Harrington: Rights of Americans under attack
by Steve Taylor
McALLEN — Hard fought rights that Americans thought had been won forever are now under fierce attack, says James C. Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Speaking at the South Texas Civil Rights Project’s Noche de Fiesta — Commitment to the Community event in McAllen on Wednesday evening, Harrington said the current climate for human rights in the United States is not good.
“These are really tough times for those of us who believe in human rights. We have heard some discussion on the War on Women. We have the War on Education that is going on. Rights and values that we thought were set in stone are now up for grabs,” Harrington said.
“We see the women in religious life criticized by the men for their good work. We see the attacks on unions around the country and the denigration of teachers and the cheapening of education. And it is depressing.”
In such difficult times it is important to draw strength from past successes, Harrington said.
Rep. Veronica Gonzales accepts the Commitment to the Community Award from Justice Gina Benavides (View the Fiesta de Noche Photo Album at Picasa)
“The history we have in this room shows us, Si Se Puede. We have to keep moving. We have to keep fighting. We are fighting for ourselves. We are fighting for our kids. We are fighting for our grandchildren. We are fighting for our community. Si se Puede,” Harrington said.
Harrington said he was greatly encouraged by being back in the Rio Grande Valley, visiting with human and civil rights activists he has known for years. He called his old friends “moral companions” and quoted Mary Anne Evans, the Victorian-era English novelist who was better known by her pen name of George Eliot. “We make our living from what we get. We make our life from what we give. What we have done for ourselves dies with us. What we have done for others and for the world is immortal,” Harrington said. “Keep up the good work. Si Se Puede.”
The Noche de Fiesta — Commitment to the Community was held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce offices. It is STCRP’s big fundraiser of the year. In addition to a dinner and a silent auction, the group honors three people or organizations each year. This year’s awards were presented to La Posada Providencía, state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, and David Hall, executive director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
La Posada Providencía is a refuge for immigrants in San Benito run by the Sisters of Devine Providence. The organization won STCRP’s Dr. Hector P. Garcia Award. Gonzales won STCRP’s Commitment to the Community Award. Hall won the Emma Tenayuca Award.
Harrington presented the award to Hall. He said Hall’s work in closing the justice gap was far greater than the Noche de Fiesta’s program notes indicate. The Noche de Fiesta’s program notes point out that Hall has been named one of the 25 greatest attorneys in Texas over the last quarter of a century.
“It is a very profound honor to introduce David,” Harrington said. “David is a fierce fighter. When legal aid was under attack and the FBI was rummaging through the files, virtually every other legal organization in the U.S. bended, gave in, became more of an agency. David has such dedication to what legal aid means in Texas that he fought. He fought, he fought, he fought and he is still here, fighting. He is so passionate about helping people it is unbelievable.”
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Executive Director accepts the Emma Tenayuca award from TCRP Director Jim Harrington (See Photo Album at Picasa)
Harrington pointed out that Hall first brought him to the Rio Grande Valley back in 1973. Hall had arrived in the region in the late 1960s. One of the earliest legal battles was getting water delivered to the 286 colonias that then existed in the Valley, Harrington recalled. “There was no water in the colonias. People had to drink out of barrels. You can imagine what that did to the health of the kids,” Harrington said.
Harrington also referenced Hall’s role in famous Allee v. Medrano court case and the La Casita strikes. The issue involved the rights of farm workers to unionize. “It was an amazing victory in the U.S. Supreme Court,” Harrington said, pointing out that the case led to the disbandment and reorganization of the Texas Rangers. “The awful brutality that went through the Valley and all through Texas, of the Rangers killing people with impunity,” Harrington recalled. “Shooting people in the back, this is how they (the Texas Rangers) were in the La Casita strike.”
Harrington also referenced the famous Partida v. Castaneda case, which centered on discrimination against Mexican Americans in the courtroom. “That was an amazing victory that led to reform of the grand jury system in Texas,” Harrington said.
The whole purpose of Hall’s project was to support organizing. Every bit of money went towards this goal, Harrington said.
Harrington said Hall’s contributions were much greater than those referenced in the program notes. The program said Hall helped shape Texas’ legal history. “I think David’s shoes are larger. I think he shaped the Valley’s history. He has played such an enormous and immense role in helping to bring justice to the Valley. People do not realize what the Valley was like in 66 and 67 and 70 and 80. David has done an enormous job in bringing about justice,” Harrington said.
Harrington finished his tribute to Hall by quoting the great American union leader, Gene Debs. “It is the few who have had the courage to take their places at the front; who have been true enough to themselves to speak to the truth that was in them; that have dared oppose the established order of things; who have espoused the cause of suffering, the struggling poor, who have upheld without regard to personal consequences, the cause of freedom, righteousness. It is they, the heroic, self-sacrificing few who have made the history of the human race and who have paved the way from barbarism to civilization,” Harrington said.
In his remarks, Hall said being at the gala was like being at a family reunion. He paid tribute to human rights activist Ed Krueger and his wife Ninfa. Both were in the audience. Hall worked with Krueger during the Las Casita strikes. He said that thanks to Krueger, he learned early on that while the border region comprises two nations it is really one big community. “This is one community. There is a river that runs through it. But it is people like Ed who were able to cross that river daily and work with people that needed help. It was an incredibly inspiring time for me. I appreciate everything you have done, Ed,” Hall said.
Hall said he was only winning the award because of the great lawyers and staff members that work at TRLA and STCRP. “I am here only because you are here,” Hall told those in the audience. “I know full well I am here representing you. This award is for you. It is a real honor to be up here on your behalf.”