Local groups gather to protest on wheels

It's the final full week of this legislative session, and the clock is ticking for the passage of new Texas laws. Meanwhile, some local community activists are hitting the road in an attempt to stop the passage of a controversial bill.

Sunday morning rains left streets slick. Although these weren’t ideal conditions for an 80-mile drive, a group of less than a dozen cars and trucks decided to take their protest of Senate Bill 7 on the road.  

Multiple organizations including Black Voters Matter and the Texas Organizing Project met at Emancipation Park for their protest on wheels.

The caravan riders traveled from Houston to Beaumont to speak against the proposed voting bill that would restrict early voting, limit voting hours, and possibly cut out polling places in areas of Harris County with large numbers of non-white voters.  

"This is about those people who are in power seeking to retain power by disempowering Black and Latino voters in the state of Texas," says Devin Branch, Harris County political organizer for the Texas Organizing Project.

The drive left the park before noon and made stops at Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s home and office in Beaumont, Texas where he represents a district with a large percentage of black voters.  

The speaker has assisted negotiations for Senate Bill 7 and other voting bills that include limiting applications for mail-in ballots.

"A lot of things that they are targeting are because of what Houston and Harris County did in the last election which resulted in a historic turnout," says Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. "That ought to be a good thing."

We could not reach Phelan for comment. However, previously in interviews with several news organizations, he has defended the legislation as preserving "voter integrity".  

The activists call it "Jim Crow 2.0".

"The thing that they’re trying to secure is not the integrity of the ballot. They’re trying to secure their ballot, and they see us and our communities as being the threat," adds Albright.  

The group is also registering voters in Beaumont where a mayoral runoff election is happening in June.

"We’re here to fight, and we’re fighting back, and we’re taking it all over the state of Texas," says Joy Davis of TOP. "This is a statewide issue, and we need as many people registered to vote because our rights are at stake."

The city could elect its first Black woman as mayor. The groups say they are not endorsing any candidate and are only pushing for a historic turnout in Beaumont along with strong engagement in election seasons far beyond this legislative session.  

"It’s important that we organize our people across the state of Texas to ensure that people who support voter suppression are penalized at the ballot box in the next election," says Branch.  

"We need to make sure that we not only fight to protect the rights we have but expand voting rights, and make sure the people in Texas have the same access to the ballot as the people in any other state or district."

The group says it won't be their last trip to expand voting rights in Texas in a fight that will go on, rain or shine.