by Danielle Gaither
Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman from El Paso, is about as far away politically from Senator Ted Cruz as a person can get, which is part of why O’Rourke aims to unseat Cruz from the US Senate in 2018. O’Rourke made his case to a diverse, enthusiastic crowd at Backyard on Bell Saturday evening. The event had the air of a festival with food trucks and tables for groups promoting allied causes, such as the March for Science and Indivisible Denton.
After a local musician finished her warm-up set, the first person to speak was Elvia Hernandez, a longtime El Paso activist who now lives in the Dallas area. Hernandez was followed by Denton County Democratic Party Executive Director Travis Cooper, who told the crowd, “We need a hero,” but that hero wasn’t any one candidate, but rather all the people mobilizing for a cause they believe in.
The theme of the effectiveness of many small actions continued once O’Rourke himself began to speak. He warmed up the crowd with stories of his time playing in a punk band, which even performed in Denton.
O’Rourke also discussed why he was running his Senate campaign in the first place. After Donald Trump was elected President, O’Rourke and his wife felt like they needed to do more to fight for the vision of the country they wanted. Such a message went over well with a crowd that included many who had supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election. Instead of waiting for the next presidential election in 2020, O’Rourke asked the crowd if they’d rather “cut in in half, and start it in 2018?”
A key policy area for O’Rourke is immigration. Living in El Paso, O’Rourke argues that communities where immigrants feel welcome are safer, contrary to the stereotype that some people have. This includes access to health care and the legal system. O’Rourke told a chilling story of an incident that happened this year that would not have happened before the Trump Administration. A woman reported an instance of domestic violence and was detained by immigration officials when she came to court to testify.
Other policies O’Rourke advocated for included increased education funding, preserving a woman’s right to choose, a single-payer health care system, and ending the war on drugs. All these stances were met with applause from the crowd.
O’Rourke emphasized the small, modern nature of his campaign. He is refusing to take large donations from political action committees. Also, instead of using campaign volunteers with clipboards to sign people in, people were given a number to send a text message to check in. Checking in led to collection of further information and the request to donate or volunteer for the campaign.
In true modern fashion, O’Rourke advocated for the use of social media for anyone who wanted to further his campaign. The last time a Democrat won a statewide office in Texas was in 1994 (Bob Bullock for Lieutenant Governor, if you were wondering), which is the longest such dry spell in the country. Therefore, O’Rourke anticipated that people would be skeptical that a Democrat could be successful. To combat such skepticism, he proposed that people who choose to donate or volunteer also tell people about it on social media to let other interested people know that they weren’t alone. O’Rourke also said that his campaign intended to visit as much of Texas as possible and not just the more historically Democratic areas.
After concluding his prepared remarks, O’Rourke stayed to talk with attendees who wanted to speak with him. Indivisible Denton continued to help people register to vote and collect signatures opposing the bills in the Texas Legislature that promote discrimination against transgender people, often called “bathroom bills.” This reinforced O’Rourke’s message that to effect change, people must work together at every level.