The Brown Girls Guide to Politics is proud to partner with the State Innovation Exchange’s (SiX) Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council and Democracy Project to bring you a spotlight on six women of color state legislators who navigated the unprecedented influx of racist, anti-democratic, anti-abortion, and anti-transgender legislation introduced this year. Today, we are spotlighting Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett. What was the moment that made you fall in love with politics? I don’t know that I ever fell in love with politics, so to speak, but I’ve definitely been in love with public service for a long time. Public service began at an early age as my mother enrolled me in programs such as Top Teens of America and the Ariya program (sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.) A moral compass began to take shape as I volunteered in many communities that were economically challenged. That moment could have also been when I became a public defender in Bowie County, Texas, representing indigent persons. In short, I’ve always felt an obligation to use my specific skill set and education to better the lives of others. We can’t move forward as a society if we don’t have the right people in office, but the behind-the-scenes politics can be frustrating and disenchant idealists from the process. When I hear positive feedback from my constituents when I see activists walk into my office knowing it’s a safe place for them when parents bring their kids to meet me because somehow I’ve inspired them, and whenever our office helps someone in need — those are the moments that renew my faith in the process and make me fall in love with being a Representative. What made you decide to run for office?
I decided to run for office when I grew frustrated fighting one injustice at a time in the courtroom and knew systemic change would only come if I infiltrated the very system itself. There was only one option before me: run for the office so I could rewrite these laws as a state legislator. I knew when I represented a 17-year-old who stole candy from the concession stand at his high school and was charged with burglary of a building — that something was broken and I needed to fix it. From the thousands of people I’ve represented, I carry so many of these unjust stories in my heart. These are real stories, with the faces of real people facing real injustice and they serve as a reminder of the intense responsibility that’s been bestowed upon me to be an agent of change in the Texas House. There’s always a learning curve for first-time legislators, but you had a particularly traumatic year to govern through as a freshman legislator. What was it like to step into office for the first time during an unprecedented number of racist, anti-democratic, anti-abortion, and anti-transgender bills introduced? This session was unprecedented and I knew I would have to think and work outside the box and chart my own course. My office was not conventional and I am not the traditional legislator. I’m the youngest member of the Black Caucus and the sole Black freshman. I wasn’t supposed to be here. In fact, many of my now colleagues were betting on me to lose. It doesn’t bother me at all because now I’m battle-tested and can hold my own. Being a freshman is never easy and this session was tough for even the most seasoned legislators. I was told during my orientation that freshmen were not to get on the back mic to ask questions. We were not to voice our dissent, and we most certainly were not to raise a point of order. Otherwise, we were told, there could be consequences. Well, I managed to ask tough questions, go viral for my dissent, and even kill a senior member's bill because it would’ve hurt my district. The same Republican who cautioned us to be wallflowers walked past me and whispered “all your bills are dead.” The other freshmen did not want to follow my lead, but unbeknownst to them, many of their bills were headed for the same fate. It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than it is for any bill that helps people in need, especially if introduced by a Democrat, to get passed in Texas. I would have let my District down if I sat quietly and didn’t voice opposition to harmful bills like permit-less carry or a ban on abortion. Those bills affect and hurt my constituents. How can I just sit there quietly and take this lying down? I represent Dallas — the bulk of my district is South Dallas — and we know how to fight when our back is against the wall. You and your Texas colleagues made history this year with the creative strategy to break quorum by heading to DC to block efforts to pass the most restrictive voting bill in the nation and to lobby Congress to pass voter protection legislation. What did you learn from this experience and about the innovation necessary to govern with a progressive vision in a Conservative-controlled statehouse? You have to be tough, principled, and unafraid to do the right thing when you’re in the minority party and the opposing party dominates both chambers. Breaking quorum for over a month, out of state, leaving behind our families and our jobs is not an easy feat even for the most dedicated legislators. Even within our own party, we had factions who did not break quorum and those who thought that we were making a mistake. We had members work to undermine and sabotage our quorum break just as fervently as those who worked to orchestrate it. The biggest lesson we learned is that not all Democrats share the same values when it comes to some of our most pressing issues. So upon our return to Texas, about two dozen of us got together to form the Texas House Progressive Caucus and bring a voice for Texas Progressives in the legislature. We know the policies we are fighting for are sensible, popular among the people, and urgent. The people are our power when it comes to getting wins as a progressive in Texas. All eyes were again on Texas this year with the passage of the unconstitutional six-week abortion ban that emboldens anti-abortion vigilantes to surveil, harass and sue people who help or intend to help someone get an abortion after six weeks in Texas. How are you continuing to fight for those who are disproportionately impacted by this bill -- those working to make ends meet, communities of color, and immigrant communities? Abortion is healthcare and a constitutional right. I have been fighting back against stigmatizing abortion, adding undue burdens and barriers to access, and efforts to undermine the autonomy of women. I have joined my colleagues across the nation in filing an amicus brief in the Dobbs case and will continue to fight any efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. The reality is abortion has been around since the beginning of time and people will continue to seek out abortion care. Our office is working hard to fight disinformation around abortion and support those organizations leading the charge on the ground to bridge the access gaps. What policies, issues, or conversations are you most proud of advancing this legislative session? During this session, I was most proud of advancing the conversation around restricting no-knock warrants in Texas. Through our efforts, we built a large coalition of grassroots organizers, activists, and elected officials who supported our efforts. Our coalition was broad and bi-partisan, drawing in unlikely allies. Due to the work of our office, we neutralized law enforcement’s opposition and the Speaker of the House made passing a no-knock restriction bill a major state priority and the House near-unanimously passed this bill. We put forward our legislation not only in memory of Breonna Taylor, but for the Texans who had faced this same injustice. Why is it so critical, now more than ever, for women of color to get involved in politics and stand up for reproductive freedom and democracy? Women of color have been the ones leading this charge since the beginning. No progress has been made in this country on any single issue in the absence of women’s advocacy and the labor of Black women. We do not live single-issue lives and approaching our problems with an intersectional framework ensures that even the most marginalized will stand to benefit from our actions if we are intentional to include them. When policies, even the most well-intentioned, do not examine the impact of those bills on Black women, those with disabilities, transgender people, and those with fewer means, then we have the potential to exclude these groups from any benefit or even cause them direct harm. When everyone has a seat at the table where their voices are heard and elevated, we all stand to mutually benefit. This past March SiX and NOBEL Women released a report entitled No Democracy Without Black Women, highlighting the underrepresentation of Black Women in state legislatures. How can we move Black women’s voices to be elevated in state legislatures? Listen to Black women when we tell you what we need. Encourage a Black woman you know to run for office and then support her. Donate to her campaign, volunteer for her, tell your friends about her and get as many people out to vote as you can. Far too many Black women shy away from running for office or feel they need to have all the credentials and experience to qualify when we do not see other candidates committing themselves to this high standard. Black women face higher scrutiny and receive less support in our campaigns, yet once elected we are expected to be everyone’s fighter and voice and we’re left wondering who is going to fight for us or be our voice when we’re left out of the room or have to show up with our folding chairs. Even though women of color are leading these fights, we know that this work is not BIPOC women’s work alone and that it’s not “our” responsibility to fix the problem. What advice would you give to those looking to advance democracy and reproductive freedom? Listen to those on the ground doing the work, believe and trust Black women when we tell you what we need or share our ideas. Solving these problems requires innovation and teamwork. Nothing can be achieved alone. You must get others to buy in and share the work with you, but it’s important to remember intersectionality and being intentional to center the most marginalized so that no one is forgotten, overlooked, or excluded. There is no gate that should be kept around these issues and everyone with a common desire to advance the condition of people of color and the marginalized should be invited and welcomed to the fight. Change starts on a local level, and we should remember that when we examine our politics. So many of these horrendous bills are popping up not in Congress, but at the state level and spreading like wildfire. We must start locally and build our way up and to do so we need a strong network of people coordinating on the ground and activating more people into the movement.