Feature, Team

How to Testify


by: Alex Meed

photos from: Alex Meed; Texas Senate video feed

A loud, insistent series of beeps jolts me awake. Its source is my phone, where the numbers “5:30” appear in the corner of the tiny screen. My hands and feet move faster than my brain as I wash my face, comb my hair, don my suit, and scarf down a hasty breakfast before bolting out the door.

But this isn’t a tournament weekend, it’s a Thursday. My speech teammates are fast asleep, my Persuasive Speaking handouts left behind in my room. And a bit under two hours after I awoke, I would step through the North Entrance of the Texas Capitol.

On February 2, 2017, alongside hundreds of my fellow Texans, I testified against SB 4, a bill to ban sanctuary cities and revoke their state grant funding. It was my first ever time testifying—and it was exciting, nerve-racking, and thrilling all at once. I wanted to talk about my experiences, in the hopes that more of you will seek to replicate them.

I first heard about SB 4 when it showed up on my Facebook feed. I’d been following the case of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who’d been embroiled in a fierce debate over her own sanctuary city policies. But when I saw that SB 4 was scheduled for a hearing, and how many people were planning to testify, I figured I’d add my own voice.

I decided to testify a few days before the hearing. On Tuesday evening, I started piecing together my testimony. I finished it up on Wednesday, printed it out, practiced a couple of times, and then went to sleep.

When I walked into the Capitol and found the Senate Chamber, one thing struck me: the crowd was massive. At 7:30a, an hour before the hearing, the second floor rotunda was already packed with people. And, reassuringly enough, many were against the bill. Those who testified during the hearing represented a vast cross-section of Texas, from immigration attorneys to members of the clergy to people who were themselves undocumented. Eventually, at around 1:15p, after I had heard so many people telling their stories and making their arguments, it was my turn.


I was a bit caught off guard when I was called. I didn’t have time to gather my notes before the committee chairman told me to begin. Fortunately, I already had a case planned out in my head, so I began along that course. My one-and-a-half minutes of testimony were short, and yet another drop in the bucket of testimony that would drench the committee. But even though I was trembling with nervousness—after all, I was seated before some of the most powerful people in Texas—I was glad to be making my case, and speaking on behalf of a cause I believed in.


cropped still frame from official hearing livestream, at timestamp 4:39:33

Despite our best efforts—and overwhelming opposition—SB 4 passed the committee later that evening on party lines, 7–2. That came as no surprise. Neither did its passage through the full Senate the following Wednesday. I’ve never subscribed to the delusion that stopping this bill would be easy, or that testifying would be sufficient. But I wanted to make sure that I helped amplify the voices of the most vulnerable of us all, of those whom SB 4 would marginalize. And even though the members of the committee in the end didn’t listen to our concerns, I wanted to make sure they heard us anyway.

A democracy requires that we, as citizens, speak up. There are many ways to do so, and testifying is only one of them. The resistance against a Trump and Abbott administration will force us to raise our voices and demand that those elected to represent us actually do so. Because even if they cover our ears and pretend to ignore us, they’re listening—and if they don’t listen to our words, they’ll listen to our votes.

Stay engaged. Stay informed. Texas Fight.

You can read my written testimony or watch my oral testimony (timestamp 4:38:30; Flash required). If you’re interested in testifying, I’ve published a comprehensive guide on how to do so.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Texas Speech team.

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Deregulating Democracy: Why Laissez Faire Capitalism and Stable Democracy Are Mutually Exclusive Ideologies

statue of liberty

by: Maxim Belov 

photos from: Getty Images 

Contrary to popular belief, the United States was not always a democracy. The American Gilded Age, lasting from 1870 to 1900, was dominated by robber barons like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Rothschild. The nation was run by one unopposed political party and guided by the wealthiest twenty individuals. The problems began around 1870, when the United States ventured an attempt at capitalism but failed to stop wealth moguls from hijacking American politics then crushing democracy. It took half a century to liberate America’s democratic system through careful economic regulations. For American politics to remain democratic, the United States needs to maintain regulations over its economic institutions.

Capitalism, at its core, is a system which encourages actors to invest their assets and turn a profit. Early pioneers of political economy believed the best approach to capitalism is one without regulation. Understandably so, from the economist’s perspective, granting entrepreneurs the ability to respond freely as markets fluctuate is critical to rapid economic growth. However, in a free environment, entrepreneurs will hunt for every possible advantage, manipulate the system, liquidate competitors, and establish sole-propriety over entire industries if left unchecked. In short, the natural tendency of unregulated capitalists is to create monopolies.

Mythos surrounding capitalism and democracy often assumes both systems promote individualism, making them a good pair, but democracy does not get its strength from individualism, rather, in spite of it. The true value of democracy is its ability to unite people and achieve for the greater good what could not be done alone. Democracies thrive by keeping elected officials accountable to the people, forcing politicians to align their goals with the people’s collective desires. To continue functioning correctly, however, society relies on all politically motivated actors to protect the political system. To prevent oligarchs from usurping power, there must be a political precedent encouraging political discourse while keeping the electorate well informed. Failing these two requisites, the fine line between democracy and dictatorship is erased. When that line does disappear, power always goes to the wealthy; to those with the financial backing to subvert competition, to misinform, and to monetarily manipulate the regime. For a capitalist democracy to remain stable, the political system must keep watch over the economic system, to regulate it, and prevent monopolies from rising. When democracies fail to do so, the economic system supplants the political system.

The end goal of capitalism is to consolidate power into the hands of the few; the end goal of democracy is to disperse it among the many. For this reason, the two cannot be reconciled without economic regulation or the abandonment of democratic ideals.

Therefore, whenever any presidential administration promises deregulation will make America great or passes an executive order designed to halt creation of new regulations, they force the nation to choose between either laissez faire or democracy. If the people choose “economic freedom”, the only ones who benefit are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies at the expense of the silenced majority.

  1. “Gilded Age (1878-1889).” America’s Story. America’s Library, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/gilded/jb_gilded_subj.html>
  2. “The Trust Buster.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/43b.asp>.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Laissez-faire.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
  4. Friedman, Howard Steven. “When Capitalism Fails — The Ugly World of Monopolies.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 May 2011. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
  5. Mesquita, Bruce Bueno de, and Alastair Smith. The dictator’s handbook: why bad behavior is almost always good politics. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. Print.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Texas Speech team.

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Walk for Women


Women's March

by: Mary Claire Phillips

photos from: The Texas Democratic Party; Mary Claire Phillips

Big crowds are not my thing. I’ve been to enough Texas State Fairs and high school football games to know that when a large group comes together it usually culminates in discomfort, anxiety, and a level of familiarity with your neighbor’s moisture levels. But lately, I’ve changed my tune. It is no secret the Women’s March was big. An estimated 3.3 million people showed up in the United States, and six hundred cities held protests on all seven continents. But of those huge numbers, my mind lingers on 52,143 – the number of Texans who showed up to the State Capitol in Austin on January 21st. You know what they say- “Everything’s bigger in Texas”.

For perspective, I’m a lifelong Texan born and raised in a stereotypical Dallas suburb. In the 5th grade, my elementary school counselor told my class that being gay only meant you prefer the arts to the sports. It doesn’t take too many personal anecdotes to convey how my conservative upbringing lead to a bleak outlook on progressiveness in my home state. But twenty one years of feeling like the only liberal in a fifty mile radius melted away when I stood alongside 52,143 other angry Texans ready to fight through the Trump years. When I walked up to the Capitol grounds and sawquite literallya sea of people, the first thing I did was cry. Because this is the kind of community I was told in my youth only happened in liberal states, never Texas. The kind of community that dared to call out the sugar-coated bigotry that so often goes ignored. The kind of community that loves me no matter whom I love. But most importantly, it was a community dedicated to fighting for the rights of Trans, Black, Latinx, Muslim, Immigrant, and Women’s rights. The sort of community that made Conservative lawmakers shake in their boots as they watched us march right outside their office windows.

mary claire


It didn’t take me long to find a post on my Facebook feed declaring our little jaunt around the Capitol as a fart in the wind (to use the scientific term). The upcoming Texas Legislative Session will be a battle; there will be many losses and some prized wins. There aren’t enough synonyms for scary to describe the next four years in the Oval Office. By many metrics, there won’t be a lot of wins for progressive politics. But I’m a firm believer all politics are local. The Women’s March was not just a statement to the powers that be – it is a message to my neighbors and loved ones in my conservative hometown of Coppell, Texas. When you vote for a president who vows to strip away LGBT rights, I want you to know you’re not voting against a faceless other – you’re voting against me. Arguably, I’m not all that important. But I attended school with the most fantastic Muslim, Latinx, Black, and Immigrant friends – all of whom are bearing the burden of a presidency that threatens their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I understand there are overarching reasons for a Trump vote that do not directly involve hatred for any of these groups. But many people are scared, and you do not get to delegitimize those feelings with a call for fiscal conservatism.

For the liberal readers, it is not enough to sit and nod in agreement. If you have not marched, block walked, phone banked, voted, testified at a committee hearing, lobbied, volunteered, donated, or made any attempt to do any of the above – you have homework. Action is the only thing that makes true equality a reality, and public opinion polls don’t make history. Don’t know how to get involved? Here is a good place to start! Pick your passions, find your organization, and contribute in whatever way you can. Marches are important, but they are not the end goal. It may not be immediate, it may not be easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

The Women’s March in Austin gave me a second wind, causes to lift up, and a whole lot of hope. Some say progressives in Texas have a snowball’s chance in hell, to those critics I say – you can all go to hell, I’m going to Texas.

 flag protest

Texas fight.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Texas Speech team.

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New Student Spotlight: Dani Soibelman

Meet our 2016-2017 Junior Class

Dani picture

Name: Dani Soibelman

What made you decide to transfer to UT? 

Speech was a huge motivator, but UT is also a fantastic research institution. The College of Communication has already afforded me some wonderful opportunities in research, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now.

Oh, and the food. Austin food is dope.

Is there anything you wanted to do in 2016 that you weren’t able to accomplish? Why or why not? 

I always come to the end of each year wishing I had done more. In 2016, I wish I could have published a study I wrote, taken a road trip to anywhere, and voted. The first one didn’t happen because of bad timing, and the latter two didn’t because I’m not 18 yet (so yeah, still bad timing). But as Lin-Manuel Miranda once said, “there’s a million things I haven’t done… just you wait.”

In 15 years, where do you see yourself? 

I’m grading term papers with a calico on my lap. My other two cats sit by the window as snow falls gently outside. Reruns of “Scrubs” play in the background as I read essay after essay about Face Negotiation Theory. I’m still learning to be happy; it’s a process that never truly ends. I’m also still writing verbose nonsense about my future.

If you could only watch/compete in one event for the rest of your life, what would you choose? 

Watch: Communication Analysis. If you’ve ever seen me watch the event, you know I often have to hold myself back from snapping and “MMM”-ing like it’s a Poetry final.

Compete: Prose. Whether it’s Info, Extemp, or even a job interview, stories find themselves at the forefront of the communicative experience. Knowing how to convey narratives is a necessary and fun challenge I hope to never cease accepting.

Sum up Texas Speech in 7 words or less:

My life will never be the same.

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New Student Spotlight: Forrest Kendall

Meet our 2016-2017 Junior Class

 Forrest spotlight

Name: Forrest Kendall

What has been the weirdest thing about moving to Texas? 

The weirdest thing about Austin, is definitely the roads surrounding the freeways.

Since transferring to us, what has been your favorite thing about the team?

My favorite thing about the team is the one-on-one honest conversations that allow for people to build strong connections with teammates and coaches.

What do you want to do after you graduate? 

After I graduate, I’d like to find happiness and learn to love myself.

If you could do anything in Austin for a day, what would you choose? 

If I could do anything in Austin for a day, I’d fly some of my speech family from the California circuit out here and we would paint the town till the late AM.

Who has had the biggest influence on your speech career?

The biggest influences for me in speech career have been Kenny Klawitter and Liesel Reinhart; they introduced me to the activity, and whenever I had doubts they would always remind me that I could be better, not only in speech but also as a person.

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New Student Spotlight: Nader Syed

Meet our 2016-2017 Sophomore Class


Name: Nader Syed

What has been the coolest thing about college speech? 

I love that everyone cares about their craft. Everyone’s so invested in what they do, and I think it’s amazing.

Tell us about your dream job!

Honestly, I don’t have a straight answer for that one. Probably somewhere between an engineer and a mathematician. I can’t go into too much detail here, but there are 7 math problems- 6 now- that have never been solved, and I’ve recently been focusing on them. Plus, solving one nets you $1 million, so…

Which event do you love the most (has it changed since you started competing with us)? 

Extemp, which hasn’t changed since I started.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Why? 

Somewhere quiet, like in the countryside of Norway or Austria; maybe by the coast in Argentina or South Africa. I love the places where you can just look out and think, unburdened by deadlines or schedules.

If you had an entire weekend to binge-watch Netflix, what would you watch?

In no particular order: West Wing and Blacklist. I’m taking a break from Black Mirror because one of the episodes made my rethink my life.

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New Student Spotlight: Danielle Castillo

Meet our 2016-2017 Sophomore Class


Name: Danielle Castillo

What did you miss the most about speech? 

The one thing I missed most about speech was the community. I think having that support group that encourages you to, not only speak your mind, but advocates on your behalf while being so open is one unique aspects of this activity that has attracted me for years.

Tell us about your major!! Why did you pick it? What do you plan to do in the future?

I am a Political Communication major. I have always carried an interest in political processes, and hope to incorporate that into my career when I graduate. I plan to work cooperatively on campaigns and with politicians as a speechwriter/communication adviser.

If  you could perform any script in the world, what would it be? 

If I could perform any script in the world it would probably be Marry Poppins because it is one of my favorite childhood movies and I think with a twist it could be so interesting and fun!

What has been your favorite thing to do with the team? 

My favorite thing to do with the team is warm ups before tournaments. Warm ups ramp us up with energy, but they are also one of the only times we are all together to see what we have been working so hard on. I think it is such a privilege to work with such a diverse and talented group of individuals and I just feel so much pride and push to be better— competitively and personally. It just serves as a good reminder on why we work so hard in this activity.

If you could win an award for anything, what would you want to win it for?

If I could win an award for anything it would be for my future research in my division.

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New Student Spotlight: Sarah Courville

Meet our 2016-2017 Sophomore Class

Name: Sarah Courville

What made you decide to transfer to UT? 

I had just always loved the campus and the culture surrounding the University. When I competed in the Longhorn, I remember wandering around (I was super lost at this point) and thinking “I wanna go here.” Then when I was at my previous university, I just had to make the decision to leave because I know I wanted more out of my college.

Since you’ve moved to Austin, what has been the coolest thing you’ve done on campus?


If you could sum up speech in 7 words or less–what would it be? 

“Did you know you look like Rachel?”

Which event are you most excited to put up next? 

 I am super hype about working on duo with Forrest!

Tell us your favorite memory with the team!

On our way back from Bayou, my car was deliriously tired, but we had to keep each other awake so we played car games. Nothing was really THAT funny, but I honestly haven’t laughed so hard in a while. Exhaustion, man.

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New Student Spotlight: Maxim Belov

Meet our 2016-2017 Sophomore Class

 Maxim Name: Maxim Belov

Since you’ve moved to Austin, what is your favorite thing to do around town/campus? 

I moved to Austin in 2006, so I’ve been all over the place. The top contenders are Spiderhouse, Lake Travis and Austin, Austin Paintball, and my bed. It might go without saying that I like outdoors-y activities.

What class has been your favorite this semester?

There were a few complications caused by my transfer, so I’ve been obligated to knock out a few more core classes, which makes this an easy question to answer: Building Better Cities (GRG 302P) with Dr. Swearingen. The class is absolutely fascinating. It involves infrastructure, ecology, the equity behind resource management, and economics, all of which are some of my favorite topics (I accept I’m not the most fun person in the room at parties).

If you could work for the government for a week, what would you want to do? 

Given that I can only have a week, I would do exactly what Gallup on September 7, 2016 said 80% of Americans expect me to do: nothing meaningful. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t live up to the expectations of the American people while still acting in my own personal best interest. I would follow the Ted Cruz model for making myself a noteworthy politician and becoming a presidential hopeful; I would filibuster the Senate. It’s just so genius. Most of the senators would tune me out and my efforts wouldn’t change the course of whatever piece of legislation is on the table, but the media would eat that right up. After getting my name out there, I could leave at the end of the week and begin my campaign for real.

What has been your favorite tournament so far? 

While I hate long drives, Kansas State was by far my favorite. I mostly went to peeve my brother-in-law – who attended K-State and claims burnt orange is an ugly color – but found the setting lent itself to more opportunities to spend time with my teammates while still being a challenging tournament. Overall, it was a ton of fun and the campus looked really cool. Will I still tell him Kansas is boring? Yes. Will I be lying about that? Yes.

Are you planning on doing anything exciting for Halloween? 

I never celebrated Halloween growing up, and will be competing in Tulsa, OK. Arel tells me it’s a just a dandy place, so I’m looking forward to it. Now that I think about it, that sounds so anti-climactic… Oh well. Texas Fight!

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Freshman Spotlight: Carlos Diaz

Meet our 2016-2017 Freshmen Class


Name: Carlos Diaz

If you could have one job for 24 hours, what would you want it to be? 

Any job that can pay my four years of college in 24 hours sounds good to me.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned since coming to UT? 

It’s okay to be different! I used to worry about how others saw me, and sometimes how I saw myself. But UT has really made me realize that your differences truly make you unique, so be yourself.

Who has had the biggest influence on your speech career?

Definitely my high school speech coach, Victoria Beard. I can honestly say I would not be here if it weren’t for that woman. She helped me discover myself and for that I will be forever grateful.

Since you’ve moved to Austin, what is the coolest thing you’ve done? 

I love visiting the nature sights in Austin. My friend took me to Mt. Bonnell when I first got here and it was amazing. Can’t wait to explore the raw natural beauty of Austin in the near future.

Any big birthday plans? 

Other than catching up on my sociology readings, probably not. I’ll probably end up hanging out with my friends, which sounds like a good birthday to me.

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