Former United States Rep. Beto O’Rourke spoke to Las Cruces locals at New Mexico State University on Friday, Oct. 20, at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts. The event provided an opportunity for students to meet the former congressman as he discussed his new book, “We’ve Got to Try: How the Fight for Voting Rights Makes Everything Else Possible.” The event was part of the Nelson-Boswell Reading Series, which was inspired by two former NMSU professors.
During the event, which was free and open to the public, O’Rourke gave his opinion on significant problems in the United States, including racism and women’s rights. The audience appeared engaged as O’Rourke gave his speech and discussed a range of controversial topics. While most of the audience members were older, many students were also present and seemed to take an interest in what the politician had to say.
“I thought his arrival was really important,” said NMSU student Joshua Jaeger. “He gave an excellent speech about what he wants all Americans to keep fighting for every day, no matter their political identity. He had a good message, and he told excellent stories about the fight for civil rights in El Paso.”
O’Rourke, who was a U.S. presidential candidate in 2020, shared sobering words regarding the history of discrimination and voting rights across the country.
“The legislature, dominated by Democrats, passed a bill signed by the governor that outlaws voting by African Americans in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said. “In black and white, it said if you’re black then you can’t vote.”
When discussing racism in Texas, O’Rourke gave an inspiring speech about the former coach of the Texas Western College basketball team, Don Haskins. Before the school changed its name to the University of Texas at El Paso, Haskins led the men’s basketball team to win the 1966 NCAA March Madness Tournament with an all-black starting lineup. This was the first time this had ever been done, and O’Rourke made sure to mention its importance during his speech.
“By 1966, his team had made it all the way to the NCAA Men’s National Championship game against the University of Kentucky,” O’Rourke said. “Kentucky, like every other team at the time, featured an all-white starting lineup. Haskins put an all-black starting five on the court, and they ended up winning the game.”
As a native El Pasoan, O’Rourke used Haskin’s example to show how the Las Cruces and El Paso populations can make small changes that combat bigger problems like racism.
O’Rourke used his time at NMSU to discuss a variety of topics, but the main attraction of the event was his most recent publication. In O’Rourke’s second book, he explores the threat to U.S. democracy by diving into Texans’ struggle for voting rights.
O’Rourke has visited multiple colleges around the nation, including Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, and UTEP, among others.
His books can be purchased at Walmart, Target and Barnes & Noble. For more information on O’Rourke’s political journey, visit his official website at betoorourke.com.