Beto O’Rourke, candidate for Texas governor, recently met with Reverend William A. “Bill” Lawson at Lawson’s home, seeking campaign advice and general words of wisdom from the founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and longtime civil and human rights activist.

By way of introduction, O’Rourke shared with Lawson his campaign priorities, including protecting “the right to vote, people’s individual rights, [and] whether folks can have access to healthcare or a living wage.”

“I’m glad to be part of the campaign and I hope you can help us get Greg Abbott out of that seat.

Rev. Bill Lawson

“I wanna make sure we win this [election] for the people who are counting on us right now, and Reverend Lawson, I’d love to have your guidance and your advice and your help in order to be able to do this,” said O’Rourke.

“I’m glad to be part of the campaign and I hope you can help us get Greg Abbott out of that seat,” said Lawson.

“The people who are campaigning against you are doing some pretty ugly, off-the-table stuff. I certainly hope that we can get Greg Abbott out, which is a good part of your campaign. And waking up day after day to another murder means that we are watching a time when guns are more and more available.”

Lawson, acknowledged the difficulty he has at times, with speaking, but said that wouldn’t stop him from letting as many people as possible who he was supporting for the governor’s race.

“I’m perfectly willing to be heard wherever I can. It will be difficult for me to talk very much, but I’m going to be backing people like you so that at least the city will know how I feel. And just the fact that Dr. Cosby is likewise pushing you, I think that’s going to make a major difference in their minds, so at least we are available and we’re willing to be heard as supporters,” said Lawson.

The two were even finishing each other’s sentences, like when Lawson said, “If you could see the number of people who join Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church every Sunday then you would know…” and O’Rourke chimed in, “It could be the margin of victory” regarding his race against the incumbent Abbott.

O’Rourke seemed genuinely appreciative of Lawson’s words.

“I just want to tell you, everything you said came through loud and clear to me, and it was a very powerful push that we needed coming into this final stretch of the campaign. You won’t know how much that means to me personally and how much it means to our campaign, but I hope after we win we can come back to tell you how much it means for Texas. And I will take Dr. Cosby’s invitation to come back here to be able to meet with you and to thank you, and also, this is important to me, to be held accountable for the things that we’ve talked about doing. We’ve gotta get them done. And knowing that I have to answer to you afterwards is a great push and adds urgency to the work that we do.”

Dr. Marcus Cosby, pastor of Wheeler, was in attendance at the meeting, as was Dr. Timothy Sloan, pastor of The Luke Church. Cosby, along with Dwight Boykins, organized the meeting between Lawson of O’Rourke.

“Given the history that Pastor Lawson has of giving counsel to those who are running to especially help the disposed and disenfranchised, with pastors like Pastor Sloan and myself who are his mentees, if you can call us that, what would you need from us as we move forward,” asked Cosby.

Reverend Lawson, you mentioned the gun violence that we’re seeing in not just Uvalde and my hometown of El Paso, but it’s in Houston on a daily basis. There’s an answer to that and it’s winning this election.

Beto O’Rourke

“My request is your advice on how I can best and most successfully engage leaders in the faith community all across the state of Texas to connect this moment to our history and our opportunity to win a far better future for our kids,” said O’Rourke.

“Reverend Lawson, you mentioned the gun violence that we’re seeing in not just Uvalde and my hometown of El Paso, but it’s in Houston on a daily basis. There’s an answer to that and it’s winning this election. But we’ve gotta be able to get through this attack on our democracy that’s making it harder for people to vote, and engage with those voters by the very people who they trust the most in their lives,” said O’Rourke, referring to faith leaders.

“I believe this is the most historic election in my lifetime. You’d have to be the judge if it’s the most historic of yours. But one of the reasons I think this is so historic is that the actual ability to vote and the right to vote and the protection of our democracy is under attack now unlike any time in my lifetime, for sure. I would argue any time since 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by LBJ. My understanding of the history that you actually lived <looking at Lawson>, so you’d be a far better judge than I will ever be, is that the only reason that the President signed that into law was because he was in many ways forced to, or maybe better put, he was given the power to do the right thing by those like you who engaged the conscience of the country, like Dr. King, like John Lewis who precipitated that speech to Congress by his actions on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in March of 1965. I think this moment calls for that kind of action and that kind of leadership. I know it won’t be the candidate or political party that gets this done. It’s gotta be people. And my belief is in much the same way that a multi-racial democracy was precipitated by the leadership in houses of worship and from faith leaders, it will be again today. I’m convinced of it. And that happens here in Harris County. And that happens in the 253 counties [of Texas],” stated O’Rourke.

O’Rourke asked Cosby if he has ideas on ways he can better connect with faith leaders.

“I don’t know exactly how to do it, but I do know that meetings like this perhaps with other clergy, more clergy, would be most helpful. I think these kinds of meetings, where we have intimate dialogue, hearing the thoughts of the clergy and faith leaders and community organizers would help to ensure that you have the kind of support that you need in kind of dismantling the administration to which Pastor Lawson spoke. I think much of what we need to do going forward is to have moments like these for more of our colleagues to make sure that they understand the moment, and that we have to participate with you and you with us to ensure that quality of change can take place.

O’Rourke asked Cosby what he’s hearing from congregants regarding their number one issue; i.e. the thing that will move them to participate in the November election.

“I think it’s the dismantling of rights. Human rights, civil rights are being dismantled by the current [Abbott] administration, and almost blatantly for the purpose of one’s own progression instead of the progression of the entire whole or communities that need to be served. I think it’s not just hurtful, but it’s disrespectful to people who have had so many rights across the years, and now those rights are being single-handedly cherry-picked for whatever purposes may be in the mind of those who are in the current administration. It’s disrespectful and it needs to be challenged,” shared Cosby, who then focused his comments on style of tactics.

We’ve gotta fight for each other because I don’t think there’s ever been, again, in my lifetime, more on the line. The stakes have never been higher. And the odds have never been greater. And all that comes to a head right here in Texas.

Beto O’Rourke

“And you’ve done it [challenge those dismantling our access to basic rights], and I appreciate the way that you’ve done it; our in-the-face kind of approach. I think many of us [pastors] do. I would applaud that. Many of us probably would not do it that way because of our own responsibilities as clergypersons. But the way that you have done it has been intriguing. It’s been impressive because it means that you are not willing to just sit by idly and allow certain things to take place without some kind of response that says ‘This is un-American to just take people’s rights away from them,’” stated Cosby.

“We’ve gotta stand up for each other right now. We’ve gotta fight for each other because I don’t think there’s ever been, again, in my lifetime, more on the line. The stakes have never been higher. And the odds have never been greater. And all that comes to a head right here in Texas. But I also know that the people of this state are wanting to meet this moment. And they want to overcome these attacks and challenges. And I’m increasingly confident that we will, but I wanna make sure that we do the work necessary to bring it through and to win on Nov. 8,” said O’Rourke.

Sloan seemed to agree with O’Rourke regarding the urgency of this current political moment.

There are only so many Sundays left, only so many days left [before the election], and we have to make the most of each and every single one of them.

Dr. Timothy Sloan

“Certainly, this is an emergency situation. And we talk about these final 50 days. For us, and our congregations, a lot of the conversation is about how this is an emergency. When we talk about the rights of individuals, when we talk about dissolves that are happening in capital, when we talk about some of the challenges that many people, Black and Brown or people of color are feeling in the fringes here in Texas, I don’t know if we’re as informed about what’s going to need to take place in order for this change to happen,” said Sloan, who pushed for talking points for pastors of larger churches to distribute to small congregations.

“There are only so many Sundays left, only so many days left [before the election], and we have to make the most of each and every single one of them,” said Sloan.

O’Rourke again beat the drum regarding his belief that the involvement of faith leaders would be as important to election victories today as they were during the Civil Rights Movement.   

To the history that Reverend Lawson has made, I just am so inspired by the way that in the 1950s and 1960s these churches throughout the former Confederacy where the right to vote was under attack, where civil rights were under attack, unlike any other place perhaps in this country, it was those faith leaders and those congregants who came together and did the most extraordinary things. The marches sometimes straight into jail, oftentimes by children who were younger than my own, children, it’s their sacrifice and service that we’ve inherited and that we must make the most of or lose right now. I agree with you <looking at Sloan>, it is that urgent, and that much of a make-or-break moment for our state, and I would argue, for our country.