A chapter of Texas Rising, a nonpartisan group that advocates for more progressive policy and participation from college students in local elections, was established on campus this semester.
Computer science junior Christian Briggs helped the UTD chapter of Texas Rising from the parent organization Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit entity that monitors far-right issues, organizations and leaders. When Briggs became involved with TFN there weren’t enough officers available during the fall semester to properly establish a chapter.
“We needed personal and financial resources and (TFN was) happy to help because they need people to get out and vote. It’s a mutual relationship,” he said. “I switched over because they do everything from policy research to talking to officials, and that was the environment I started getting into. TFN had those resources when I had none.”
Accounting and finance sophomore Kristen Bonner serves as the communications director for the chapter. She heard about Texas Rising from Briggs and quickly became interested in the organization’s overall goals.
“A lot of the political organizations on campus show mostly how they feel about people, but we focus on local government elections and our main goal is to get people registered to vote,” she said.
While understanding policy is critical, Briggs said UTD’s Texas Rising is different from other political groups on campus such as College Democrats in that it emphasizes the importance of involvement in politics more so than knowing about platforms and issues.
“A lot of it has to do with local and state government,” he said. “While sister chapters are more focused on policy and educating on policy, our campus does more call to action. There are various identity groups on campus that have that taken care of, so we work to fill the gaps.”
Part of Briggs’ involvement in the organization came from the desire to educate the public on how the government and its system of checks and balances functions.
“I want people to understand the power doesn’t rest solely with the president, and he doesn’t have as much power over the economy as the legislative branch does,” Briggs said.
Political science junior and Texas Rising vice president Cawlyn Robinson said his involvement in the club came both from Briggs’ recommendation as well as his own outlook. When he was younger, Robinson said he focused more on national issues but eventually realized how much weight local elections carry.
“I don’t have the same views as I did back then,” Robinson said. “I wanted to act and once I got the opportunity to do something, I did instead of sitting at home and complaining.”
Some of the projects the group works on involve identifying state and local candidates in addition to where they lie on the political spectrum. In order to reach out to representatives, Briggs said the manner in which members conduct themselves when sending emails is crucial.
“We know how to match their rhetoric to make it seem like there isn’t just an angry radical yelling at them but someone who is on their side,” he said. “You don’t know where people lie on the spectrum, so giving them an understanding who the local candidates are is important to get people involved.”
While the federal elections receive greater coverage than local elections, Briggs said local elections are the first steps in pushing policy ideas so that needs can be addressed.
“In local elections less people vote, so the more powerful your vote is,” Briggs said.
Despite the lack of participation in local elections, Robinson said conservatives on the spectrum turn out and that is why there is a Republican majority in government right now. If more millennials and liberals were to show up to local elections, their concerns could be heard more easily.
“It takes initiative to look up who is running in school board elections and county precinct chair,” Robinson said. “A lot of people feel like they do not need to do it or care. We remind people that we do have elections on off years.”