We have exciting news to share with you. The following is from the blog of Wellstone Action, a new partner in our youth organizing and voter engagement work. Together we’re building a movement for change in Texas.
Empowering a Movement as Big as Texas
This might be the understatement of the year, “Texas is a big state.” Yep, Texas is big: big geographically, big population, big economy, and big by the countless numbers of cultures, communities, and traditions that make up the people of the Lone Star State.
So if you want to organize the state, to build progressive power over the long-haul, to work towards a state with elected officials who better represent the state’s quickly shifting demographics, you’ve got a big job to do.
That’s exactly what the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) has set out to do. Established in 1996 to counter far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders, TFNEF has been instrumental in defeating initiatives backed by the religious right in Texas, including private school vouchers and textbook censorship at the Texas State Board of Education.
One of the most effective ways they do it is by empowering Texas students across the state to become powerful advocates for stopping far-right legislation, and promoting policies that will improve people’s lives. These students are making immediate change while preparing to be impactful leaders in the long-term.
This year, a big part of this student-focused work will be a focus on voter engagement, and supporting students as they work to turnout their peers in numbers never seen before in Texas. TFNEF has set off on an ambitious goal to increase voter turnout amongst young people by 1% across the state. That means over 600,000 new voters. That means the difference between progressives winning and progressives losing in 2014.
That would be a tough goal to meet anywhere, but Texas is a big state with some big hurdles. “Including D.C., Texas is the 51st state when it comes to civic engagement, including voter turnout,” says TFNEF Field Coordinator Nick Savelli, “So the climate here is hard for progressives, but that also means there’s a ton of opportunity.”
To meet their bold goal, and realize the tremendous opportunity in the Lone State, TFNEF’s Field Director, Val Benavidez, knew what they’d need to do, “Move from a pieced-together training program that we did on our own, to a formalized, solid, and world-class training program.”
So the Texas Freedom Network called Wellstone. With the Youth Engagement Fund as a funding partner, Wellstone Action and TFNEF began working together last summer to develop a training program built to last, that would support students at TFNEF’s 8-10 campus chapters to become top-notch voter engagement organizers, plugged into meaningful organizing work now and in the future.
“The Texas Freedom Network partnership started in large part because Wellstone, TFNEF, and the Youth Engagement Fund saw a chance to leverage Texas’ unique opportunities in a more powerful way. TFNEF doesn’t just want to turn young people out during this election, but to cultivate long-term leadership development. So we will be working in partnership, on the ground, not on a one-off training but for a long-enduring partnership worthy of the state. I couldn’t be more proud to be in my home state right now,” says Naomi Long, Principal in Wellstone’s Movement-Building Project who leads our youth pipeline work.