We Deserve to Run Things: A Conversation with Rochelle Garza
We sat down with civil rights attorney and president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Rochelle Garza, who was the first Latina nominated for Attorney General in Texas, to hear about her experience running for office as a new mom in the post-Roe world. In addition to her work on criminal justice issues, border and immigration issues, and voting rights with the Texas Civil Rights Project, she also serves as a chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights.
She Should Run: What moved you to run for office?
Rochelle Garza: I’m a civil rights attorney from Brownsville, Texas, which is on the border of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. For years, I’ve worked in the intersection of immigration and reproductive justice, and in September 2021, Texans experienced a post-Roe world. I was 9 weeks pregnant with my daughter when the six-week abortion ban went into effect. I knew in that moment that if we want to see change, we need more women to run for office, more pregnant women, and women with families running for office. I decided to run for Attorney General of Texas because I wanted to make sure my daughter grew up to be who she wanted to be, to make decisions for herself, and to be treated as an equal.
SSR: You ran for office with a newborn. What was your experience like traveling the state, campaigning full-time, and being a new mom?
RG: Texas is a very, very, very big state! We had to be creative with how we traveled with her and met her needs because I was nursing her. . I was very fortunate to have a really strong support system–from my husband, parents, and in-laws to my campaign team, to supporters across the state. We had hubs where we stayed, and we made sure I had milk in different people’s freezers in case my daughter needed food when I was in another part of the state. It was a whole family affair to make this a reality! It meant a lot to voters to see someone like them: a working person from a rural-ish area who was running for office. I hope that others can look at what we did and not only say it can be done but also look inward and say, “What do I need to do to support someone who is running for office who is juggling family life?”
SSR: During your campaign, what did you find was the biggest misconception about reproductive health? How did you communicate through that?
RG: There are a lot of misconceptions about what reproductive health is and why abortion access fits into that. It’s more than one’s physical health, it’s their psychological and financial health and the health of their family. Around the state, all the stories I heard were the same: women couldn’t access the abortion care they needed, even in wanted pregnancies that weren’t medically viable, and these women and their families were forced to bear the financial and psychological impacts of a lack of abortion access. It’s important to communicate to people that reproductive health is not just about one individual’s health–it impacts that indivdiual’s family and our society at large.
SSR: What experience has stuck with you from your run for Texas Attorney General?
RG: There’s one moment where I remember being in Waco, TX, which is known for being conservative, and having the most incredible campaign event. I remember having this conversation with this man who was literally in tears, and I think that what was really hitting him was this realization of what was really at stake, of what it meant to vote for a pro-choice candidate, for a woman, someone who’s had a baby, and what that impact could look like for his own family and for others. We have a lot more in common than we don’t, and it’s about finding those connection points with someone. I was able to have wonderful conversations with people from the other side of the aisle that agreed with me, but just from a different perspective.
SSR: What gives you hope about your fight for reproductive rights?
RG: There are lots of things that give me hope. My hope has always been in other people, in seeing how much love lives in other people. People are ready to stand up and resist what they believe is harmful to other people’s human dignity. And my hope lies in the next generation–they are learning about what is happening, they’re asking about it, talking about it, and will be voting on it.
SSR: What advice do you have for women who are currently trying to decide if they should run for office?
RG: A lot of times, women second-guess themselves; they’re always wondering whether or not they’re qualified to do something. If you’re considering running for office, look around you and see who is running for office and then ask yourself: why not you? If you don’t run, we’re going to continue to get laws that are harmful to us and our families. You are the best equipped to communicate what our needs are in elected office. Once you do decide to run, make sure to build a good network of support, be it friends, family, or campaign staff. Know that it’s a challenging experience that will test you and everyone around you. People expect women to have kids, to raise them, but they don’t expect us to run for office–but we deserve to be there. We deserve to run things.
Something else I can share is, what does it look like when you don’t win? The question is, what am I going to do next? Even if the position you’re running for doesn’t work out, there are still so many opportunities to give back, to connect, and to push the envelope in politics to make your state, your community, a better place. I truly want to see more women running for office. We need it.
Want to learn more about how you can ensure reproductive rights are a priority in your community? Check out our webinar, America 1 Year After Dobbs: Taking Up the Mantle of Reproductive Health, here.
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