When I saw the title of Beto O’Rourke’s new book, We’ve Got to Try, I thought, “yes, exactly! What are we trying?” We are trying to save democracy by rescuing voting rights from people who want to suppress it. That’s important, right? I think it’s important. I think it’s important to try and keep trying especially when success isn’t guaranteed. In We’ve Got to Try: How the Fight for Voting Rights Makes Everything Else Possible, O’Rourke is telling the stories of the people who fought for voting rights in Texas since the end of the Civil War. The people whose stories he is telling are regular citizens who should not have had to fight in order to exercise their Constitutional right to vote.
I was born, raised and educated through high school in Texas. I thought I had a good education. Of the history that Beto talks about, I learned almost none of it in school. I probably learned more about Reconstruction from yearly viewings of Gone With the Wind, than I did from my public schools. Without context, those viewings of GWtW certainly gave me the idea that the Civil War and Reconstruction happened somewhere else in a time disconnected from my life. I am appalled by the history I did not learn, but also heartened by the long tradition of fighting for the right to vote. Without all citizens having the right to vote, none of our rights are safe.
We’ve Got to Try is focused on Texans and Texas history, but what happens here impacts the nation. I suspect Texas isn’t alone in glossing over the struggles of Black and Brown communities in public school history lessons. I hope that readers inside and outside of Texas will read this and commit to working to regain or protect voting rights in their area. This is a local, State, and Federal issue, but there won’t be Federal action without local movements. Even if you feel secure where you are, please support voting rights organizations that are doing the work in places where our right to vote is being suppressed.
We must embrace the challenges before us. Because our democracy, which makes everything that is essential to this country possible, is on the line. And while the outcome of the fight before us might be uncertain, we know one thing for sure. We’ve got to try.