Four years ago today, August 18th, 2009, marked the beginning of my political life. At that time, I had been following both national & local politics for some time already, but this was the point that I put myself out to the public and joined the conversation. Simply put, this is the most important decision I have made thus far in my young life.
At some point in August of 2009, preceding my Sophomore year of High School, I figured out it was somewhat easy to speak before the Houston City Council–just how easy, I still did not know. On August 18th, a Tuesday, I called the City Secretary’s office to schedule a time to speak at public session. I am still surprised how quickly I was called back. Calmly, I put together a 3-minute speech on a topic I wished to bring light onto, and convinced my Father to give me a ride to City Hall (I was 15 at the time).
Near the end of public session, after Mayor White had long since left the building, my name was called by Anna Russell and a 5 foot tall child with a medium-sized Jewfro approached the podium with three pieces of paper and began speaking. I spoke at length about just how wrong it was that schools in Houston were named after prominent Confederates (specifically three High Schools: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and John H. Reagan), and the reasons why the names should be changed.
Among my reasons were such gems as that Persons of Color going to these schools is as offensive as I, a Jewish person, being zoned to go Adolf Eichmann Middle School. And that while it would be illegal and against HISD policy to fly a Confederate Flag at a High School, some of these same schools are named after the representatives of that flag.
Obviously, this is not the City of Houston’s issue, but I had hoped that I could stir up some support from the City Council in preparation of another speech at the HISD Board of Trustees. That second speech did, in fact, occur, in part because of the publicity surrounding my City Council speech. I spoke before the Trustees on September 10th, 2009, which, by coincidence, was the day Terry Grier was inaugurated as the new superintendent.
The astute will remember that Senator Mairo Gallegos, may he rest in peace, had given a speech immediately preceding Grier’s confirmation. Well, my speech was immediately succeeding Grier’s confirmation. At that point, I was swarmed by the press, asked by countless organizations to give interviews and quotes. Ultimately, I did appear on KPRC to discuss the issue.
Unfortunately, the institutions and inertia standing against change prevented any concrete action on the issue. Ever since he held the infamous “Why Ride Bikes While Others Die?” protest at UH in response to the Kent State Shootings, my father has liked to say that the entire City of Houston is coated in molasses that slows down progress to a nauseatingly slow pace.
The most important result of my speech on August 18th four years ago was that I put myself out there and entered the conversation on local politics. For the first time in my life, people I had not personally met could listen to my opinions. Perhaps most importantly, the speech set the stage for my years working at City Hall.
In October of that year, I was selected to serve as the District A Councilmember on the Mayor’s Youth Council, an organization made up of 33 well qualified young people who meet to discuss pertinent issues and submit a report to the City Council. When I showed up for the inauguration ceremony at City Council chambers, I met a young woman named Olivia Arena who identified herself as the District A Senior Aide. To this day, I still think the organizers mixed up the roles for the two of us, but that’s a whole different issue.
Throughout the following year, I became close with her and two other members of the group, George Bailey & Andrew Romo. Between the four of us, we dominated the Executive Committee of the council for three years. Not wanting to leave local politics behind us, we discussed ways to stay up on stuff back home while at College. Hence, Texpatriate was born.
None of this would have ever been possible if I had not given that original speech. I would have continued having pent-up opinions on issues with no outlet to discuss them. This would have probably continued until I would have just lost interest in politics and moved on.
Below I embed the speech I gave at the HISD Trustee meeting; it is probably the better of the two speeches. If you click on the links, you can find both the City Council speech and the KPRC interview as well. Again, I look pretty awful, so don’t judge.