As promised, the public comment period at this morning's Dallas City Council meeting featured several members of the Domingo Garcia-led Latino Redistricting Task Force . In the council briefing room, every chair was full, with many people wearing white or blue tees that read "Count Us In" inside a drawing of a Texas map. On the back were the words "Our Vote, Our Community, Our City Map," and the numbers 5-4-5 -- the number of districts the LRTF believes Latinos, African-Americans and Anglos should respectively have on the council.
After the public comment period of the meeting ended, Garcia led a raucous press conference in the Flag Room down the hall, which was attended by both LULAC-ers and at least 30 members of Occupy Dallas. More on that in a minute.
"You have let us down by approving such an unjust plan," Martina Alvarado told the council. With her, as with each speaker, the entire room stood up as she spoke. After she concluded, the room erupted with cheers, applause and chants of "5-4-5!" and "Si se puede!"
Former LULAC president Hector Flores called the map "totally unacceptable to the Latino community," adding, "Not since the days of slavery has anyone counted as less than one person."
"Bring back Plan 16," he told the council, referring to the map drawn by Garcia, Brooks Love and Billy Ratcliff. "The Voting Rights Act should apply to North Dallas too."
As Bill Betzen got up to speak, he was nearly drowned out by more chants of "5-4-5!" from the hallway, where a huge crowd that couldn't fit into the briefing room had gathered. He said he hoped the council would avoid the "multimillion-dollar lawsuits" that could arise from this dispute.
When he finished, Mayor Mike Rawlings thanked the group for their thoughts, and Garcia "for your hard work and leadership."
"Thank you for showing that the Latino community does speak," council member Delia Jasso added. Throughout this process, she added, to loud applause, "People asked, 'Where were the Latinos?' Well, we're here, and we're 42 percent of the population."
"We have an obligation to make this right," she told the room, "And stop being in the national news talking about diluting the Latino population."
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Out in the Flag Room, more than 100 LULAC-ers, students, reporters and others crowded in to watch a follow-up press conference led by Domingo Garcia. Among them was a sizable group of Occupy Dallas-ites, at least 30 of them, some clad in "Count Us In" tees.
Stephen Benavides is an Occupy Dallas organizer, as well as a public employee adviser at the North Texas Association of Public Employees, a division of the United Steelworkers union. He explained that at Occupy's general assembly meeting the other night, he asked for people to come over and help support the Latino Redistricting Task Force.
"This is a major population not getting representation," Benavides told us, "and that's anti-democratic." He added that Garcia has volunteered to donate food, water and electrical supplies to Occupy.
Addressing the crowd in the Flag Room, Garcia also used the language of the Occupy movement to make his point. "Today, we decided to occupy City Hall," he said. "We're standing up for 99 percent of all Dallasites." Garcia urged the group to "Occupy City Hall, but also occupy the voting booths of America. Today, the movement has just started. We're here," he told the crowd to roars of approval, "and we're not going anywhere."