The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 30, 2020

A swastika on city property was meant to scare us

But instead it just needs to bring us closer together

There are few more frightening symbols of human evil than the swastika and its association with the violent legacy of Nazism and the Holocaust in World War II.

The adoption of the swastika by white supremacists in this country is as plain a signal as there is of the moral bankruptcy and anti-Americanism of racists.

The waves of revulsion that the crooked cross raises every time we see it are appropriate, whether it is scrawled in graffiti beneath an overpass or carefully painted as it appears to have been on the old Reunion Arena parking garage in recent weeks. The swastika symbolizes a profound moral rot that must not be allowed to fester.

We don’t know who put it there. But the disgusting anti-Semitism marked elsewhere in the garage is an attack not just on our Jewish friends and neighbors but on all decent people and on every vulnerable and marginalized group.

The American ideal is now and forever must be E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. Our national struggle and our national pride should embrace all people regardless of color or faith or orientation or ability. Each person is precious, and if it takes a symbol of hate to remind us of that today, then we will take the good from the bad.

This is an essential human struggle to reject the forces outside of us and within us that would negate our fellow person. This righteous struggle is never-ending and that requires the vigilance of good and courageous people to perpetually engage.

We believe that, even as hate speech and hate symbols seem to be getting ever stronger purchase around us, the good and courageous people will be there to reject this sort of cowardly scribbling. What happened on that garage is contemptible, and we should loudly rebuke the message of the swastika. We should teach our children the tragic history of this symbol and the atrocities carried out under it. Our children, their children and our children’s children must understand the past beyond a timeline in a history class and embrace the fact that repelling racism and hatred is perpetual. All of us must share the important work of building a democracy where every voice and face is treated with the natural dignity each of us deserves.

Whoever did this deserves to be found and exposed. Hatred prefers to grow in darkness long before it shows its face in the light. Exposing hatred affirms the moral authority that binds us as a city, a state and a nation.

As for the city, this happened in a vacant lot that plainly needs a security review. Like idle hands, idle property rarely comes to any good, and that appears to be the case here. We understand why the city is sitting on the Reunion site and hope it will get the right deal at the right time to bring it back into productive use.

In the meantime, it can’t be allowed to be so unattended that this sort of thing happens ever again.

Austin-American Statesman. Nov. 1, 2020

The most important voice on Election Day is yours.

The lines of people snaking out of early voting sites in recent weeks — sometimes waiting hours, in many places shattering turnout records — show the enduring power of America’s founding idea:

We the People.

Our vote is what makes this our government. Our access to the ballot, as President Lyndon Johnson argued in pushing for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is central to “the dignity of man ... his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others.” Our freedom hinges on our ability to pick our own leaders.

Now is the time for choosing. If you aren’t among the 9.7 million Texans who have already cast a ballot in this crucial election, please plan to vote Tuesday.

Our government is far from perfect. Our elected leaders struggle, and sometimes fail, to address our most pressing challenges. And in far too many places, Americans still face obstacles simply trying to exercise the right to vote. This is no accident.

A recent study in the Election Law Journal ranked Texas the worst state in the nation in terms of ease of voting, owing to the state’s stubborn refusal to provide online voter registration or broader access to absentee ballots, as well as the closure of too many polling places. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision last month limiting absentee ballot drop-off sites to one per county — one for Loving County, population 169, and one for Harris County, population 4.7 million — came after that study but reflected a shameful disregard for voters all the same.

And yet, voters are showing up. In droves. Willing to wait in lines. Demanding to be heard.

That should give us all cause for hope.

One person’s vote is unlikely to change the outcome of an election. But collectively, our votes determine the kind of government we get. At a time when public trust in government hovers near historic lows, and 57% of Americans say that politics and elections are controlled by big corporations and the rich so it doesn’t matter if they vote, the gulf between the government and We the People can feel yawning. The ballot is our tool to bridge that gap.

Voting not only provides a say in the direction of our governance, it signals to leaders that we are part of a constituency that must be considered. Numerous studies show active voters tend to be older, whiter and wealthier than Americans as a whole. As long as our electorate fails to mirror our nation — racially diverse, economically varied, young and old alike — our government’s policies will overlook the interests of too many.

“The act of voting and the act of participating in our democracy is, at a fundamental level, one of the definitions of who belongs and who is at the table making decisions,” Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told us. And as former Gov. Ann Richards was fond of saying: “If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.”

Welcoming all lawful voters to the table should be the most obvious and uncontroversial prong of the American experiment. Instead, this election cycle, we are watching extraordinary efforts to declare tens of thousands of ballots invalid. Republicans in Texas have sued over Harris County’s drive-through voting sites, which opened with the blessing of the state’s top elections officials. Republicans in several other states have sued to disregard mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive a few days later, thanks to problems at the U.S. Postal Service. In a Wisconsin case recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that counting those late ballots would lead to “chaos and suspicions of impropriety.” Wrong. It’s the brash tossing of ballots, submitted by voters in good faith, that casts doubt on the fairness of our elections.

This election arrives under a fog of anxiety far greater than the usual tension over who the winners will be. President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested his loss would be proof of a rigged election. Legions of lawyers are poised to challenge ballots in court. Austin police and members of the Texas Army National Guard are on standby in case election results trigger rallies or civic unrest.

Still, the power of this nation rests with We the People.

Vote. Encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to vote. Your ballot is your voice. Insist on being heard.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nov. 1, 2020

Anxious or angry over election? How you can channel that energy against our divisions.

A record number of Texans have already voted. Or perhaps you’ve made a plan to do so Tuesday.

But have you given any thought to what you’ll do the day after?

This election season, along with the pain of the coronavirus pandemic, has revealed that our divisions as a society only go deeper. Where there used to be signs that many people separated politics and personal relationships, we seem ever more wrapped up in the disagreements that define us vs. them.

That’s not going to end when results come out Tuesday (or perhaps Wednesday or Thursday or … you get the idea). Many of our leaders are incapable of bridging the gap or unwilling to try.

So, what’s your plan to do your part?

A year ago, the Pew Research Center found that the polarized parts of the American electorate had deepening animosity to their counterparts on the other end of the spectrum. It’s doubtful that’s gotten better in a year with a presidential impeachment, a pandemic, a recession and a national campaign.

The incredible turnout that Texas and much of the nation saw in early voting is a solid foundation on which to build. Voters are hungry for change and willing to participate. And that’s a start to healing our rifts, psychologist Tania Israel said.

“The best way to manage my anxiety about elections is to get involved, do something useful for candidates or causes I support,” said Israel, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She studies and promotes ways to have useful political dialogue, which she outlined in her book “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide.”

Israel prescribes steps that individuals can take to have better conversations and, if nothing else, remain connected to people they care about but disagree with.

“Try to have a fuller, more complete understanding of who people are,” she said. “The best way is to actually connect, listen to them, be curious, try to be open-hearted.”

Particularly in a campaign season, she added, “people are focused a lot on public figures, the discord they see. … But most of us are not public figures. We don’t need to represent the national agenda.”

Indeed, one answer may be to focus locally. As one of 330 million Americans, an individual can’t affect the national agenda much. But your city or school district is a different story.

The closer government is to you, the more it can affect your life. And yet millions of the people willing to wait in line to vote in this presidential election will skip their next round of city council or school board elections. This is an especially acute problem in Texas and Fort Worth. Local elections typically draw fewer than 10 percent of voters.

Casting a ballot is the minimum. Most local governments have citizen committees and panels that often go without many volunteers to serve. All that angst over the presidency and the Senate could be channeled into serving your community.

Unfortunately, our anger and anxiety may get worse before things get better. Too many on the losing side, whichever it is, will feel that their candidate got robbed or that the system is stacked against their party. Sadly, many leaders who should be trying to calm the waters are stirring up those very feelings.

“The only way we lose this is by the chicanery going on relative to polling places,” Joe Biden said recently in Pennsylvania. He later clarified that he was referring to voter intimidation, but the damage was done.

Here at home, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told conservative radio host Mark Davis on Thursday that “if the president loses Pennsylvania, or North Carolina or Florida, he’ll lose it because they stole it.”

If only these leaders and others would appeal to their supporters’ better natures, urge them to channel their energy into useful work in their neighborhoods and communities — or at least to have a meaningful conversation with their neighbors.

“Listen, encourage people to elaborate, ask questions, be curious, find ways to manage emotions when our buttons get pushed,” Israel said. “People tell me they want to persuade other people, they are interested in finding common ground.”

She added: “The best way to reach that goal is to try to understand somebody else.”