By Steve Huerta
In every community in San Antonio, there is someone who has had contact with the justice system. They live in one of the poorest cities in America. This amplifies poverty for many because we are already locked out of the economy and living in a poor city doesn’t help. It means little opportunity for real security and growth and It means our children will also have to struggle. The problem continues as intergenerational poverty with no end in sight.
It doesn’t matter if its a misdemeanor or felony or if you’ve been convicted or not, society treats you all the same. We’ve become invisible people in forgotten communities. People are struggling to survive with low paying jobs, no benefits, little food to eat, no health insurance and often experiencing homelessness. Too many of us are raising our children in the midst of extreme poverty. Does anyone even care?
We can change things in our communities and the circumstances of our lives but it’s going to take some work. We didn’t get here overnight, so there is no quick fix, but there are solutions. One solution available is to begin exercising our collective voting power like the 130,000 registered justice impacted voters in Bexar County and others across the state.
Our elected officials or candidates running for office or reelection aren’t going to stop the cycle of poverty, stop job discrimination or end mass incarceration, give us health care or provide a future for our children unless we force them to. If we truly want these things, we are going to have to fight for them and the first step is at the ballot box.
The Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s was often referred to as the “Second Reconstruction” and we need a “Third”. We are a destitute people, we are the poor and brown and black slaves living in the age of the New Jim Crow. The nation seems to be moving backward.
Low-income people of color are overrepresented at every stage in the system in San Antonio. They are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, and put on probation, and they serve longer jail and probation terms. They are even burdened by unpayable fines and fees that are not only unfair but serve no rational purpose and are counterproductive to the economic security of families and their children. We need to fight back in the 2020 primary.
Fighting back also means confronting attacks like Senate Bill 9 that seeks to criminalize mistakes voters might make when registering as a state jail felony. Party and union activist and grassroots organizations who work the Polls could face class B misdemeanor charges for impeding a walkway. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 466 that would give people on parole or felony probation the right to vote is going nowhere. Brown, Black and poor people all across Texas should be worried. We are tax paying citizens being denied a voice in the communities we work, live and raise our families in. “ Those in power will ignore what they do not want to see as long as we let them”. We need to refuse to be invisible when we know we are present or silent when we can make noise.
Take Lewis Conway for example, who stood up and ran for city council in Austin. Or Walter Perry who is currently running for District 2 in San Antonio and myself the first formerly incarcerated Latino who stepped up and ran for state representative in the special election for Texas House District 125. All three of us are formerly incarcerated, but that is not who we are. We are community activist and community leaders. We aren’t the only ones in our community who are directly impacted that are also doing great work. The point is that movements are the best lead by those directly impacted and we have leaders to choose from. We should have the right to cast our vote for them and others who choose to stand up to take their place in history.
So if your tired of poverty, tired of being hungry, tired of not being able to provide for your family and tired of a broken unfair racially biased justice system and tired of waiting for empty campaign promises then register to vote. The first step to freeing ourselves is educating ourselves and spreading the word that we can make a difference. So if you’re not certain what your voting rights are as a justice impacted person watch the Texas Voting Rights for People with Records video put out by All of Us or None Texas. Remember that Your vote is your voice and our collective voice is our power.