While the civic columnist is obsessed, and appropriately so, with the presidential elections this year, it’s important to bethink that abounding decisions that affect the lives of best bodies in the U.S. activate at the bounded and accompaniment level. The 2018 mid-term acclamation candidates were one of the best assorted cohorts of bodies dispatch into local, state, and aldermanic races: 411 women, bodies of color, and LGBT bodies ran. Abounding of them were allotment of a beachcomber of Democrats that won aback the House of Representatives, while others aimed for seats in bounded and accompaniment governments.
Ashton P. Woods was one of those newcomers. He ran in a awash chase for an at-large Houston Burghal Council bench in 2018. Though he didn’t win, he didn’t stop there: He’s now active for a accompaniment adumbrative bench for Texas House Commune 146.
Woods is a bounded organizer, a affiliate of the Houston Black Lives Amount chapter, and is additionally the aboriginal Black, gay, aboveboard HIV-positive actuality to run for a bench in the Lone Star State. I interviewed Woods about his work, his eyes for his district, and who he’s acknowledging in the presidential election.
Kenyon Farrow: I’ve accepted you for a few years, aloof based on your assignment about HIV activism. You cofounded the Black Lives Amount affiliate in Houston. Why did you accept to run for office?
Ashton P. Woods: Well, in my role with Black Lives Amount Houston, and alike afore then, I spent a lot of time in Austin during the aldermanic session. A lot of bodies don’t apprehend that the aldermanic affair in Austin is absolutely every added year for bristles months, unless there’s a appropriate affair called.
In that time, as an activist with a T-shirt and jeans on, walking through the halls of the legislature, absolutely alive on bills and alive on accent in bills, bills that were passed—that includes the Sandra Bland Act and a host of added things. Of course, I’ve consistently fought to accomplish abiding that we had abundant bodies to affirm in board to accomplish abiding that assertive bills don’t get on the attic that were anti-immigrant—that was in the fall—that were anti-LGBT. Anti-trans, added specifically, aback it comes to bath bills.
I absitively that it’s bigger for me to run, because it’s one affair to be an apostle on the outside. It’s one affair to be an activist and organizer on the outside, as well. But it’s addition affair to be able to affect things by not aloof sitting at the table, but actuality one of the active of the table. To accomplish abiding that, intersectionally speaking, any behavior that are fatigued now activity advanced are not detrimental, institutionally racist, xenophobic, sexist—or transphobic, for that matter, or anti-LGBT at large.
There are a lot of things that I appetite to do, which includes aggrandize bloom care, accustomed that I’ve been HIV absolute aback 2008 and I’m 35 now. I begin out aback I was, like, 23, appropriate afore I angry 24. And I apperceive that I’m lucky, because I’ll accept admission to ADAP [AIDS Drug Assistance Program] and Ryan White. But brainstorm if programs that were absolute agnate were accessible to all people, all Texans, all Americans. One of the affidavit why I’m active is to accomplish abiding that we don’t delay for the federal government to accommodate bloom care, not aloof for HIV, but for all medical needs, on a akin that focuses added on bactericide care, so that best bodies aren’t accepting ailing with things that could accept been preventable.
The added affair is, I appetite to accord with education, because I don’t accept in privatizing our accessible schools. I don’t accept in partnering off our schools with allotment schools, or transitioning our accessible schools to allotment schools, altogether. And I accept that there are some things that allegation to be reversed, like Texas House Bill 1842 and recapture, which takes money abroad from academy districts and additionally armament academy districts to abutting schools, or alike possibly become taken over, because of absolutely awe-inspiring rules about how schools should do, based on connected testing, which is crazy in its own right.
Of course, gun reform, altitude change. I’m appealing abiding the nation saw what happened aback Hurricane Harvey hit Houston: 52 inches of rain; abundant baptize to ample New Orleans three times.
And, you know, I anticipate one of the bigger things is, I appetite to allocution about bent amends reform, including cannabis amends and decriminalization, but additionally attractive at how we attending at the chastening cipher altogether, in agreement of bent justice—including, but not bound to, alteration the chastening cipher to abutment sex workers, to approve sex work, while additionally acclamation animal trafficking in totality, as adjoin to conflating it into alone actuality animal sex trafficking.
That’s additionally one of the affidavit why I’m running. It’s because I accept bodies allegation to be accomplished about the issues afore they alike adjudge to accept an assessment on them and accomplish absolute bad decisions. Because, as you know, bodies say absolutely crazy things on radio shows, and again all of a sudden, they become abstract laws, and again they become laws. Right? So we accept to be absolute careful, and we accept to be vigilant, assure the strides that we accept made, and additionally abide the strides that we are aggravating to make.
KF: Was there a axis point at which you aloof decided, “You apperceive what? I am activity to try to about-face from advocating from the alfresco to actuality on the inside, hopefully as a legislator, to assignment on these issues.” Was there a moment breadth that about-face happened?
APW: The moment of, “Fuck it; I’ll do it,” came aback I accomplished that, for the aftermost 10 years or more, I accept been advising candidates on the platform. Myself, as an alone activist in Black Lives Amount Houston, has been absolute affecting in the balloter backroom of Houston and Texas, and alike on the civic level, if you calculation how BLM was involved, and I was anon involved, in the  disruption of [presidential candidates] Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, forth with several added able activist Black women. And not to be abashed with the adumbration able Black women; but I beggarly able in their activism—which acquired presidential candidates to accept bent amends ameliorate platforms.
But I anticipate that it came aback I got annoyed of advising bodies and them active on these issues. And again aback they get in there, they’re the antipode of the applicant that they portrayed themselves to be. And so the moment came aback I was absolutely aloof attractive about and saying, “We’re authoritative abundant strides, but they’re not accomplishing abundant actuality in Texas—or in Houston, for that matter, breadth I’m at and breadth the commune is captivated and contained—so I feel like I can do a bigger job, you know?”
I anticipate the harbinger that bankrupt the camel’s aback is, my opponent, who I’m active adjoin [Democratic bounden Shawn Nicole Thierry]; we were accepting accessible to advance Sandra Bland Act 2.0. We had the votes, all of them. We had the votes to canyon it. And she got in bed with these Republicans who slipped the article into the bill (and she acted like she was absent to it) that was this accomplished show-me-your-papers thing.
As you know, I don’t accept in acceptance law administration to claiming bodies on their citizenship; it’s not right. So that, amid added things—her not assuming up for the LGBT community; her not assuming up, you know, aback things are happening. It’s one affair to appear about aback the cameras are rolling and aback the DSLRs are clicking; it’s addition affair to appearance up and be on the ground, and absolutely be there.
I’ve been there, and I’ve been there chargeless of charge. And while nobody’s asked me to do it, if not me, again who? And I anticipate a lot of bodies ask themselves that question. Because if you’re allurement who’s activity to fix the problem, if you’re the one that can identify, while everybody abroad is oblivious, clearly, it needs to be you.
KF: Describe the commune that you’re active in, for bodies who don’t apperceive Houston.
APW: We’re in the affection of Houston. We are abreast NRG Stadium, which is breadth the Super Bowl was, aloof appropriate alfresco the Medical Center. So, basically, it encompasses some of Houston’s oldest Black neighborhoods: Sunnyside, Third Ward, South Acres. And it has about 172,000 people, of which 75% to 80% are Black; the added 30% are Latino, Asian, and white. So it’s a gerrymandered district, but they alarm it a adequate commune to assure the Black vote—which I acquisition adamantine to believe.
KF: Why do you acquisition it adamantine to accept that it’s to assure the Black vote?
APW: Well, if you attending at a map—go to my website, ash4tx.com, and bang on About 146 and you will see a map that looks like a fizz saw, like it’s carved. It looks like somebody took a breadth block and fabricated a anachronistic appearance out of it.
KF: Right. And so if it’s not a adequate district, what is it?
APW: It’s a commune that’s gerrymandered. While it will agreement the Democrats get into office, the affair about it is, aftermost acclamation cycle, during the primary I anticipate about 10,000 bodies of the 172,000 bodies showed up to vote. And I still accept that that’s partially because best of the bodies who are in these neighborhoods, including mine, are absolute poor. They assignment two and three jobs aloof to accomplish ends meet.
You can draw a commune any way you appetite and alarm it a Black-protected district. But if there’s still actionable dumping, and you’re continuing at a bus stop that doesn’t accept a sidewalk, and aback it rains there’s a canal beneath than a bottom abaft you while you’re cat-and-mouse on a bus advancing bottomward a attenuated artery with a 30 mph acceleration limit, no cartage lights, and almost apparent stop signs, brainstorm activity to assignment late—because you larboard for assignment two hours aboriginal and got to assignment 30 account late, in a thunderstorm, with no sidewalk, and a canal bushing up abaft you. Because we accept huge calamity issues in our area, actionable dumping. We accept no zoning.
So, aback I allocution about a adequate district, I’m talking about the actuality that we accord with the affair of altitude change in a way that’s absolute absolute and recognizable. And we additionally accord with a lot of the vectors that appear with that—like the polluters, the accurate plants, the actinic plants, that they appetite to body abutting to schools, the way that the burghal capital to breach bottomward a multi-service centermost and clean a new ability on top of a baneful landfill. That’s not protection.
You’re adage that our vote is protected. But if the voters are not healthy, and they don’t accept the opportunity, or alike the adequacy that an acclamation is alike activity on, how is it absolutely a adequate district?
KF: Right. So would it be fair to say, instead of it actuality a adequate district, that it’s a commune that deeply controls the Black vote, or the Democratic vote in the region?
KF: Can you acquaint me what it’s like to run in your commune as an aboveboard Black gay man active with HIV?
APW: Actually, I acquisition accomplishing it, it helps to body relationships. It makes me relatable. It makes them relatable to me, as well. Because everybody in this country, in some way, shape, or form, has some affectionate of above-mentioned condition. There are 336 actor bodies [in the U.S.]; 26 actor of them alive in Texas; 2.5 to 3 actor of them alive in Houston; and of that 3 actor are 172,000 bodies who are ambidextrous with issues of diabetes, affection failure, cancer. There are huge blight clusters that we’re award in the city.
I anticipate I mentioned absolute aboriginal in our chat about what if we accept programs, or bloom care, Medicare for All, or some blazon of accepted bloom affliction provided by the accompaniment that mirror casework like HOPWA, ADAP, and Ryan White that acquiesce bodies to get the affliction that they need, and not aloof get the affliction that they need, but to accomplish abiding that they’re accepting taken affliction of in a bactericide abode so that they can absolutely thrive. Because a convalescent aborigine is added productive, in my opinion.
That’s the chat that I’ve been accepting lately. As far as actuality gay, that’s not been necessarily a affair of conversation, per se, because mostly everybody in Houston who knows who I am knows that I’m gay, and they apperceive that I’m appealing accessible about it.
That and, as you know, over time, we accept been actuality bigger as a society—still needs a lot of work—about acquainted activity above binaries and assuming that Blackness is not a monolith; actuality LGBT is not monolithic; actuality HIV absolute is not monolithic. Everybody has a adventure that comes forth with those boxes that we analysis off.
So, while I accept run into homophobia actuality and there, I abode it arch on. And I alone accept to say that I haven’t accomplished it as much. And if it is there, they’re absolute acceptable at concealing it from me. Because they apperceive that I’m a absolute articulate actuality and I will put them on bang absolute quick.
KF: What do you anticipate about, axis to the civic scene—you know, Texas has been on the—people accept said it’s on the bound of axis dejected in the abutting several years. How do you apperceive the political altitude in Texas? Is there a achievability of across-the-board it blue?
APW: Well, here’s the thing. And it’s affectionate of a loaded catechism for me, because I alive in the best crawling canton in the state, in the bigger burghal in the state. And you cannot win the Accompaniment of Texas after acceptable Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and the Southern Texas arena abreast the border. The acumen actuality is that we accept been steadily axis dejected aback 2014. Afore there was a dejected beachcomber in 2018, we had already swept a acceptable block of the [Republican] allotment of Harris Canton to Democratic.
And a lot of bodies don’t apprehend that in Texas, every distinct judge, except for on the borough level, is absolutely on the ballot. So, we accept all of our judges, alike our Supreme Court judges. Bodies who I alleged friends, who, I’ve formed on their campaigns with them for BLM Houston. A lot of them were Black women and were adopted in 2016, and they were re-elected in 2018.
And again we came aback and turned, and flipped, the added allotment [of Harris County] that we didn’t cast in ’16. So I assumption the affair is, is that we’ve been axis dejected for so long, so active here, it’s affectionate of relative. We’re starting to see borderline counties about Harris County, like Fort Bend, and Montgomery, and Brazoria County—which is, like, Pearland, Sugar Land (if you’ve anytime been to Houston)—basically our suburbs are axis blue, and they’ve been axis dejected for a minute.
So Texas is absolutely trending appear liberal, Democratic blue, and absolute fast. I anticipate that we accept to be accurate about actuality in this position of absent to get Trump out for the account of accepting Trump out, and again putting addition in, like a Mike Bloomberg, for example, who is a absolute bad applicant for president, in my opinion, aback it comes to Black and Brown communities..
KF: And if I’m correct, you’re acknowledging Elizabeth Warren in the accessible primary?
KF: Can you say why?
APW: I like her platform. And I additionally like the [fact]—well, I’m annoyed of seeing white men in office. There’s that, right? That’s my own claimed thing, you know? I would accept adopted a Black woman. I’m not abiding that I would accept accurate Kamala, but the actuality that she ran was a thing, a affair to see. I like the actuality that there’s a gay man who could possibly be a frontrunner, but his behavior and who he is as a actuality is the antipode of what I would allegation in a presidential candidate.
So, there are all of these allegorical candidacies. But at atomic Elizabeth Warren has been consistent. Her and Bernie Sanders accept been constant on breadth they stand, their policies. And those behavior are added benign to bodies who attending like us than with the added candidates, to be honest with you.
KF: What would you say to added folks, agreeing folks, who accept anytime anticipation about active for office? So, progressive-minded Black gay men, bodies active with HIV, etc.?
APW: The aboriginal thing: If you’re activity to run for office, apperceive what the duties of your appointment are, and apperceive how they affect people. And apperceive that aback you body your belvedere out, accomplish abiding you body your belvedere out on things that you apperceive and can allocution about.
Number two, accomplish abiding you accept bodies about you who can appearance you how to abode issues that ability not be in your acreage of vision. And it’s best for you to apprehend up, get educated, and accomplish abiding that you apperceive to talk—because it’s one affair to aloof put your hat in the ring; but if you’re not accustomed with the issues and you can’t affix with the people, and you don’t accept a plan for how you would do the job aback elected, again adhere it up.
And if you are a fighter like I am, I would say that you abide to attending at the issues that are abutting to you and how they affect you, and attending at how they bisect with added issues that may not necessarily affect you directly, but affect bodies who are absolute almost to you.
We all accept our different issues, and I anticipate it’s that aback we draw to intersectionality, we’re able to hone in on that, and allocution about what bodies absolutely allegation to hear. Like, I allegation to know—like, aback I allocution about alteration and traffic, we allocution about authoritative abiding that buses absolutely run on time, authoritative abiding that we’re accepting bigger forms of inter-local busline like ablaze abuse and bus accelerated transit, absolute sidewalks, absolute streetlights that work—the baby things that abatement beneath basic services.
It’s one affair aback you apprehend the bench is a two-year seat, so you accept to go every two years, in my instance, up for re-election. You accept to accomplish abiding that you are allowance bodies in districts, and you’re attractive at what the association are talking about, what the voters are allurement for. And it’s as simple as activity to your burghal government website, or whatever city you alive in, because best districts are independent aural someone’s municipality.
You attending at the complaints that bodies alarm in. Like, in Houston, we accept 311; they certificate aggregate that bodies alarm in about. There are maybe 600 instances of potholes. Is it in your area? Is there a streetlight? Listen, because bodies alarm about those things. And it’s the aboriginal research, what bodies are accusatory about, and what bodies are demanding. If you don’t accept the time to do that—you know, if you’re one of those bodies who allotment acclamation after account them—then you’ve got some assignment to do.
KF: Anything abroad you appetite to leave us with that we didn’t get to allocution about?
APW: I anticipate it’s important that bodies accept that it’s not aloof about the actuality that bodies allegation to go vote. Because I’m not activity to acquaint somebody to go vote for the account of voting. You accept a appropriate to undervote, assets your vote, about you feel. Aloof be accessible for the after-effects that appear with that.
So, I’m not anticipation you. But if you are so absorbed to vote, accomplish abiding you analysis your candidate. Accomplish abiding you analysis me and my issues if you’re actuality in Houston and in Commune 146. And see how that affects you and how your activity will change if a lot of what’s in my platform, or addition candidate’s platform, will anon affect you or account you.
Because, at the end of the day, aggregate that we do as candidates, including myself, should be about accretion activity affairs for everybody involved, and should be about accretion affection of life. And if we’re not accomplishing those two things, again all of this is moot.
So, I animate you to go vote, not aloof for the account of voting, but to vote your issues to accomplish abiding that your articulation is actuality heard any way that will change the aisle of breadth you are appropriate now.
If you’re in Texas, aboriginal voting began for this chase and all others on Feb. 18 and ends Feb. 28. The Texas acclamation day is Super Tuesday, March 3.
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