Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is taking credit for the portrait of Opal Lee that now hangs on the Texas Senate chamber walls.
Simultaneously, he and other leaders in the Texas State legislature are using their power of office to limit and distort understanding about the role racial discrimination has played and continues to play in shaping our country.
Opal Lee walked from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. at the age of 89 because of her commitment to freedom for all people.
In an interview last October she said, “I’m even advocating that we celebrate from the 19th of June to the 4th of July …. Because we weren’t all free on the 4th of July. So let’s make this universal. We’re not talking about a Black thing or a Texas thing. We are talking about freedom for everybody. And we’re not free yet. We’ve got too many disparities—absolutely too many to say that we are free. I am talking about education where they don’t want us to tell the truth—good, bad, ugly, indifferent. Let people know what actually happened. Let them make decisions.”
For Ms. Lee, freedom means “freedom from the joblessness and the homelessness and health care that some of us can get and others can’t. We need freedom from those things and it’s going to take all of us working together to get it done. I don’t see why nobody else can see it but me, because it’s so obvious.”
The truth is, most of us do see it, but Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick want freedom from “wokeness” above all else, leading them to pass laws based on dreams rather than realities. They prefer to shut their eyes rather than face the pain and suffering caused by systemic racism, sexism, and capitalism gone amok. And they claim to do this in God’s name.
In the words of Dan Patrick, who is a proud defender of white Christian nationalism: “There is no separation of church and state. It was not in the Constitution …. We were a nation founded upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because He wrote the Constitution.”
The Lt. Governor’s flavor of white Christian nationalism is not unique or new. The Slave Bible omitted passages from the Hebrew and Christian Bible that referred to freedom and redemption so that slaves would remain obedient and docile.
Dan Patrick may think that by mounting Opal Lee’s portrait he can placate people of color without guaranteeing the freedoms they deserve. Portraits, statues, and national holidays are symbols of values held in a society at a particular time and place. It is up to Texans to decide what these symbols mean, for us and for future generations.
This Texas legislative session was about freedom from wokeness.
If we want to experience the freedom that Opal Lee’s portrait symbolizes—the freedom from exploitation that sacred scriptures across many faiths affirm with clarity and consistency, we must do more than quote Bible verses. We must vote for candidates that share her definition of freedom.