Nearly 200 Black clergy members descend on Texas State Capitol to call for a stop to legislation they believe targets Black, Hispanic, elderly, poor, and physically challenged voters
ABOVE: Bishop James Dixon leads Prayer Rally and Justice March in Austin, Texas
At a historic march and prayer rally that was recently held in Austin, Texas, at the state capitol, nearly 200 Black clergy members came together to call for a stop to voter suppression legislation. Dressed in dark suits and some informal cleric attire, the clergy spoke boldly against legislation targeting Black, Hispanic, elderly, poor, and physically challenged voters.
State legislators are seeking to pass SB1 and HB 3, which the clergy called unjust. Pastors oppose the legislation that would make it illegal to transport three or more people to voting polls without registering your name and vehicle and getting approval from the state; for polling sites to remain open after 7:00 PM; to allow 24-hour voting places; and for elected officials to send nonpartisan mail-in application notices. Drive-through voting would also be illegal. All these provisions target the Black, Brown, elderly, and physically challenged.
Bishop Dr. James Dixon, II of Community of Faith Church here in Houston and the co-founder of Push Democracy Forward, which sponsored the Prayer Rally and Justice March event, stated that pastors and faith leaders from across the state went to Austin to elevate the issue of voter suppression beyond the political realm. Push Democracy Forward is a nonpartisan entity that focuses on preserving democracy and promoting justice in public policy.
“This is definitely a moral and spiritual issue because it’s about justice,” said Dixon. “Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) and House Bill 3 (HB 3) are absolutely voter suppression bills. It appears that the voter suppression movement is designed to reduce minority voter participation in order to protect a power base that is losing. Some people are willing to jeopardize democracy in order to protect special interests. It is un-American, and we must be better than that.”
Dixon, who also currently serves as the President of the NAACP Houston chapter and is the leader of Kingdom Builders Global Fellowship, organized the event, along with social justice advocate and pastor Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas and board member of National Action Network. The two ministerial leaders led the Prayer Rally and Justice March that included more than 150 pastors and another 1,000 attendees who joined them on the steps of the Texas State Capitol Building while braving over 90-degree temperatures.
“Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God will not be able to retain it.’,” Bishop Dixon stated at the rally. “Do you know how hard you have to work to keep people from being free? Do you know how much energy you have to devote to continuously create systems that are designed to oppress people institutionally? Do you know how hard you have to work to create laws and how creative your lies have to become to promote those unjust laws and maintain a system that suppresses and oppresses people based on your own perverted ideology? This legislation is legal discrimination and when you devise this type of illegal evil to take us back to the plantation, that means you have to have a plantation mindset yourself.”
Nationally renowned social justice leader and spiritual leader, Bishop William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, spoke powerfully at the Prayer Rally and Justice March.
“There’s a robbery going on in Texas and 40 other states,” said Bishop Barber. “This battle that we are in is not just a Black issue. It’s not just a race issue. And I want to suggest that it’s not just Jim Crow.”
Barber shared the demographic shifts in Texas and the nation, noting that Texas has the largest Black population of any state in the country. He also pledged the support of his organization to stand with the Black clergy in Texas and nationally.
As Minister Gwen Pierre of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston prayed on the capitol steps, her words appeared to touch the hearts of every person in the crowd. The resounding reactions set a tone of unified faith that carried over to the march around the outside perimeter of the Texas State Capitol. The gathering was peaceful and powerful.
Many participants were in tears as they appealed to God to touch the hearts of Governor Abbott and other decision-makers involved in attempting to enforce proposed voter restrictive legislation. There were compassionate prayers asking for blessings for Governor Abbott’s family—participants wished the same for other legislators.
Apostle Sterling Lands of Greater Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Austin remarked, “We need our leaders to reconsider the damage these bills are doing to our community. This is clearly a partisan political agenda that isn’t good for all citizens.”
No elected officials spoke at the rally; however, Senator Royce West of Dallas and Senator John Whitmire of Houston attended. Both were visibly moved during the experience. The Texas State Representatives in Washington, D.C., also tuned in via social media and had emotional responses to the prayers.
At times the mood was electric, while at other times, it was somber and reflective. Protestors were heard singing, chanting, and praying as they entered and left the capitol building. It was a moving display of determination that—one attendee powerfully asserted “this is God’s property and there’s a hope in the power of God being on the side of justice.”
After the historic march and rally, the pastors visited more than 30 legislators and delivered a letter to Governor Greg Abbott. The office was closed to them, so the pastors taped the letter to his door instead.
Now, the Black clergy members have shifted their focus to Washington, D.C., where Push Democracy Forward will travel to the nation’s capital on August 2-3, in support of the Poor People’s Campaign. They will have a march on August 2nd and then meet with the delegation of Texas Representatives who fled the state to break quorum in protest of these bills and continue their fight to secure federal voting rights protections.