(This essay by Max Krochmal, associate professor of history and chair, Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, was originally published in the Los Angeles Review of Books Nov. 4, 2018.)
“YOUR NEXT US SENATOR from the State of Texas, Beto O’Rourke!” I was surprised to hear these fiery words come out of my mouth. I’m a historian, so I normally draw on evidence from the past rather than predict the future, and I strive to avoid hyperbole. But here I was, warming up the crowd of some 200 people at a “Tacos with Beto” event in Fort Worth.
The crowd roared as the candidate approached. “Max, thanks for getting this kicked off and for starting this and being one of our great leaders here in the Dallas-Fort Worth, North Texas Metroplex,” Beto began, vastly overstating my role and my influence, but his statement contained one kernel of truth. Throughout the previous year, I had crisscrossed Texas like a politician, talking with groups of all sizes, shapes, and colors about the hidden, multiracial history of Texas liberalism. My tour revealed that the “Resistance” to Trump in the Lone Star State is flourishing, that efforts ranging from Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements to the women’s marches and the successful fight to kill the transphobic bathroom bill in the Texas Legislature all represent significant signs of progress.
While Texas still seems red as ever — Hillary Clinton lost the state to Donald Trump by more than 800,000 votes — demographic changes and political transformations on the ground have already created a blue numerical majority. The people are there; all that is needed is for them to organize. Democratic Party leaders now must turn it into a successful effort to seize political power. This is but the latest chapter in a much longer history of community organizing, coalition building, and organically radical politics — a decades-long war against the cowboy conservatism espoused by Texas boosters and politicians.
In the mid-1960s, despite facing opposition from Texan President Lyndon B. Johnson, four groups — African Americans, Mexican Americans, organized labor, and white liberals — came together in a partnership they called, simply, the “Democratic Coalition.” Together, these diverse activists confronted both Jim Crow and his cousin, Juan Crow, connecting vibrant social movements on the ground with the lofty terrain of formal electoral politics. In the streets and at the ballot box, they learned through experience that the more liberal, the more militant, the more committed to civil rights they grew, the more effective they became. They worked together to confront structural racism and to organize and educate first-time voters from unlikely backgrounds. In the end, the Democratic Coalition brought legions of African Americans and Mexican Americans into the political process, and it gave them the tools to remain active citizens. The activists’ united efforts defeated the worst features of Jim Crow and Juan Crow, carried liberals into office, and permanently expanded the state’s electorate, redrawing the map of Texas politics.
Read more in the Los Angeles Review of Books.