Look at a map of the United States and find Texas. What comes to mind? Perhaps images of wide-open spaces, some Republican gerrymandering and Rick Perry's presidential fumbles pop into your head. As your eyes drift to the center of the Lone Star state and spot Austin, its likely you think to yourself 'Austin, that place is the blue dot in a red state.'
I became aware of this misconception when I was catching a bus to the airport in Guatemala and struck up a conversation with a teacher from the Bay area. When she learned my girlfriend and I were from Texas, she said in an all-knowing tone, "Oh I could never live in Texas, except for Austin -- that's the only place for forward-thinking liberals." Growing up in Dallas and moving to Austin to study at The University of Texas, I also thought that Austin was the only home for Democrats in Texas.
I was wrong.
Texas is certainly Republican, but the idea that Austin is sole source of progressive politics in Texas is flawed. Did you know that Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, the most populated cities in Texas, voted for Obama in the 2012? How about that Houston is the largest US city to have an openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, who is also a Democrat? Wendy Davis, the state senator who burst on the national stage with her pink running shoe as a champion of women's reproductive rights and possible gubernatorial candidate (fingers crossed), even turned her district in Fort Worth blue.
Here is my point: The idea that Austin, less than 4 percent of the state population, is the democratic oasis in a red dessert, fortifies the status quo and allows Republicans to continue winning state office by default for generations to come. Instead Democrats in and out of Texas should bust out the proverbial sledgehammer and shatter the notion that universal health care, equal pay and women's reproductive rights must be confined to one city in Texas.
But there is a glimmer of hope. Organizations like Battle Ground Texas understand that Austin, as awesome as it is, can't swing elections, but organized groups across Texas can. Through old-fashioned voter registration and fundraising and tech savvy social media and big data, the same folks who ran Obama's first election campaign are canvasing the entire state for grass-roots organizers. Their aim is to turn Texas into a battle ground state in the 2020 presidential election, making Texas purple.
Another shinning star from Fort Worth is Wendy Davis. If you haven't heard how she stood up to the conservative legislature's closure of women's health clinics, you might be living under a rock. Through her marathon filibuster, she has given liberals across the state a voice and an issue. The sooner she declares to run for governor, the better.
Instead of thinking of Texas as red with Austin as its only blue dot, embrace the democratic descent all across the state. With the right mix of leadership and voter turnout, Texas will be a battleground.