Gonzales, Texas’ “Immortal 32” Fought at the Alamo—The 2021 “Immortal Texas 57” State Democrats Fight for Voting Rights July 20, 2021
Texas-- the Lone Star State. TX’s 1836 fight for independence against Mexico has been immortalized in history, songs, movies, and television. In TX, all the details of the battle of the Alamo and the later battle of San Jacinto in which Sam Houston won TX’s independence are repeatedly emphasized from elementary school through college.
Most Texans are also aware of the “Immortal 32” who gave their lives at the Alamo in San Antonio. The “Immortal 32” was a group of thirty-two “Texian” (what Texans then called themselves) militia from the Ranging Company that came from Gonzales, TX (Hardin, tshaonline.org). Gonzales, a town east of San Antonio, was one TX’s earliest Anglo-American settlements. Gonzales is often referred to as the “Lexington of Texas,” the place where the first shots in the battle for TX independence were fired. When disputes between Anglo-Americans and Mexicans broke out in TX territory, Gonzales residents successfully resisted the Mexicans. This fight, which occurred on 10/02/1835, became known as the Battle of Gonzales (gonzalestexas.com, 10/12/12, Long, S., 4/20/06, newsgoogle.com). On 2/19/1836, Col. William Travis wrote a letter from the besieged Alamo asking for people to come to their defense. Gonzales was the only city to send reinforcements. A monument to the “Immortal 32” was erected in 1936 at Gonzales, TX’s Memorial Museum (Hardin, haolnline.org, TSHA). Five of Tx’s 254 counties, Floyd, Kent, Kimble, King, and Cottle are named after members of the “Immortal 32” killed at the Alamo (See Michener, J., “Texas,”1985, tshaonline.org, TSHA).
Glossed over or often not even mentioned in the struggle for TX independence is the fact that while the original white “Texians” were pushing for their own freedom, they were also fighting against Mexico to keep the “peculiar institution” of slavery over African Americans. Mexico had abolished slavery (See Morison, S.E., “The Oxford History Of The American People,” 1964). When TX won its independence, it legalized African American slavery in its state constitution. TX came into the U.S. as a slave state. TX later seceded to join the Confederacy. Texans forced then Gov. Sam Houston, a strong Union supporter, out of office in 1861 (Morison, 1964, & “The Great American History Fact-Finder,” Yanak & Cornelison, 1993). TX often describes itself as a southwestern state full of ranges and prairies. It boasts of its cowboys herding longhorns to market. However, TX, was settled by many Southerners and its eastern part, bordering Louisiana, is an extension of the Deep South. Jim Crow segregation laws against blacks and its less than equal treatment of Mexican Americans, also put TX in the Southern Dixie camp. TX, like many Southern states, did its “best” to keep blacks from voting. It took a son of TX, Democratic President LBJ, to put a legal end to discrimination against blacks and Hispanics by his pushing for and signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act (See Michener, Yanak & Cornelison). TX was one of the states that was required under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to get federal preclearance for election changes from the Justice Department because of its history of suppressing black voters.
Under the 5-4 2013 Supreme Court “Shelby County vs. Holder” opinion, the High Court, in a very widely condemned decision, struck down the VRA’s Section 5 preclearance coverage formula as “unconstitutional” and “outdated.” The SCOTUS (the Supreme Ct. of the United States) majority stated that Southern states “disproportionately bore the preclearance burden (facingsouth.org, Bar er, 3/13/19).” In the 6-3 6/2021 “Brnovich” decision, interpreting Section 2 of the VRA, SCOTUS allowed restrictions on “the time, place, and manner” of casting votes even though the effects of these restrictions suppressed minority voters. Currently, only laws passed with a “discriminatory purpose,” a very hard burden to prove, can be found unconstitutional under the VRA. SCOTUS found that preventing “voter fraud,” which does not exist in most cases, is a justifiable reason to pass voter restriction laws (“Brnovich” Opinion). Since 5/2021, GOP controlled-legislatures, have passed more than 20 voting restriction bills in 14 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Another 60 similar bills are in the works (huffpost.com, Foley & Blumenthal, 7/01/21).
TX, a state with a GOP trifecta (Governor and two state house chambers), is the latest state working on suppressing minority voting rights. On 7/13/2021, in a party line 18-4 vote, TX Senate Republicans approved a controversial voting bill. That legislation, according to TX Democrats and voting rights advocates, will suppress the votes of people with color and those suffering from disabilities. Among the proposals included in the bill passed by the TX Senate are a ban on drive-through voting, limits on 24-hour voting options, and new identification requirements for absentee voters (cnbc.com, Constantino, A., 714/21). In TX’s House, Democrats are heavily outnumbered. The GOP has 82 members to the Democrats 67 (CQ 117th Cong.). Under TX law, 2/3 of the lawmakers are required to answer a quorum call to pass legislation. Those absent can be detained by the state Department of Public Safety and returned to the Capitol in Austin. Committee reports on this bill have yet to be filed. This voting suppression overhaul, has, therefore, not yet been scheduled for consideration before the full TX House and Senate (See the hill.com, Wilson, R., 7/12/21). TX House Democrats chose the only remedy they had. On 7/12/2021, they left Austin on a charter flight bound for Washington, D.C., grinding the legislative session to a halt (Wilson, thehill.com).
The modern-day TX Democrats issued their 2021 Alamo/Gonzales call to the rest of TX and the entire U.S. They aim to protect the voting rights of descendants of former black slaves and Hispanic citizens. Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa stated:
“Today, by breaking quorum to block (GOP Gov.) Abbott’s attacks on voters, Texas Democrats are making history. After Abbott dragged lawmakers back to the Capitol for his suppression session, Democrats are fighting back with everything we’ve got. We will not stand by and watch Republicans slash our right to vote, silence the voices of Texans of color, and destroy our democracy—all to preserve their own power. Our lawmakers have refused to be complicit in Republicans’ destructive attacks—and they’re doing what Texans need them to do: hold the line so that not one more anti-voter law can be passed in Texas.”
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote. We are now taking the fight to our nation’s capital (thehill.com, Wilson, 7/12/21).” The “TX 57” are calling the rest of the U.S., especially our federal legislators, to be the new modern “immortal Gonzales” heroes. And our federal lawmakers are not being forced to give up their lives. All they have to do is show some moral backbone.
These “TX 57” Democrats urged the U.S. Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect voting rights for all people throughout the nation. They met with VP Kamala Harris and other U.S. Senators including Joe Manchin (D-WVA). Manchin is for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. That act would put back the Shelby pre-clearance law for the whole country. Manchin, however, opposes abolishing the filibuster that has bottled up passing any voting rights bills. After meeting with the “TX 57,” Manchin still refused to carve out an exception for the filibuster just for voting rights legislation (See kos.com, McCarter, 7/16/21). The day after Manchin professed “sympathy” for the “TX 57,” he showed where his real sympathies were. He flew to a $5,800 a head fundraiser full of GOP TX oil and gas donors (McCarter).
On 7/13/2021, President Biden delivered a speech in Philadelphia that called on Congress to pass the For the People Act and restore parts of the Voting Rights Act. In a letter released on 7/14/2021, more than 150 companies, including Amazon, Target, and PepsiCo backed updating the Voting Rights Act (cnbc.com, Constantino, 7/14/21). While the “TX 57” are happy about such support, it will not be enough in the face of reactionary Gov. Abbott. In 2003, TX Democrats fled to OK and NM to keep the state GOP from enacting a mid-decade gerrymandering that added GOP congressional seats. They stayed away for just a few days, and the gerrymander bill ultimately passed. This time, the Dem. “TX 57” will have to stay away for weeks to run out the clock on the 30-day special session Gov. Abbott called to pass these voting rights restrictions and other reactionary bills. Those additional bills include banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports leagues and barring delivery of abortion-inducing drugs (the hill.com, Wilson, 7/12/21). Gov. Abbott can keep calling 30-day special sessions, and the “TX 57” will need additional money to keep staying in D.C. The “TX 57” have already stated they are “willing to stay as long as necessary to deny a quorum (Scully, thehill.com, 7/13/21).” Gov. Abbott plays hardball. He has already stated that any of the “TX 57” who return to the Lone Star State will be immediately arrested (thehill.com, Scully). The NAACP has become modern Gonzales reinforcement #1. It has offered to pay bail for any TX Democrats who flew to D.C. and get arrested upon their return. NAACP President Derrick Johnson aptly stated, “War has been declared on democracy, and we will support anyone who stands up to defend it. We are fully invested in ‘good trouble (Scully, the hill.com).’” Yes, “good trouble,” the words of the late civil rights hero John Lewis. That is exactly what the “TX 57” are engaged in.
Besides leaving their families and facing arrest should they return, at least 5 members of the “TX 57” have tested positive for COVID-19, a risk they took by flying together. All of these lawmakers are fully vaccinated (texastribune.com, Waller, 7/17/21). And the TX GOP has already started political reprisals. On 7/15/2021, El Paso Democrat Joe Moody (38) who joined the walkout and fled to D.C. has been stripped of his position as speaker pro-tem of the TX House. TX State House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) announced Moody’s removal in a memo. Moody, who won five terms in the TX House (Election Returns, web.archive.org), was put in the pro-tem post by GOPers as a sign that the two parties could work together, an “olive branch” offering. Moody served and performed the duties of the speakers in their absences. He had served as speaker pro-tem for two sessions under two speakers. Moody was one of Phelan’s top allies in the Democratic party. GOP Phelan and Dem. Moody had worked together to push bills aimed at making fixes in TX’s criminal justice system. Dem. Chris Turner called Phelan’s picking Moody as speaker pro-tem, “the smartest decision Phelan made as speaker.” Turner called Phelan’s decision to remove Moody “short-sighted and so dumb (texastribune.org, Barragan, 7/15/21).”
Moody declared, “the most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan. Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are (texastribune.org, 7/15/21).” Moody and his band of “TX 57”ers must be heard. They have fired the first shots in the war to preserve voting rights. We must fight with the ”Immortal 57” to preserve our democracy.