Activism in Action: PolitiChicks Reporter Attends Left-LeaningTexas Tribune Festival Mostly Pro-Abortion, Anti-Gun

20160925_145520The past year has definitely had its number of surprises for me, from being elected a national delegate to being a contributor here at PolitiChicks. One surprise that never crossed my mind was that I would cover an event as “media”, which was the case at the 6th Annual Texas Tribune Festival in the “San Francisco of Texas” (aka Austin).

It was strange to be on the media side of an event, gaining much more access than a general attendee would receive, including the ability to set up interviews and hang out in the press room.  This was also my first time attending a political event that was not “conservative” and much more left-leaning, especially among the attendees (as well as the location on The University of Texas). The festival is set up with sessions that run at the same time, so I had to schedule my day according to what I found interesting. Here’s my brief overview of those sessions.

Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly, moderated the “Future of Conservatism” panel featuring Erick Erickson, Bill Kristol, Matt K. Lewis and Avik Roy at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Steve Moakley
Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly, moderated the “Future of Conservatism” panel featuring Erick Erickson, Bill Kristol, Matt K. Lewis and Avik Roy at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Steve Moakley

The first session, “The Future of Conservatism”, could have been called “What is the future of Conservatism after Trump?”  The entire session centered on Trump and how he is not a conservative and what will become of the conservative movement after the election. According to panelists, the future seemed uncertain because of Trump but they did seem somewhat optimistic that the principles of conservatism has survived worse and will not be dissolved because of one man.

The next session was “The Senate Agenda” where they discussed upcoming issues for the 85th Legislature in the Texas senate. The panel was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and it wasn’t surprising to hear that they were on opposite sides on the issues.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, moderated the “Senate Agenda” panel featuring Dawn Buckingham, Konni Burton, Sylvia Garcia, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, José Rodríguez and Van Taylor at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Brett Buchanan
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, moderated the “Senate Agenda” panel featuring Dawn Buckingham, Konni Burton, Sylvia Garcia, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, José Rodríguez and Van Taylor at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Brett Buchanan

On the issue of budget, Republicans talked about reducing taxes while Democrats talked about “investment”, which is basically a term for raising taxes. Regarding Medicaid expansion, Republicans were against it and Democrats were for it. Education wasn’t as much of a disagreement but Republicans were more for parental control than the Democrats were.

As people were filing in the room before the session started I talked to someone who said he was a lobbyist and said he was attending all the sessions based on the Texas legislature for work. As the session went on, we found ourselves disagreeing on almost everything being discussed and as soon as it was over he abruptly left his seat.  We crossed paths later but never spoke to each other again. He obviously wasn’t interested in discussing the issues with me but little did I know that I would be in the middle of a spirited discussion later that day.

Morgan Smith, reporter for The Texas Tribune, moderated the “Politics of Prevention: The Abortion Battle, Continued” panel featuring Heather Busby, Emily K. Cook, Jessica Farrar and Bryan Hughes at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016.
Morgan Smith, reporter for The Texas Tribune, moderated the “Politics of Prevention: The Abortion Battle, Continued” panel featuring Heather Busby, Emily K. Cook, Jessica Farrar and Bryan Hughes at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016.

The next session, “The Politics of Prevention: The Abortion Battle, Cont’d”, is for me one of the most important issues of our day. The panel was split evenly for and against abortion, and the opinions of both sides were completely opposite. One thing that struck me was whenever one of the pro-life panelists would mention anything about babies, the overwhelmingly pro-abortion room would make condescending “awww” sounds that quite frankly disgusted me and came across as totally heartless. It was truly sad to hear the callousness in their tone for the protection of life.

The anticipation for the next session was already high and people were lined up outside waiting to be seated for “One on One with Senator Ted Cruz”.  As expected, the majority of the conversation centered around Donald Trump because the day before, Senator Cruz announced that he will vote for Donald Trump in November.  His announcement came as a shock to many, given the animosity between the two during the Republican

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is interviewed by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Erich Schlagel
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is interviewed by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Erich Schlagel

primary. Sen. Cruz said his decision was based on the practical binary choices between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as well as his confidence that Trump would appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice, with Sen. Mike Lee as a potential nominee. Sen. Cruz made it clear that he and Trump have their differences and that he is not out to defend Trump’s positions on the issues but to make the case that regardless of Trump’s weaknesses, Hillary would be worse.

At the last session of the day, I never thought I would be in a room arguing about individual rights, but that’s what happened. The session was about Campus Carry and, being that we were on a college campus, it was a hotly contested topic.

The panel was somewhat uneven at best, with panelist Antonia Okafor (Southwest Regional Director of Students for Concealed Carry) actively defending the right to bear arms with other panelists who were outwardly against it, or trying to play in the middle. Throughout the session the vast majority clapped for all the gun control rhetoric while a very few clapped in support of Ms. Okafor’s arguments.

Little did I know that the real fireworks would occur afterwards.

As soon as the session concluded, a number of people rushed up to the stage to voice their disagreement with Ms. Okafor and she patiently listened and defended her arguments. She heard arguments from a number of people wondering why people should have the right to bear arms, mostly arguing with some sort of emotional hypothetical.

20160924_173151
Photo: Brian Bledsoe

After some time, a group of around 10 or more people followed Ms. Okafor outside of the auditorium continuing the discussion–and that’s where I got involved. Most of the discussion centered between Ms. Okafor and woman who said she was a professor, talking about race and second amendment. It was going well until more people started to jump in, turning it into more of an ambush than a civil discussion, so I finally put my two cents in the conversation. The logic of this spirited debate back and forth was based on “what ifs” and that a general fear of guns shouldn’t be grounds for law abiding citizens to lose the right to bear arms. Needless to say, we didn’t reach any resolution; we just got tired and moved on.

Photo: Brian Bledsoe
Photo: Brian Bledsoe (Brian 2nd from end, right)

Later that night I joined a few friends at event called “Politics and Pints” where the attendees kicked back, discussed the day, and played trivia games (my team won, which was somewhat rewarding given we were possibly the only conservative group in the place).

The next day only had two sessions which consisted of a panel about the 2016 elections and an interview with Evan McMullin, who is an Independent candidate for President. Both sessions could be summarized in one paragraph because they both focused heavily on Donald Trump.

A panel called “2016 WTF” was supposed to be an hour session about the presidential election, which should have included talk about both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However Clinton was discussed maybe 10 minutes and the rest of the time turned into the a panel of media personalities airing their frustrated confusion about Trump. The same happened in “One on One with Evan McMullin”, although in fairness McMullin was only responding to the questions by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, mostly centered on Trump.

Overall, this was a powerful event for me because it was my first time attending an event as “Press”, and it was a interesting to experience being on the other side of a political event that was generally not favorable to conservatives.  The highlight for me was standing in that hall debating the Second Amendment calmly and rationally to people who opposed me.

Hearing such extreme liberal perspectives directly from liberals never once left me questioning my faith or my principles and in fact, I left with even more of both. Much thanks to the Texas Tribune for having me and especially to PolitiChicks for giving this opportunity!

Brian Bledsoe

After years of living in total indifference to world of politics, repenting and believing in Jesus Christ in 2007 radically changed Brian Bledsoe's outlook on life. In early 2008 Brian sought to find a candidate that aligned closest to his new found faith and came to shocking revelation that none of the candidates of the party he blindly voted for the past 8 years matched up with his Christian values. So in 2008 he voted Republican for the first time and hasn't looked back since. Now Brian is a advocate not for party politics but for biblical principles that some would either consider conservative or maybe libertarian because he learned quickly that parties tend to have a problem sticking with their principles. Brian is a U.S. Army Veteran and has been a professional driver since 2005. He travels to volunteer for various organizations and campaigns looking to help in any way he can.

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