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‘The fight will never be over’

Former Texas Congressman brings passion to grassroots

Jill Schramm/MDN Beto O’Rourke speaks to area residents who turned out Wednesday to hear his thoughts on issues ranging from voting rights to gun rights.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke rallied local residents in speaking on voting rights and various national hot-button issues in Minot Wednesday.

O’Rourke, who served in Congress from 2013 to 2019 as a Democrat, stopped at Main Street Books to talk about polls and politics and take questions from the crowd of about 65 people filled the front of the store. He recalled his first visit to Minot’s Main Street in 1994 to perform with his punk rock band at the Minot Collective Cultural Center, where the band spent the night sleeping on the floor before heading to its next venue the following morning.

O’Rourke said he put Minot on his book tour because coming from El Paso – which he considers the most overlooked and misunderstood city in Texas – he wanted to acknowledge other cities that can get taken for granted.

His main message was voting rights, and he detailed the struggle that has occurred both in Texas and the United States throughout their histories. He spoke of the intimidation and violence in Washington County, Texas, in 1886 that led to introduction of an 1890 voting rights bill in Congress, where the Senate let it die in filibuster.

“For 75 years, until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this country is plunged into a darkness of democracy,” he said.

He warned the fight isn’t over, even today. Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court struck portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Texas imposed the toughest voter ID standards in the nation, he said.

“Since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, more than 700 polling locations have closed in Texas, which is the fastest growing state in the nation – 30 million and counting. And those 700 polling place closures are all located in the fastest growing Black and brown neighborhoods in our state,” he said. “So, on election day, this November, mark my words, you’ll see video footage out of Texas, outside of our historically Black colleges like Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, and the lines will stretch six hours long, seven hours long, eight hours long. Part of you says. ‘That’s amazing that someone is willing to do that.’ And then, hopefully, the rest of you says, ‘I’m so deeply ashamed and embarrassed that we subject any U.S. citizen to that kind of indignity.

“The lesson for me is that no victory is ever final. The fight will never be over. We’ve got to give this everything we have every single day of our lives, because if we don’t we can descend back into darkness, as we saw in 1890,” he added.

Cera Pignet of Minot said O’Rourke’s message inspired a little more passion to keep the flame burning and not lose hope.

“His initial talk about how long it takes to get rights for people and how long it takes for justice to be sought, and having the patience to do that, was really valuable, because I think for someone who leans left in a place like Minot you can feel disenfranchised or you can feel like your voice doesn’t matter,” she said.

Cece Brown, who lives near Sawyer, said she doesn’t see the same degree of voting issues in North Dakota as O’Rourke highlighted in Texas, although she is aware that indigenous residents have had challenges in exercising their rights to vote.

Asked about North Dakota’s voting environment, O’Rourke said there’s “something special” about the state’s lack of a voter registration requirement and applauded the Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake tribes for initiating a lawsuit that will change the state’s legislative redistricting for their reservations.

O’Rourke also spoke about anti-abortion laws as an attack on women, gun rights in light of mass shootings and the Texas governor’s anti-immigration actions at the Mexican border as “provoking a constitutional crisis.”

“I personally feel that it is very tempting to despair in the face of our challenges right now, to give in and to give up, to hope that someone else is going to ride to the rescue for us. But I hope we all acknowledge there is no cavalry that is going to ride to our rescue. This one is on us,” he said.

Simon Adler of Minot came to hear O’Rourke because he appreciates the Texan’s grassroots-style messaging online and was curious to see him in person. Also concerned about gun violence, Adler said he was impressed with O’Rourke’s approach to addressing gun issues.

“He seems like he has a concrete plan of what would be a good move forward, because no one should have to bury their kid,” he said.

O’Rourke had made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate from Texas in 2018 and was a presidential candidate before dropping out to support Joe Biden in the 2020 race. He also was his party’s nominee for Texas governor in 2022

Asked about running again, he replied, “I just want to be useful. I want to be helpful.”

“Running doesn’t always result in a victory for the candidate,” he added, “but running and the effort can produce transformation throughout the state. So if there’s an opportunity to do something good, I want to be part of it.”

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