Gathered with the League of Women Voters of Corpus Christi on Thursday evening, keynote speaker Maggie Peacock asked the crowd to share what gives them hope.
“You,” was the resounding response from the audience, a crowd primarily older than Peacock, a climate and social justice activist and student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Peacock had just shared many sobering facts about the climate crisis and its relation to other social issues, and noted the toll that advocacy work can take on mental health.
But young people give her hope, Peacock said.
“We are strong and we are resilient and we fight because if we want to grow old in a safe, secure, clean future, we have to fight,” Peacock said.
Peacock was the keynote speaker of the League of Women Voters of Corpus Christi’s Women’s Equality Day celebration. The League aims to engage more young people in democracy and in the community.
The event marks the 103rd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Peacock noted that this victory for suffragists occurred after generations of women’s advocacy, including legal challenges and civil disobedience and peaceful protest.
“Leading up to the passage of the 19th amendment, police arrested more than 200 women in front of the White House for obstructing traffic,” Peacock said. “They were the first group to ever protest in front of the White House.”
Peacock describes this protest, which included thousands of women over the course of 1917, as a tipping point in the struggle for women’s rights. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.
But this wasn’t the end, Peacock said.
“The women’s suffrage movement enabled most white women to vote, but that wasn’t the case for many women of color,” Peacock said.
Though the 15th Amendment previously granted Black men the right to vote in 1870, Black voters were kept from exercising their rights through poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation for generations, until the 24th Amendment prohibiting poll taxes in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But today, Peacock said, there are still roadblocks that make it more difficult for marginalized communities to vote. Peacock pointed to a lack of online voter registration, limits to mail-in voting, long lines at polling places and voter ID laws as factors that making voting less accessible.
Peacock came to Corpus Christi to study environmental science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. But in 2021, Peacock was living with her family in North Texas.
During the winter storm that year, her family had no heat, electricity or running water. A year later during her first year of college, her family had to evacuate due to wildfires. Soon after, there was a tornado warning in her community.
Her own family was lucky, Peacock said, because their home was spared. Others weren’t. Peacock continued to list recent headlines from across the country and world of severe weather and climate crises – wildfires, tropical storms and fish kills.
“There’s tipping points all around us,” Peacock said.
A constant theme in Peacock’s remarks was intersectionality. Peacock noted that marginalized communities are more vulnerable to extreme weather. Women, Peacock said, are more likely to be climate refugees, are less likely to survive disasters and face higher rates of gender-based violence after a disaster.
Peacock was introduced by another Corpus Christi resident, Armon Alex, who ran for a seat on Corpus Christi City Council last year. Together, Alex and Peacock co-founded the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit. The pair also collaborated on a TEDx talk in 2021.
The Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit aims to bring together young people from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba to engage with each other and experts on preservation of the Gulf.
“We want to help young people create climate action plans in each of their communities,” Peacock said.
Currently, the group has had participation from young people in the U.S. and Mexico, but is still working to expand into every state bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. Much of the current growth has been in the Coastal Bend.
“Everything that we’re seeing and all the decisions that are being made today are ultimately going to impact us and our livelihoods,” Peacock said. “We need to institutionalize youth engagement.”