The awakening of a slumbering, American public has been a long time coming. Beginning with the March 6 election, we’ll find out if what seems to be a new level of community engagement is something more than just noise.
There’s a hopeful feeling that some Americans who’ve rarely voted, avoided political discussions and ignored the news are beginning to pay attention and speak out.
In Texas,the simmering restlessness and dissatisfaction with traditional party politics began boiling over in 2012. Tea Party activists shocked establishment Republicans by rejecting their candidate and electing Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate.
Then, in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump blew the lid off pent up frustrations and upended business as usual.
Trump galvanized some of the angry middle-class workers who felt abandoned in today’s economy. They rallied to his promise of protecting American jobs by killing international treaties like NAFTA. Some embraced Trump’s hateful description of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals. Others began to organize in opposition to his over-the-top tweets and statements.
Likewise, Bernie Sanders generated a devoted following of others who felt left out. He packed rallies with his progressive message of universal healthcare, free college tuition and a system that doesn’t just reward the upper 1 percent.
In recent months, we’ve watched the #MeToo movement unmask and dethrone men who thought sex harassment was standard operating procedure. Thousands of women have marched to show their disdain for Trump’s history with women, and to promote the election of more females.
Now, Florida students who survived a massacre that killed their classmates, are organizing others around the country with their demand for a ban on assault weapons. Some large corporations recently dropped support for the National Rifle Association, one of the country’s most powerful lobby groups. Dick’s Sporting Goods says it will no longer sell assault rifles.
This election season the palpable unrest and activism seems to translating into votes.
In Tarrant County and Texas more people are registered to vote than in 2014 when statewide races were last on the ballot. In Tarrant, 13.7 more voters went to the polls in the first seven days of early voting compared to the same period in 2014.
More are voting Republican, but the increase in ballots cast by Democrats has skyrocketed 38 percent.
Statewide, in Texas’ 15 largest counties, more Democrats have been voting early than Republicans, something that seems to be worrying our governor in this solid red state.
It could be the mad-as-hell fervor that has prompted marches, rallies and social media campaigns. It could be the polarizing Texas legislative debates over issues like the bathroom bill and sanctuary cities. Or the realization that the next legion of public officials will decide what to do about rising property taxes and school funding in this state.
The result thus far is that more Texans are voting. The increase in early numbers doesn’t mean we’ll have an explosive turnout where a majority of registered voters have their say. But it’s a start.
Early voting extends through Friday. Next Tuesday, March 6, is Election Day with polls open from 7am to 7pm. The Tarrant elections office has more details.
Regardless of what’s got you riled or encouraged, make it count and vote. Activism should be more than just noise.