who want to organize their hometowns and engage more Texans in the democratic process. The 2015 summer group marks the 8th Fellows class since we launched Battleground Texas two years ago. To date, more than 800 Fellows have participated in the program. This summer, our Fellows are focused on voter registration and volunteer recruitment.

Our volunteers are the core of our organization, and we are dedicated to refining their skills so that they can organize effectively in every corner of our state. That’s why our Training Director is hosting weekly webinars with thousands of volunteers on topics including voter registration, digital organizing, volunteer recruitment, and best practices in data collection and analysis. In addition, the Battleground Texas digital team has created an online portal to allow volunteers to download our most popular trainings any time. Since March, hundreds of volunteers have downloaded trainings to hone their organizing skills.

TAKING ACTION TO PROTECT TEXANS’ RIGHT TO VOTE

Last year we broke new ground with the first-ever statewide, coordinated voter protection effort on behalf of Texas Democrats. We created a Voter Protection Hotline, 1-844-TXVOTES, to answer thousands of voters’ questions on polling locations, eligibility, and many others leading up to and on Election Day. We also reserved the number so that Democrats can use it in future elections. But that experience also underscored the substantial, institutional obstacles to voter participation in Texas and raised serious concerns about a system that actually makes it harder for every eligible Texan to exercise their right to vote:

  • The Voter Protection Report that Battleground Texas released in March found hundreds of examples of voter disenfranchisement across Texas and indicated these issues were just the tip of the iceberg.
  • This May, Battleground Texas and eleven Texans who were disenfranchised during the 2014 election sent a letter to the Texas Secretary of State calling for the state to fix systemic problems with its voter registration rolls or face potential legal action in the coming months. The letter urged the Secretary of State to take immediate action to remedy registration issues that kept these voters from casting regular ballots in last fall’s nationally-watched gubernatorial election, even though they each attempted to register to vote through the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

In response to the letter, the Secretary of State’s office has agreed to institute a new policy to streamline the voter registration process. However, there are several other changes that the Secretary of State’s office needs to implement before Texas is fully in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. We are meeting with the Secretary of State in the coming weeks and hope to find commonsense solutions to the problems we have identified. Ultimately, we are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect every eligible Texan's right to vote.

MOVING FORWARD

As we look ahead to the rest of 2015 and the work next year, Battleground Texas supporters will continue to recruit grassroots volunteers, keep organizing in our communities, participate in local elections, and continue to engage Texans in the democratic process. We know from experience it won’t be easy making Texas competitive in the elections to come, but we believe in the power of grassroots organizing to transform this state.

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