Racial Power Inequity in Galveston

In 1858, two years before becoming President, Abraham Lincoln lost the race to become the Senator from Illinois. Still, in accepting his party’s nomination as their candidate, Lincoln spoke words that continue to resonate for us today: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Here, Lincoln was speaking about a nation on the verge of being rent asunder. Then, as now, there was a notion that our nation is a compendium of ideals, of values, of historical narrative.

This is true. Without ideals, values, and history, a nation has no sense of place, nor a sense of self. The crux of the matter however, is that all of these elements must absolutely reside in the citizens, the people of a nation, and not be wholly the product of a media-driven political reality. There must be a genuinely inherent sense of cohesion (even if that sense is a product of our cultural institutions) that binds us all together to see ourselves as a nation, as Americans.

To be sure, America is a socially dynamic thing. But, without this sense of self, divisions emerge and, if left unabated, will inevitably continue to fray the edges of the national fabric until the day comes that it is, indeed, no longer a nation. When citizens are pitted against citizens, when division is the hallmark of our being, we cannot stand. Yet, when our leaders distort the view of how to keep us safe in order to divide us with surgical cuts along value lines, when our history is discarded and replaced with fabrications, what are we to do as nation but see chaos take hold? Hope for a better world is what we hang onto – and certainly it is something Gen Z, alongside some older folks, is fighting for now.

What is the compendium of ideals, values, and history that construct the community of Galveston – who are we, what is our vision, and how do we realize it? One thing is certain, our population is diverse, but our government is not and has never been. Increasingly, as Boomer retirees see a better value here without having to relocate to places like Costa Rica or Ecuador, as they stream into our historic districts and gentrify our neighborhoods, they bring with them a sense of place that often has virtually no relationship to the culture of Galveston. That is to say, they wish to create a community in the image of where they have come from (read: gated communities) rather than what are the ideals, values, and history of Galveston.

This, more than anything, is changing the character – and tax base – of our community. At the same time, it is driving away young entrepreneurs who would see Galveston as a place to live, work, employ other young minds, and bring with them their young families. Why would a young family move to a city where retirees drive up home prices while simultaneously driving down tax and education revenue? They wouldn’t, and therein lies the rub for our infrastructure problem. This, in turn, leads us to what I call the representation problem. It is the same problem that is plaguing the rest of America at this very moment in its very young history. That is, though we have a culturally and racially diverse population, our government does not reflect it – not one bit. It is an Establishment maintenance of power for the sake of power, and an effort that disenfranchises the many to serve the few.

But, there is resistance to this that takes as their mantra the words of news anchor Howard Beale when he beckons his viewers to cry out from their windows in the 1975 film classic, Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Racial power inequity abounds in our 21st century Galveston. Though Blacks and non-White Hispanics make up nearly 30% of the population, of the population of the 23 members of the most powerful Galveston government agencies – City Council, the Park Board of Trustees, and the Wharves Board of Trustees – only one representative is a person of color. For example, take a look at the faces on the Wharves Board of Trustees (www.portofgalveston.com/67/Board-of-Trustees) and decide for yourself what you see.

This is what the Knock Down the House, Black Lives Matter, Vote Latino, and Lean In movements are all about – lack of equitable representation when it comes to pulling the levers of power in community. And, as we’ve seen in the 2020 Summer of Anger, the true plurality of our nation – patriots all – is not taking it anymore.

Galveston should stop dragging its anachronistic heels and move toward a more culturally representative government, one that proactively works on establishing a diverse government that accurately reflects the population it serves. From Portland to Seattle, Los Angeles to Detroit, St. Louis to Louisville, and Houston to Dallas, the entrenched status quo is under siege. In this, Americans needlessly are their own worst enemy. Though the time is running out for a civil changing of the political guard in Galveston, we can still preempt the sort of violent change that accompanies long-suffering disenfranchisement in other American cities. On this, Lincoln was equally prescient when, at the age of 28, he said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

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