'Vote them out': Willie Nelson headlines Texas protest rally
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Country music legend Willie Nelson led over a thousand spectators to sing "vote them out" from the steps of the Texas Capitol on Saturday as a rally concluded a four-day march in support of the state's Democratic lawmakers. who flew to Washington two weeks ago to block GOP-backed election restrictions.
Families with lounge chairs spread out over the extensive green spaces of the Capitol in Austin. Clerics, politicians, voters and musicians commented on the proposals to introduce identification requirements, to limit ballot boxes and postal votes and to withdraw the electoral authority.
The special session that halted the Texas Democratic exodus is slated to expire next week, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott has promised to plan a new one as soon as lawmakers return to the state.
“If you don't like who's in there, choose them,” Nelson sang, inviting the crowd to join him in singing lyrics he'd previously written about standing at the ballot box.
“I felt like I had to be here. It's a historic event that is so necessary right now, ”said Brenda Hanson, 75, of Austin. “I am a descendant of slavery and I am not interested in retreating, I want this country to move forward. I've lived well over three quarters of a century and I've never seen us go so backwards. "
Hanson said she was disabled but otherwise would have taken the nearly 30 mile walk. Instead, she hoped to make a statement with her presence while she sat chanting on a bench under a tree.
The march began on Wednesday and ended on Saturday when participants entered the doors of the Texas Capitol Building. It was spearheaded in part by Beto O'Rourke, the former Democratic congressman and presidential candidate who hasn't ruled out running for governor of Texas in 2022. Earlier this week, O'Rourke and protesters closed the front drag of Interstate 35 during the morning rush hour that winds between restaurants and cuts a path from Republican-controlled statehouse districts to Democratic ones.
Protesters compared what the GOP says are measures to protect against fraud and restore confidence in the American elections, with Jim Crow-style restrictions. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 elections.
"I ask you to think of every man and woman who had the courage to share their beliefs and did what they had to do in their own moment of truth in the history of this country," O’Rourke told the crowd.
More than a dozen people in favor of the Texas proposed voting legislation gathered outside the Capitol gate behind the rally and waved signs in support of the proposed changes. Republican Senator Bryan Hughes, who drafted the Senate version of the Voting Bill, told The Associated Press that when he heard about the rally, he decided to visit the people of the Capitol grounds to see their views listen and encourage them to read his piece of legislation.
"The right to vote is fundamental, so it needs to be accessible and secure. Both are important," said Hughes. "This is America. That free speech - we love it. Whether people agree or not, I'm happy to be here."
Hughes said "a lot of people have heard generalizations" and his aim is to discuss with voters the details of the language of the bill.
The political crossfire has been the political crossfire of nearly 2,000 legislature officials who risk losing their paychecks after Abbott's punitive veto of their salaries being financed after Democratic lawmakers left the country in May. Legislators could restore funding during the ongoing special session if it doesn't involve more than 50 members of the Democratic House in D.C.
A lawsuit filed by Democrats on behalf of the Legislature is pending in the Texas Supreme Court. It is unclear when the court could decide.
Renee Conley, 52, said she attended the rally with her daughter, for which she is fighting against Texan's electoral law. If she does vote, Conley says she will put her daughter to the polls so she can learn the process in anticipation of the day she can cast her own vote. Conley said she worries that if her daughter goes to college, she won't be allowed to vote if she only has a university card.
"I'm here for your rights," said Conley. "There is no reason why she should ever face the threat of not being able to vote."
Acacia Coronado is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national utility that places journalists on local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
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American country singer and songwriter
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