When I first contacted The Texas Freedom Network about starting a student chapter at The University of Houston Downtown, I imagined a little group on campus that would meet occasionally, talk about issues and maybe eat some pizza while enjoying the company of like-minded students. I really thought that would be the extent of it. To my surprise I was completely amazed to be in a situation where I would have the opportunity to become politically active, influence and mobilize my peers during an exhilarating election season and become an integral part of a network of people that work to make a positive difference in Texas. How awesome!
Soon after talking with TFN’s Youth Advocacy Coordinator, Garrett Mize, I was immediately welcomed and hit the ground running. TFN arranged for me to attend several grassroots trainings that focused on leadership, campaigning and mobilizing young voters. I admit, the amount of information thrown my way was overwhelming, but I was always in a room full of people that made advocacy feel so attainable that it never seemed intimidating. I got to connect with TFN’s other student outreach interns – the Cultural Advocacy Mobilization Initiative (CAMI) members. After hearing about what they’d achieved on their campuses to promote comprehensive sex ed, I was so impressed and excited to get back to my own campus as a new member of the team.
I could not have picked a better time to get involved. For the most part, the semester was focused on the election and the Texas State Board of Education. Comprehensive sex ed, LGBTQ equality and birth control access are issues I’ve always felt passionately about, and being able to start a group on campus that could focus on moving public education forward in Texas during a time which we could leverage real change was exciting. Students at UHD could of course relate to the issues, so finding a core group that cared and were interested in joining TFN wasn’t too difficult.
Apart from our TFN student chapter, the entire UHD campus was buzzing with election fever and we were lucky to be a part of it. Along with other student organizations we worked to register young voters and helped to get out the vote with a campus wide “Walk To Vote” rally during which Houston Mayor Anise Parker spoke about the right and responsibility of voting. It was a spectacular event with 300+ students, 150 of whom were first time voter, who all walked downtown together to vote. (insert pictures)
We worked hard to let students know that their vote in the State Board of Education Election could make a big impact for comprehensive sex ed, as the SBOE writes curriculum and creates textbook standards. We did a lot of tabling, made posters and handed out all 500 condoms we received from the Great American Condom Campaign. We stuck “VOTE” stickers onto the condoms and attached them to TFN’s Texas State Board of Education non-partisan voter guides. We also handed out interesting facts about our sex education (or the lack thereof) in Texas to really drive the point home. We could not have asked for a better response from our student body. Students were so receptive and seemed to be interested in finding out about TFN and the issues we care about. We also spotted more than a few students with their voter guides at the polls. Success!
Now we find ourselves at the end of an election season and our very first semester as the TFN Student Chapter at UHD. It was a time consuming and hectic couple of months and at times it seemed like we’d never meet the goals we set for ourselves. I’d be lying if I said I never questioned whether it was unrealistic to attempt to build a group from nothing. However, beyond the self-doubt, I found that I was able to make my peers excited with this work, their new found passion and most importantly enthusiasm to continue because they now know that they can make a difference. This serves as an inspiration to me in continuing to grow and strengthen our activism on campus.