Thanks to Justin for this guest post! The BOR community is welcome to register a user account and post to our user section. We’re glad to promote this to the front page to make sure everyone has a chance to see that some Texas legislators welcome diversity. — Eds.
After the events at the Capitol last week involving Rep. Molly White, I’ve been reflecting on ways that legislators can actively work for or against oppression as they serve their state. When representing a district and trying your best to advocate for the welfare of your constituents, inclusivity of all people has to be at the forefront of your office’s policies. I’m not a state representative – I don’t have thousands of Texans looking towards me to speak on their behalf – but I work in an office that recognizes and celebrates diversity. I’m an intern for State Rep. Mary González, and I wanted to share seven ways that our office actively creates an inclusive and socially just environment:
7. Symbolic Gestures Interrupt Power Dynamics. Oftentimes when people come to visit Rep. Mary González, they ask why she doesn’t work in the largest office. This is purposeful. It is both about space (we have a lot of staff) and the intentional interruption of a power structure that is common in Capitol offices. We have three full time staff members, five graduate fellows and eight part-time interns. Not only does this ensure that everyone has a desk, it also reinforces our commitment to operating in a non-hierarchal system where everyone’s voices can be heard.
6. Encouraging Critical Engagement Outside of the Office. Our office has an active internet forum where past and present team members can share articles, op-eds and thoughts regarding social justice topics or areas of public policy. The group provides me with a steady stream of pieces to read, and I’m glad when I’m able to share the words of someone else that I found especially enlightening or educational. Through this space, we actively encourage each other to embrace and embody a commitment to social justice in our personal and professional lives.
5. Commitment to Social Justice Through Public Policy. Rep. González’ legislative agenda (the list of bills she has authored and is trying to pass) is always grounded in social justice. This includes legislation that advocates for the rights of historically marginalized groups, such as women and LGBT* folks. We prioritize respect for people and their communities, and use legislation as a tool to interrupt oppression whenever possible.
4. Conscious Consumption. The food and supplies in our office are deliberately chosen. We strive to highlight local and socially just businesses, and discourage purchasing anything from vendors that work against equality and human rights.
3. Active Cultivation of Increasing Inclusivity. Our district staff members participated in a six hour sign language training to better allow them to understand etiquette and increase our ability to create a more inclusive space. When we recognize the ways we fall short of our goals, we then seek ways to improve.
2. Policy Grounded in Theory. Twice a year, Rep. González invites our office to a staff retreat where we spend time getting to know each other and various aspects of the legislative process. But that’s not all – she always facilitates workshops or provides selected readings on social justice topics, such as Pedagogy of Hope by Paulo Freire, to introduce to new authors and ideas. This means that our staff retreats are also opportunities to critically engage in social justice theory and apply it to our legislative goals.
1. Intentional Inclusivity. Our office is proactively welcoming. With so many people working here, it’s hard to not to be greeted when you come in the door. We encourage conversation with visitors in our office, especially with constituents and lobbyists that may not share the same feelings on certain areas of public policy, because we recognize that every perspective has value. This goes beyond our commitment to cultivating inclusivity in our office – it is the first step to changing the world. Any hope we have to advocate for the dismantlement of systemic oppression is lost when we refuse to engage with those whose perspectives differ from our own.
The foundation of social justice is love, and love is something that is sometimes forgotten in the Texas Legislature. I’m lucky to work with a team where love informs their policy in every day ways.