By ACACIA CORONADO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Country music legend Willie Nelson led more than a thousand spectators in singing “vote them out” Saturday from the steps of the Texas Capitol during a rally wrapping up a four-day march in support of Democratic state legislators who bolted for Washington two weeks ago to block GOP-backed voting restrictions.
Families with lawn chairs spread out across the sprawling Capitol greens in Austin. Clergy, politicians, constituents and musicians all spoke out about the proposals to impose voter ID requirements, limit ballot drop boxes and mail voting, and strip local officials of their election authority.
The special session that the exodus by Texas Democrats halted is set to expire next week, but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to schedule a new one as soon as the lawmakers return to the state.
“If you don’t like who’s in there, vote them out,” Nelson sang, inviting he crowd to join him in singing lyrics he’d previously written about taking a stand at the ballot box.
“I felt like I needed to be here. It is a history-making event that is so necessary right now,” said Brenda Hanson, 75, of Austin. “I am a descendant of slavery and I am not interested in moving back, I want to see this country go forward. I have lived well over three quarters of a century and I have never seen us go backwards like this before.”
Hanson said she is disabled but otherwise would have participated in the nearly 30-mile walk. Instead, she hoped to make a statement with her presence as she sat chanting in support on a bench under a tree.
The march began Wednesday and ended Saturday when participants walked up to the doors of the Texas Capitol building in a rally sponsored by activist group Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. It was led, in part, by Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman and presidential candidate who has not ruled out a run for Texas governor in 2022. Earlier this week, O’Rourke and marchers shut down the frontage road of Interstate 35 during the morning rush hour, funneled between restaurants and cut a path from Republican-controlled statehouse districts to Democratic ones.
Marchers compared what the GOP says are measures meant to protect against fraud and restore confidence in American elections to Jim Crow-style restrictions. There has been no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“I ask you to think about every man and every woman who had the courage in their convictions and did what they needed to do in their own moment of truth in this country’s history,” O’Rourke told the crowd.