Stop Telling Liberals and Women to Leave Red States

ByAmy McCarthy

On Monday, the Texas Legislature will convene again to discuss one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country — Senate Bill 5 (also known as HB 60), which would likely close all but five clinics in the entire state (Texas is as big as France, y’all) and make it more difficult for abortion providers to do their jobs.

In response, a “#FeministArmy” headed to the Capitol in Austin to protest the bill in droves. pro-choice activists, clad in bright orange shirts, filled the gallery of the Texas House of Representatives to testify against SB5, explaining how the restrictions would harm women. 

Some reports suggest that over 1,000 people filled the halls of the Texas Capitol, armed with gallons of coffee and pizza delivered from all over the country. I’m going to guess you haven’t heard much about it. Outside of ThinkProgress and DailyKos, most outlets just aren’t covering what’s going on in Texas.

This is pretty common. The “flyover” states are often the ones that don’t lean progressively. As a result, the progressive corners of the media tend to cast them aside and bemoan all of the “idiots” they send to Washington and the stupid laws that are passed in states like Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, and Florida.

A lot of times, I agree with them. I think Ted Cruz is the worst Senator in the Senate. My governor is a joke, and the Texas Legislature is filled with people who don’t know enough basic science to understand that a rape kit isn’t an abortion. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m willing to abandon my state and the people in it.

Thankfully, the 700+ people who stayed at the Texas Capitol until 4 a.m. last week feel the same way. The people of Texas (and states like Texas) need the support of activists who believe that Texas doesn’t have to be an ass-backwards redneck repository. It’s a place that is full of vibrant progressives, a variety of cultures, and - believe it or not — smart people.

When people in Texas and other states complain about bad laws, the response from progressives in New York City (I use NYC only as an example — there are people in many cities that believe their city is the most progressive in the world) is that they should just pack their bags and hop the first plane to Manhattan. Instead of working to change bad policy, they should abandon their homes, lives, and friends for more liberal pastures.

For most of us, that just isn’t in the cards. My family lives in Texas and Louisiana, and I can’t imagine being far away from them. I live in Dallas, where I get the perks of a major metropolitan area, like 3 a.m. Thai delivery and excellent theatre, while simultaneously getting cheap rent and high wages. As a bonus — I get to live in a pretty progressive area full of great restaurants, urban gardens, cool bars, and best of all — great tacos.  

I don’t want to leave my home, and I don’t think I should have to. Texas is a pretty great place, most of the time. I’m not going to let a couple hundred right-wing men in Austin make me leave the state I was raised in.

Progressives deserting Texas, Florida, and others isn’t the way to solve the problems of these states. More organization, more time, and more money from national progressive groups will lead to real, lasting change. Texans are independent, contrarian, and like to shake things up. If you’ll remember, just 20 years ago, Ann Richards was the outgoing governor of Texas.

It’s also important to remember that these regressive policies don’t largely affect middle-class white people. Sure, it would be slightly more expensive for me to get an abortion in Dallas if the bill passes, but it will really be detrimental for women who live 200 or 300 miles away from a clinic. Who will have to find childcare, a hotel room, food, and a reliable car to make the trip.

Those women deserve access to reproductive autonomy as much as I do. Living in a major city shouldn’t make quality health care a privilege. In Texas and many other states, though, it does. Progressive activists in these states are working every single day to ensure this access — I can’t say the same for most moneyed progressives on the East and West Coasts.

While the Manhattan white feminists host craft cocktail hours to raise money for new alterna-zines about birth control, hundreds of Texans will stand in the halls of their state Capitol and demand that their rights are preserved. As Jessica Luther, an activist who’s been at the Texas House since the hearings started, tweeted: "We've organized for a week. We've been showing up for months and now we're showing up in droves. WE ARE HERE."