By Iliana Flores-Dumond
Anyone who has been to Austin, Texas is likely familiar with the Capitol building. We’ve all seen the perfectly kept grounds, the dazzling rotunda, and the ornate doors. However, most people don’t know what it’s like to navigate the Capitol, both physically and metaphorically. As if getting lost in the building isn’t enough, I find myself getting lost in the legislative process.
To date, I’ve tried to testify in front of House and Senate committees on three separate occasions when they have debated bills over education reform, a topic I am very passionate about. Each time, I’ve tried to craft a two-minute speech that might begin to touch on the damage caused by bills that would ban books, or end diversity and inclusion practices in higher education. These topics not only impact me and my experience as a Texas student, but the lives of countless other young Texans. It is a hard enough task to try to convey the wide range of harm that bills like HB 900, or SB 17 would have in two minutes and with only 48 hours’ notice. Add the process of actually testifying to the mix, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
I am a full-time student, who needs three meals a day, a good night’s rest, and some downtime just like everyone else. While I’m lucky enough to be interning for an organization that includes testifying at the Capitol as part of my job description, not everyone that wants to participate in the legislative process has that luxury. Even with that privilege, I have waited countless hours to testify each time, and have not been afforded the opportunity because of the limitations of the system. On my longest day, I waited nearly 11 hours for the chance to speak for two minutes. I strategized about what to say, worked through my nerves about speaking in front of a crowd ten times over, and watched livestreams of Senate floor debates for what felt like an eternity. When the clock struck 11pm, and there was no sign that I would be called to testify in the near future, I knew it was time to go home for the night. I felt tired, hungry, and defeated. Yet again, my voice was lost in the legislative process.
I felt tired, hungry, and defeated. Yet again, my voice was lost in the legislative process.
My experience is not unique. Hundreds of Texans who have lives, jobs, and responsibilities that limit their ability to stay at the Capitol for undetermined blocks of time are not afforded the chance to speak their mind. Regardless of the limitations of the system, testimony is a crucial part of the legislative process in which legislators hear firsthand how policies would impact a wide range of constituents. It is one of the only opportunities to speak directly to representatives, put your opinions on the record, and tell them how you envision a better Texas. While testimony isn’t the only mechanism to make your voice heard, it is one of the most important, which is why I, and so many other advocates continue to show up to testify time and time again.
At the end of the day, advocacy is a field that comes with wins and losses. I count the fact that I am part of such an incredible community as a win every day. I will continue to give testimony no matter how many hours I have to wait, and I hope that you feel the same if you are reading this. This is our state, our Capitol, and our rights on the line. Together, all those hours waiting, all the hard work, and all the efforts of advocates everywhere will amount to a better state for all Texans.
Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas