What Unites Us

Texans aren’t usually known for our way with words, but every now and then, our peculiar brand of rough-spun wisdom manages to perfectly communicate the spirit of the moment.

The first Texan to lead our nation, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, was a model case. Chatting with reporters on his ranch in 1964 about his goal of a strong Atlantic alliance, he quipped, “There are no problems which we cannot solve together, and there are very few which any of us can settle by himself.”

It was an elemental statement with resonance far beyond its original context, and it holds powerful meaning for us today.

Six weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into my hometown. The nation’s fourth-largest city endured a deluge of biblical proportions, submerging thousands of homes beneath churning black floodwaters. Faced with an existential crisis, Houstonians did what they always do.

Average folks loaded into bass boats, airboats, and jacked-up trucks with swamp tires and went door-to-door, hauling their neighbors to safety. First responders, elected officials, volunteers—even local news reporters—showed up to work while their own homes were underwater, saving countless lives in the process.

As a Houston expatriate living in Austin, I watched it all on live TV. And do you know what was funny?

Not once did any of the boat crews ask a shivering flood victim whether they were a Democrat or Republican before pulling them out of the soup. I can’t recall a single instance of someone asking whether an evacuee thought Colin Kaepernick should have kneeled before they were offered a meal and a blanket. And by golly if no one even checked who those victims voted for in the presidential election.

No, all I saw were Texans.

Americans.

Humans.

It’s sad that so often it takes a crisis to remind us of who we are. Yet Harvey reminded us. For a few fleeting days, we left the politics, the culture wars, and the inflamed rhetoric of cable news shows behind. Our hearts rose up from deep within our chests to remind us that they still beat for our brothers and sisters, and we extended our hands in peace and generosity.

It could have been a new beginning for all of us.

Yet it would seem our leaders prefer we go back to the old fights as quickly as possible. I covered politics for many years as a journalist, and my work as an advocate requires a keen understanding of political realities. I know that politicians have to get elected. Still, it’s difficult to watch as some, seeking to appeal to the extremes in one party or another, fight to return us, once again, to our separate, feuding camps.

Division is a distraction. Every angry post about the NFL is a distraction from the fact that the US faces the potential for nuclear conflict with North Korea, or the fact that 390,000 Texas children and pregnant women are about to lose insurance under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or the fact that retired Texas teachers could lose their homes thanks to skyrocketing healthcare premiums caused by chronic underfunding.

We face serious challenges as a state and as a nation, but it’s nothing that we can’t solve together. We can choose to amplify the love unleashed by Harvey, and look for what unites us with our brothers and sisters of different political persuasions—rather than what divides us. We can each ask of ourselves, “Am I contributing something positive or negative?”

At some point, leaders must lead. But we have a duty as well.

We can refuse to take the bait.

Mark Wiggins is a lobbyist for ATPE. Before coming to ATPE, Mark worked as a reporter at Austin’s ABC News affiliate, where he covered Texas politics for more than a dozen sister stations across the state. Follow him on Twitter (@MarkWigginsTX) for Texas education news and updates.

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For more details on how ATPE supports Texas educators at the legislature, see our blog at TeachTheVote.org. For real-time updates from our lobby team, follow @teachthevote on Twitter.

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