Activist Brandon Wolf on the Pulse Massacre and Finding a Sense of Belonging

Hosted and produced by Morris Haywood

In this podcast, ACCENT’s Morris Haywood sits down with Brandon Wolf, an LQBTQ+ advocate and survivor of the Orlando Nightclub shooting, to talk about humanizing marginalized experiences, gun safety reform, and recent Florida legislature prohibiting instruction of sexual orientation.

Listen to the full podcast on our Anchor page.

“All the moments you think you earned your place can be ripped away,” said Wolf, “part of me wanted to find a place that would see me.”

This podcast was recorded in May of 2022.

Q & A with State Representative Gina Hinojosa

By Pete Ramirez

Edited by Angelica Ruzanova and Ky Duffey

The Texas State Legislature is not currently in session but that doesn’t mean State Representatives are not working. ACCENT’s Editor-in-Chief, Pete Ramirez, recently had the opportunity to chat with Texas State Representative Gina Hinojosa of District 49 which covers a large portion of central Austin.

In their conversation, they discussed a wide range of topics affecting Texans such as how families of transgender people are dealing with the increased scrutiny from the governor, climate change, abortion restriction and why young people shouldn’t lose hope in democracy. 

Read the entire conversation below.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Pete Ramirez (PR): Can you tell us about yourself?

Rep. Gina Hinojosa (RGH): I’m in my third term at the Texas House so I’m in my sixth year. I’m running for reelection. I have a Republican opponent in the November election. 

I was on the school board for one term before I ran for the House. I was president of the Austin ISD school board.

I ran for the school board because my son’s school was going to be closed along with a bunch of other inner-city schools and I got angry and decided to run. 

I’m a lawyer and I represented employees in discrimination cases.

I’m originally from South Texas. From the valley- Brownsville. I went to public school down there and then I came to UT in Austin and I’ve been here ever since except when I went to D.C. to attend law school at George Washington National Law Center.

I’m also married with two boys.

PR: Can you give us a quick rundown on the Texas Legislature and your duties as a State Representative?

RGH: We meet every two years here in the Capitol.

We get paid $600 per month so it is not a salary that many people can live off of and most legislatures have other jobs to support themselves and their families. As a result, it limits who can run because most people can’t take six months off every two years to come to Austin and work. I’m able to because I live here.

We are required to pass a budget for the state every session. Other than that, it’s just whatever is the agenda that the Speaker and Governor set. 

We file our own bills. I’ve focused a lot on public education, environmental issues, renewable energy issues and efforts to combat climate change as well as reproductive health and corporate reform issues.

The thing about being in the House, is you’ve got to know about everything. Every issue you can think of comes before us. I only have a staff of three and we often feel like we are just inundated with policy issues to work on. Also, a lot of the policy issues we have to work on are unfortunately made up by politicians. 

Right now we’ve spent a lot of time trying to protect the kids and families of kids who are transgender because the Governor has decided that Child Protective Services is going to investigate them and threaten to take them away from their families. I have constituents who are scared so they reach out to me.

But there are always these emergencies that are created by our statewide politicians for political reasons and the result is that we don’t get to focus on the things that really matter to Texans.

PR: What is the job like in between sessions and how do you help constituents during this time?

RGH: A lot of it is informal so really every legislature’s job is going to look different. 

For me, with the example of the transgender kids, we’ve reached out to lawyers and advocates to get resources to families, educate families about what to do if CPS shows up at their door and expose the problems that are not being dealt with.

One of the hardest things about this issue is people are terrified to speak up and be public because they don’t want to lose their kids. They are afraid.

We have a responsibility to tell their story. To fight on their behalf against this.

PG: It’s a midterm year. You are up for reelection along with all other State Representatives.  How important is voting to you?

RGH: It really is the foundation of all of our rights, to vote, right? I mean that’s how we hold the government accountable. Government has enormous influence and say over every individual’s life and if we’re not a government by the people then we are living in something that is not a democracy but something that is closer to having a king or a dictator.

Voting is everything and because when more people don’t vote, the government doesn’t work as well as it should. Because more people don’t vote we have politicians who get elected by what is just a small fraction of the population and it’s typically more far-right and far-left because a lot of these races are determined in primaries that happen in March.  While we need more people voting in November, the turnout in these March primary elections is so abysmally low that it’s just a small sliver of the population that is deciding who will represent us.

We’re so gerrymandered where Democrats are packed into these districts, Republicans are packed into these districts that even though most people pay attention to the November races, most of it is baked in March.

Now, in the race for governor, that’s not the case. That’s a state-wide race. Attorney General, U.S. Senators and all other statewide races are open to the entire state to vote on those.

[Voting] is everything and we saw in the last election that lots of people who voted by mail had their ballots rejected.

 And I mean, an unprecedented amount of ballots were rejected because of the new voter suppression law/anti-voter law that was passed during the special session. The one we broke quorum to try to fight against and get Congress to pass some comprehensive voting rights protections. They didn’t do it and we ended up with a bad anti-voter bill and we saw that lots of people were disenfranchised this last election as a result.

PR: Why is it important for young voters to participate in elections?

RGH: Well, let’s talk about climate change. 

Young voters are going to deal with the impacts of a warming planet far more than older people are, right? Young people are likely to be around a lot longer.

The policies that we enact today are a result of who you vote for and what you tell politicians you expect from them in order to earn your vote. That’s going to be affecting you for the rest of your life.

Also, data shows young people are not voting their numbers and so the concerns of young people are not front and center for many politicians.

I’ll give you an example: I had a bill that would’ve required a polling place to be on the campus of every large university.

I couldn’t even get a hearing on that bill because the committee chair didn’t care. She wasn’t afraid of the young people in her district.

Votes move politicians. You’re supposed to be responsive to your people. If people don’t vote, politicians aren’t going to care what they think.

You can have all the data in the world and it doesn’t hurt but if you don’t have the votes to back that up, you’re not going to move policy because politicians don’t do something just because it’s the right thing to do. I know that’s shocking but that’s not what moves politicians.

PR: What is your view on the abysmal voter turnout during midterm elections and primaries and what are you and the Democratic party doing to turn that around?

RGH: Right now we have to find a way to tap back into people’s hope for a better tomorrow. We’ve all been so beat down by the pandemic by the ugliness of politics, with the insurrection and Donald Trump as president. Just the nastiness of politics. 

I do worry that people won’t feel the hope that we need to inspire us to go out and vote and think that we can change things. We need to figure out how to talk about policy in a way that gets people excited about what we do so that people want to engage.

If you think about climate change, for instance. There’s a depressing issue for most people. It feels overwhelming and hopeless, right?

What gives me hope about that is that we spent a year doing research on climate change. What we found is that Texas really is the problem and solution when we are looking at things at a national level. We create more methane emissions and more CO2 emissions than any other state by far but we have the largest wind energy sector and we have the fastest-growing solar energy sector.

So there is all this innovation happening in Texas but we are also a big contributor to the problem. We here as Texans hold a lot of the cards to fix this problem and it is fixable. It’s fixable in ways that are not so extreme.

There are things we can do that wouldn’t impact our daily lives at all that would have a significant impact on global warming. 

We try to educate people. I think if we can get the information that we have out to the public they may feel like maybe it’s not as hopeless as they feel it is.

PR: What are your thoughts on SB-1 (Texas’ new restrictive voting rights law) and do you think it has made it more challenging for Texans to vote?

RGH: Yes, it has. It’s also scared a lot of Texans. We talked about the vote-by-mail problem where ballots were rejected.

We also have a problem that we have lost constituents to work our polling places to be what’s called election judges because we now have criminal penalties that penalize honest mistakes and people are afraid. As a result, you might’ve seen on social media places that said “only Democrats can vote here” or “only Republicans can vote here” because we didn’t have enough precinct judges. They’re the people who sit at the table, check your voter card and send you to the next volunteer. 

Citizens make our elections work and when they are afraid to participate our elections don’t work.

We saw very troubling problems and barriers during the primary elections and when you have, in November, more than twice as many people voting, it’s going to be that much more impacted. We need to get everyone educated and comfortable with our new system. We’re working in my office to try to explain what are the changes and what people need to know in order to feel confident about participating.

Another example is people are afraid to register voters because they’re afraid they are going to do something wrong and will be charged with doing something illegal.

We need people to understand you can still register voters. Those penalties aren’t on the people, they are on the government.

It’s going to take community partners to get out the word and educate people about what the law is so they can feel comfortable about participating.

There is so much opportunity to get students at ACC engaged in policy and voting and politics. I think it’s an exciting prospect.

PR: There’s been an obvious recent surge of right-wing policies being implemented in Texas such as the near-total abortion ban. How do you feel about this and what gives you hope about the future of Texas and the Democratic party? 

RGH: Well, you all.

The young people give me hope. We need you all.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

My whole life abortion has been legal. Y’alls whole life abortion has been legal. What’s it going to be like when it’s not? Are y’all going to allow for this to happen? 

Where you can’t make these basic decisions about your body or about your family. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. There’s not an exception for when a woman is pregnant with a fetus that is not viable.

Are we really now going to tell women, ‘no, we’re going to force you to go through nine months of pregnancy for a baby that will not live’? That’s what our law says now.

Are we really just going to take that? I think it’s an extreme attack on our human rights and I can’t believe that in this country, given our experience with freedom, we’re going to tolerate it.

My hope is that y’all rise up and organize and say absolutely not. Change who is in power to change the laws.

All it takes is for young people to vote. 

PR: If ACC students want to get more involved with local government or activism, what advice would you give them?

RGH: Whatever is your passion, there is a group for you to get engaged with on policy issues. Google it or call my office and we’ll connect you to some group.

It’s about showing up. 

If you care about something, show up to those meetings. You get to know people who are making things happen and you become one of those people making things happen. At first, you may feel uncomfortable and you may not know what’s going on but eventually, you’ll catch on and you can be part of the change.

PR: Anything you would like to say before we wrap this up?

RGH: I think it would be super cool if ACC did a town hall on voting or engaging students. Even to have members of the Texas House Delegation hear what are the issues y’all care about.

It’s so important that we hear from you and know what are your hopes, dreams and struggles and how can we help with them.

UT Students Seek Help From ACC With Community Outreach Initiative

The student-led Texas Civic Impact Council needs help from Austin Community College and other Austin area colleges to shine a light on socio-economic opportunities for the community ahead of a major transit infrastructure project.

Written by Ky Duffey

Edited by Pete Ramirez

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist and author.

Mead’s exemplary words are not lost on Vaishnav Kuruvanka and Ruth Mewhinney, two University of Texas-Austin students and co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council (TCIC). TCIC is a student-led organization that strives to bring the community together by engaging college students to work as a team to solve social issues.

Sponsored by Promoting Education Across the Country (PEAC), a platform that supports youth entrepreneurs at the community level, TCIC aims to be a bridge for student progress on city-wide issues. 

While TCIC has made strides so far in launching social campaigns, its newest campaign is focused on Project Connect, an upcoming transit infrastructure project for the city of Austin. Find out more about TCIC and how to apply here.

The following is my recent conversation with Kuruvanka and Mewhinney about TCIC and Project Connect.

Ruth Mewhinney and Vaishnav Kuruvanka are co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council and students at the University of Texas at Austin. Their organization is looking to get ACC students involved in their work helping to shape Austin’s massive transit project known as Project Connect.

Ky Duffey (KD): Tell me about Project Connect. 

Vaishnav Kuruvanka (VR): Project Connect is a $7.1 billion investment in public transportation in Austin. There are three components to it: a light rail connecting North and South Austin, an expanded all-electric bus fleet and an underground transit tunnel that will go through downtown. The purpose is to make it easier to get around Austin through public transport. 

We at TCIC are interested in it because we see it as more than just an infrastructure investment. We see it as a way to connect Austin geographically and socially. We see it as a way to develop jobs and affordable housing. To initiate this equitable and innovative future for our city. It’s a generational opportunity. When will we see this kind of investment again?

Ruth Mewhinney (RM): If Project Connect is done well, we’ll be creating communities of opportunity in the four corridors of the city the project will engage. To make projects like this work, we need community engagement to make sure community priorities relate to public policy. We recognize this as an amazing opportunity, and our job is to amplify community voices. We want to serve as an accountability check for Project Connect and what it can do for the citizens of Austin. 

So basically, how can the infrastructure in Austin, the fastest growing city in America, bring opportunity for us to connect statewide and nationally.

KD: How did TCIC come about?

VR: TCIC is a chapter of a non-profit called PEAC. PEAC has one main goal: getting young people involved in solving social issues. 

When I moved to Austin, I noticed there were so many great students here yet they weren’t all working together on issues they commonly deal with. So I decided to get a bunch of diverse students together to see how we can tackle common issues. 

I met Ruth in 2019 and we worked to build TCIC from the ground up. TCIC’s goal is to connect students to the city of Austin and take an interdisciplinary approach to solving social issues. We represent 9 colleges on campus and two representatives on the council from each college.

KD: Your goal is to get college students across Austin involved as well through fellowships. Tell me about those.

RM: To be a council member in TCIC, you have to be a student at UT, but we wanted to make sure TCIC is not just representative of UT students, but any young person in Austin. 

So TCIC is leading a student-led, grassroots community engagement along key Project Connect corridors. There are three ways for students across Austin to get involved. 

We have community engagement fellows who are leading that boots on the ground engagement. 

We have data fellows who are cataloging and analyzing that data. 

And we have design fellows who are taking all these data and stories and turning them into the written content we’ll present to the City of Austin and Project Connect leadership.

VK: The main goals of our fellowships are to strengthen the connection between Austin residents and city leaders, getting people across Austin to work together from City Council, company leaders, and community members. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is called Project Connect, I think there is an opportunity to connect Austin here in a deep and meaningful way, and students are a very important part of that opportunity. 

This isn’t a UT Austin issue, this is an Austin issue, so we welcome students from across the city to join us.

Texas Civic Impact Council members pose for a picture in downtown Austin. Photo provided by TCIC’s Instagram account @peac.tcic.

KD: How can students in Austin apply?

VK: We have a simple application at www.bit.ly/tcicfellowship

You don’t have to have a lot of skills to get involved in this project, you just need an interest and passion for serving your community. No matter whether you’re an undergrad or grad student, all are welcome.

RM: TCIC is student-led and student-built so come on board! We need numbers to do community engagement.

VK: The community engagement fellows are the lifeblood of our project. If we don’t have a lot of students out there connecting with the community, we can’t get the data to present to community leaders. 

So we need a lot of people who can be boots on the ground.

RM: We’re the only program that is entirely student-run. You may see other programs similar to us, but they aren’t doing it like us. Student-led!


Find more information about Project Connect here.

Engaging with your community, especially at the college level, not only provides an opportunity for you to be a voice for those who are usually ignored within our neighborhoods. It’s also an opportunity to show desired transfer universities and future employers your efforts to make the world a little better. 

Young people across the country normally feel that their voices are not taken seriously. This initiative is a chance to highlight voices that have been drowned out in the past. 

Do your city and yourself proud. Join TCIC to connect with others around Austin fighting to make this city’s future equitable and enjoyable for all.

How To Register To Vote


It’s 2022 which means another midterm election is upon us. While President Biden won’t be on the ballot this year, his ability to further his plans and agenda will be at stake. It is our responsibility as engaged citizens to ensure our voices are heard at the ballot box. 

Story by Ky Duffey

Edited by Pete Ramirez

How Do I Register to Vote?

Voter registration is simple for those who have not yet registered. All you need to do is:

  1. Meet the requirements listed below 
  2. Complete a voter registration application
  3. Submit your completed application to your county election office no later than 30 days prior to the election date

However, if you want to vote in the Texas state primary elections for statewide positions on March 1, 2022, you will need to submit the application by Monday, January 31, 2022

In order to register to vote in the State of Texas, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Be a resident of the county where you submit the application
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old, and you are 18 years of age on Election Day.
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation and parole)
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
People casting their ballots in a row, each covered by privacy cubicles.
Voters casting their votes on Election Day. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

What Are Midterm Elections?

They are called “midterm” because they happen in the middle of a presidential term. 

Apart from the general and special elections, the midterm election refers to the type of election where the people are given an opportunity to elect their congressional representatives and other subnational officeholders such as the governor and members of the local council. 

Every two years, every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is up for re-election. In the Senate, Senators serve 6-year terms. This year, a little over a third of the Senate is up for re-election, with 14 Democratic Senators as well as 20 Republican Senators. 

Both Texas Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn will not be up for re-election this year. 

Because most states schedule state elections along the same lines as Congressional elections, Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, and members of the state Legislature will be on the ballot this year. 

It is essential that you research more on which members at the state level will be seeking re-election as well as the state laws that will be up for a public vote at the ballot box.

Governor Greg Abbott is up for re-election this year. His primary challenger is former US Representative, Beto O’Rourke SOURCE

Why are Midterm Elections Important?

In order for a President to enact an agenda, they need a majority vote in both the House and Senate. Without a majority, much of a President’s agenda can be stalled or blocked completely, which can affect the administration’s standing among the public. 

If a President has a majority of members of their own party in the House and Senate, that President has a better chance of delivering on their campaign promises. 

Unlike the President, the House and Senate are voted in by popular vote. Depending on which party you support, your participation in midterm elections can determine which laws make it to the President’s desk or not.

When Are The Midterm Elections?

The midterms will take place on November 8, 2022

As a resident of Texas, you’ll be able to vote for your respective House Representative, the Governor and certain state Legislature members as well as any laws that may be up for a public vote in your area. 

Use this link to find who represents you in the House of Representatives.

Use this link to find out who represents you in the state Legislature.

Call your county election office for further questions or concerns about this year’s elections.

The late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis once said, “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”