By Katherine Yordy
The dust is settling from the Texas legislature’s 2023 session, and we have been left with a new pile of laws that break my heart and ignore our First Amendment rights.
When you live in a state that is sliding backward despite the tremendous efforts of activists, organizations and lawyers, finding hope and the will to continue in the fight can be difficult. In my weakest moments, when despair is setting in, I remember the power of community. Turning to my cohort of youth organizing fellows, the staff at AU and the folks at Texas-based organizations who are in the weeds, doing the work alongside others is what gives me the strength to keep going. If you are feeling hopeless as the ground shifts and threats against religious freedom loom large, find your community and hold on to it.
In the year that followed the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the floodgates opened. Not only was abortion banned in many states (including Texas), but restrictions on LGBTQ rights, book bans and so many other bills antithetical to church-state separation were signed into law by governors. While some other states took action to protect abortion access and reproductive freedom was affirmed in some statewide votes in 2022, for someone living in Texas, those victories were just reminders of how long and hard the path is to justice and freedom at home. I found myself waiting with dread for January 2023, the start of the Texas legislative session. What nonsensical, hurtful and unconstitutional new laws were they going to come up with? Turns out quite a lot.
Finding hope at SRF
The legislative session was over halfway through in April when I traveled to D.C. to attend the inaugural Summit for Religious Freedom (SRF) hosted by Americans United. Wading through the thousands of bills introduced in Texas was like drinking from a fire hose. Being at SRF was like taking a breath of fresh air. I was surrounded by people from all over the country, including an amazing group of AU chapter members from El Paso, who were as invested in church-state separation as I was. We engaged in meaningful, frank discussions about the status of religious freedom in the U.S. and learned about the ways AU and other organizations are working to protect our necessary rights. I knew that I could start a conversation with any person in the room and feel listened to and understood.
Being on the ground, working to spread awareness for religious freedom is incredibly important – it’s one way we make meaningful change – but time spent in a safe environment recharging and learning from people you know and trust is equally as important.
I hadn’t realized how much I needed the weekend at SRF until after I left with a spring in my step. There is no shame in admitting you feel overwhelmed or disheartened, that you need a break from activism. I used to feel guilty admitting that because I’d compare myself to others who seemed to have unending capacity to relentlessly fight against oppression, but we each have our own unique gifts, skills and experience we bring to the table.
Find your community, nurture those skills and protect the flickering flame of hope.
Katherine Yordy is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship.