How we stopped Texas from getting a Confederate flag license plate

Illustration for article titled How we stopped Texas from getting a Confederate flag license plate

Texas nearly became the 10th state to issue license plates prominently featuring the Confederate battle flag, but 501(c)4 non-profit organization Progress Texas fought the action with a coordinated grassroots campaign and got the plates rejected. Here's how they did it. — Ed.

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Specialty license plates are normally a simple thing in Texas. In the last two years, groups have requested the state of Texas produce 89 different specialty plates. But yesterday, for the first time, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles rejected a specialty license plate.

The plate in question was proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that has pushed to have their group's logo – featuring the Confederate battle flag of Virginia – on state plates across the country.
Currently, nine states have the Confederate flag on their license plates. Last April, Texas appeared poised to join them, until the unfortunate death of one of the TxDMV board members led to a split 4-4 vote. The vote was pushed back, and our organization Progress Texas stepped in.

In May, we began a steady campaign to raise awareness of the plate in the public. Coupling direct citizen action with press outreach, Progress Texas began an online petition drive seeking signatures that would call on Texas Governor Rick Perry and the TxDMV board to reject the Confederate battle flag, an image we consider a "racist relic."

In the following months, we reached out through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and their website and managed to – with the help of other online groups like MoveOn – managed to collect more than 22,000 signatures in several months.

"I listened to the comments, the feelings and emotions of people before the board and what they think is best for the state,"— Johnny Walker, TxDMV Board Member

The online organizing was impressive, especially because it was coupled with growing awareness on the national stage. In the middle of the signature drive, Governor Perry announced his campaign for President. Within months, Perry was hounded by questions of racism when the unfortunate name of his family's hunting ground became public.

Meanwhile, we pressed on. In an October forum hosted by the Texas DMV, Progress Texas presented the 22,000 signatures to the Texas DMV board during a small public hearing in Austin. Other than the NAACP, no elected officials or organizations were present at the meeting. But with the signatures delivered and the board preparing for a November 10 vote, the outside pressure began to ramp up for the board to reject the plates.

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The tipping point came when Governor Perry announced his opposition to the plates. Progress Texas stepped up the pressure on the board, organizing their existing supporters to generate over 3,000 e-mails directly to the TxDMV board in the week before the vote.

In the end, the efforts worked. On Thursday, November 10, the TxDMV board met again to take a final vote on the Confederate battle flag license plates. Unlike the October meeting, this one was packed –elected officials, pastors, and organizations from across the state turned out for a standing room only meeting on the Texas Capitol grounds. After hours of testimony, the board switched course and unanimously rejected adopting the Confederate flag battle plates.

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This story originally appeared on Progress Texas on November 11, 2011, and was republished with permission.

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DISCUSSION

Desu-San-Desu

This may make me some enemies. It may cost me some friends. It may cost me my star. But I'm willing to risk that in order to make my opinion on this heard. I have faith in Ray, that he'll understand I'm saying this to express myself, not to incite hate, vitriol, or controversy. I just want me opinion known:

This is an issue of teaching tainted history and misinformation.

That's it. Nothing more. That flag used to represent something bigger, something separate from race and slavery. But misunderstanding, bigotry, and ignorance have turned it into a symbol for something it never was. Circumstantial association has never been the same as affiliation. The flag never endorsed slavery (and the Civil War wasn't started over slavery either); it endorsed the right for a state to exercise its sovereign rights against coercion, greed, and extortion, whether those affronts be from the federal government or other states. Back then, that right was exercised in the form of secession and the northern states, who couldn't subsist without the tariffs, commerce and agriculture of the southern states, retaliated by trespassing and creating a war to secure their coffers.

A nation can't live on industry alone; it needs to clothe and feed its people and the South possessed a major monopoly on both the food, and the hemp and cotton needed for everything from clothing and sails to paper and rope. The North and South both knew this. The South assumed the North would cave and cease their appropriations of Southern tariffs and commerce in order to not lose their lifeline. The South was wrong. The North did not cave. And so a war began. A war that started over money and states rights and over the years became about morality and slavery. Ever since then, the phrase "States' Rights" has been seen as the calling card of ignorant bigoted conservatives. Hear me now: I am not a conservative and I hold no special place in my heart for the South. To me it's just a place with good food and bad music. As far as conservatives and liberals go...Crips and Bloods in tailored suits, as far as I'm concerned. I hold no affiliation for Old Dixie, even if I happen to reside there. I instead hold a special place for my heart for facts and objective distribution of information. Full disclosure, per say.

Few people know that the majority of the southern states had drawn up a 15 year plan to gradually educate, free, and indoctrinate the slaves of the plantations into the common wage-paid workforce, instead of just cutting them loose in a world they were not trained or educated to cope with. The ramifications of that ill-preparedness the emancipated slaves were faced with were felt for generation after generation. Most people today are taught the war was fought over slavery. It wasn't. It was fought over the North overstepping its power and encroaching upon the rights of the southern states. Slavery and abolition were never even brought to the table as subjects until the Union Army found itself in a losing battle two years into the war due to dwindling support and a lack of willing men to fight against their own brothers. Lincoln knew of the strong support for the Abolitionist movement in the north and decided to capitalize on that. Two years after the start of the war, Lincoln made slavery an issue as a propaganda movement to gain much-needed support for a flagging Union.

For the citizens of the North, this was something to be proud of and get behind. For good reason, too; nobody can dispute the immorality of slavery. The South even knew this, though they chose a slower, less direct route to weening themselves off their inhumane vice. For the North, it became a matter of pride and righteousness overnight. For the South, it was an issue of existing shame (as it should have been) that they had not yet had the chance to rectify. When the northern states did eventually win, they, along with the efforts of William Sherman, effectively silenced the South's side of the story and, just like the winners of history always have, wrote the history books to shed favor upon the winner, the North, and shame upon the loser, the South.

Is slavery an abomination? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. Should it have been ceased far earlier than it was? Again, yes. Was the Civil War started over slavery? No. Not at all. However, everyone is taught in school that it was. Very few paragraphs of my history textbooks growing up were dedicated to the explanation of the tariffs and taxation issues between the North and the South leading up to the war. Instead, everyone is taught that the war began because the South, and the flag that represented them, stood for slavery and refused to give it up. The hard truth is that such a thing is not true. It's a lie that has been perpetuated for over a century. Both sides had their sins and their sainthoods; neither side was perfect. But the textbooks? They paint a different, biased, picture and that saddens me to no end that we can't even entrust our own children with the truth behind a bloody stain on the history of our nation.

My problem isn't with Texas refusing the plate. That's another one of Texas' sovereign rights. My problem is WHY it was refused: because people don't even know the truth of their own nation's history. That flag may be a commonly seen as a racist symbol now...but wasn't always that way. It was made that way by sensationalism and biased media.

I guess some things never change.