Freedom Writer's activist profiles demonstrate how "ordinary folks" can fight for democracy and take a stand against the Radical Religious Right. By letting their voices be heard, these ordinary folks become extraordinary folks. This month's activist profile focuses on two extraordinary Texans, David and Jo Martin.
Dave, 59, and Jo, 57, are married, have three sons and two grandchildren. Dave and Chris, the oldest son, operate Global Asset Recovery, a home-based business machine recycling company. Located in Houston, they liquidate equipment from large firms that are upgrading or closing down. They refurbish the equipment — mostly computers, their area of expertise — and resell them.
While all that sounds ordinary enough, the Martins are passionate about their work as activists. "Mainly we have tried to inform people, particularly here in Houston, and all around Texas," they told Freedom Writer. The Martins think that most Americans really have no understanding of the agenda and power of the Radical Religious Right. "There is not a total awareness of what is going on," they said.
One reason for that, according to Jo, is that people don't have time to read all the available materials about the hard right. "Some don't seem to care to know!" she quipped. "But," she added, "I think we've had a little bit of success with people here in Texas," Jo said.
Though the Martins toil solely as a couple, they named their group Pro-S.O.C.S., an acronym for "pro-separation of church and state." The goals of the Radical Religious Right are theocratic, and hopefully, once the public becomes aware of that, the Martins say, the public will reject that agenda.
Fighting the hard right seems like an unlikely venture for two Episcopalian, conservative Republicans who served as delegates to the Texas state convention in 1992. In fact, Jo's parents were FDR Democrats, but Jo became a Goldwater Republican. Then, while living in Garland, Texas, the couple worked to help elect Richard Nixon in 1968.
After arriving in Houston, David and Jo thought it might be fun to get involved in precinct politics. So, in 1992 they went to a precinct convention. Hardly anyone showed up, and the two volunteered to go as delegates to the district convention.
The Republican district convention was held at the Moore High School auditorium. Noisy and bustling with activity, children were running around performing errands for the adults. "It was like a Brown Shirt meeting!" Jo said. "Almost everyone was rabid about gays and abortion. The rhetoric was mean-spirited and religiously driven. We're strongly prochoice, and this shocked us." David was so upset that he — much to Jo's embarrassment — walked up the aisle doing the Nazi salute to the participants. "And nobody seemed to mind!" Jo added. "David and I left," Jo said, "realizing we were powerless to bring sanity to the group."
After that fateful meeting, the Martins decided to find out what was going on by starting their own investigation. They started attending Republican committee meetings, and meetings at people's homes, to learn more about this movement that was trying to take over the Republican Party. "Finally," Jo said, "David decided that we should start Pro-S.O.C.S. He thought we should be called something."
Before long, the Martins were in touch with other activists, such as Kathy Frasca in San Diego, Jerry Sloan in Sacramento, and Jody Ripper in Des Moines. Soon, they were reading Freedom Writer, and then bought Russ Bellant's books.
Now, the Martins spend hours reading and conducting their own research. Because there are many people who are concerned about the Radical Religious Right, but don't have the time to delve too deeply, the Martins digest as much information they can, then pass it on in summary form.
For example, the Martins recently self-published a 32-page booklet they call "Cliff Notes on the Right." "It's a digest of stuff for people who don't have time to read a lot of material," Jo said. "It's an overview of the hard right. I wrote a historical background piece, and David did an editorial about the possible outcome if the Radical Religious Right's agenda is ever totally successful. It's a guide, a tool." ("Cliff Notes on the Right" is available from Pro-S.O.C.S. for $3.00.)
The Martins share their information with many groups, including the Texas Freedom Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Planned Parenthood, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Institute for First Amendment Studies.
Sometimes they learn of upcoming Radical Religious Right activity in time to challenge it. For instance, David picked up something on the Internet about an anti-environment meeting coming up in Austin. Rep. Helen Chenowith (R-ID) was scheduled to speak. The Martins alerted Cecille Richards of the Texas Freedom Alliance. "She went in there and challenged them," Jo said. "It made the Austin papers."
The Martins think that the power structure of the Republican Party is not democratic. "For instance," Jo said, "Because of his stand on affirmative action and choice, Colin Powell would have never been allowed to run as a Republican."
Last year Jo and Dave were instrumental in starting a Houston chapter of Americans United. Jo serves as secretary for the group, and adds, "Charlotte Coffelt really got it organized."
When asked what it takes to be an activist, Jo replied: "An understanding of religious philosophy and how it has historically affected political movements. Religion has always been used in politics."
Jo suggested that would-be activists are going to have to read a lot. "And process reasoning helps a great deal," she said, "so you don't get into emotional issues and get burned out. You have to have an attitude that nothing is really sacred."
"Don't get faith and dogma confused," she emphasized. "This stuff is dogma; it has nothing to do with faith. Faith is important, so be very careful not attack a person's faith. Make clear that is the dogma you disagree with, not faith."
"The more we know about them, the better equipped we are to defeat them," Jo said. "We must ask them hard questions; and ask in a way that they don't suspect where we're going with the questions." Also, "The more radical and outspoken the Religious Right gets, the more they're going to defeat themselves."
For moderates to win this battle, the Martins maintain that "we must appear as a united front. We just can't have territorialism."
"To stick it out for the long term, maintaining a sense of humor is the best advice I can offer," Jo said. "Keep contact with, and network with, other people. It's nice to call up a friend who knows what you're talking about. It's not good to talk about this with anyone who doesn't know what your talking about. And avoid elitists who don't care at all about these issues."
Contact David and Jo Martin at Pro-S.O.C.S., 9306 Triola, Houston, TX 77036-6056. Phone: (713) 772-4249. Fax: (713) 772-8839. Email: email@example.com.