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Tarrant Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples On Taking The Protest Movement To The Ballot Box

Deborah Peoples sitting at a desk with an American flag and a poster of Barack Obama in the background.
Chtistopher Connelly / KERA News

This summer saw large protests across North Texas over social injustice and police brutality. The question now is whether those activists will take that movement to voting booths next month.

Deborah Peoples has seen this before in her more than seven years as chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. She talked with KERA's Sam Baker about why she's hopeful about voter participation this time around.

Interview Highlights

We saw many people protesting for social justice over the summer. I think in a TV clip or two, I may have even seen you, but did you look at those crowds and wonder if any would take that activism to the ballot box in November?

Absolutely. And yes, you saw me in some clips. I think like many Americans, my frustration level was just so high at watching George Floyd die. I mean, it was just after so many insults enough was enough and I felt like I had to get out and do something. And so I got out and marched in several other protests, but one of the things that was probably most fruitful for us is we registered voters.

And this was the amazing thing. I had one volunteer who registered over 500 voters over the course of several days. And it was just incredulous to see these young people coming to register to vote. We need these one-on-one conversations with voters to convince them about why it is important that they vote.

Voter education, civics. You mean?

Yes. And you know, so in 2018 and Tarrant County, when Beto O'Rourke won Tarrant County, that is one of the ways that we were very successful. It was pre-pandemic. We were able to go door to door and knock and have conversations. It can be painstakingly slow work. I think the protest this summer really sped it up because we had a lot of people in one place, but usually we go door to door and have these conversations.

Photo of protesters holding signs, arriving at the Dallas City Hall parking garage.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
Protesters arrive at the Dallas City Hall parking garage, during the city's budget talks Sept. 23, banging on the door and demanded to defund the police.

There have been previous police abuse cases ranging from Jacquelyn Craig of Fort Worth. She's alive to tell her story, but then Atatiana Jefferson of Fort Worth and Botham Jean of Dallas, they're not. Those cases didn't increase any activity in terms of voter registration.

Well, they did, but I think what happened though is especially African-Americans have become almost numb to what happens to us daily in America. I mean, it is just part of our psyche that as Black people, we're going to be abused by the system and by police. And I think people have just become so tired of it is that they just shut down.

But I think the very public nature of the execution of George Floyd that people watched over and over and over on their iPhone and all of that just was too much.

Are you at all worried about the notion maybe of disenchantment that you get newly registered voters? They're excited about the process, but if they don't get the candidate they really want, or by the next election cycle, they don't see the type or level of change that they were looking for, that they may stay away from the ballot box.

Sam, that is always something I worry about. I'm telling you, and you're hearing it from my voice — the America that people think they envision as a democracy is at stake in this election.

I mean, when you have an Attorney General that talks about charging people with sedition for protesting I mean, that's what America was founded on — the right to dissent. I mean, that was the reason for the whole Revolutionary War is the right to speak out.

I think people need to realize what's at stake here. If you envisioned any kind of America, that's the land of the free and the home of the brave, you need to understand that it's on the ballot.

Interview highlights were edited for length and clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.