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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Texas politician Beto O’Rourke speaks at Northwestern College Democrats fall speaker event

ORourke+served+in+the+House+of+Representatives+from+2013+to+2019.
Jacob Wendler/Daily Senior Staffer
O’Rourke served in the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019.

Texas politician Beto O’Rourke discussed his campaign experiences, how to remain hopeful while fighting for political change and the state of Texas politics Tuesday evening in front of more than 200 attendees at the Northwestern College Democrats’ fall speaker event in Norris University Center. 

SESP Prof. Tabitha Bonilla moderated the discussion and asked O’Rourke, a former representative of Texas’ 16th Congressional District, questions submitted by students. 

O’Rourke gave up his seat in the House of Representatives in 2018 to challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for his seat in the Senate. He then sought the Democratic nomination for President in 2020 and subsequently challenged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, losing to the Republican by 11 percentage points.

O’Rourke said the key to success is meeting people where they are and talking about issues that affect their daily lives. He also discussed the necessity of grassroots campaign efforts and campaigning in places that politicians often ignore.

“If I need a boost or a shot in the arm, just getting out there and knocking on doors is so helpful to me,” O’Rourke said. “What I learned is that when I stopped talking and started listening, I became a much more effective candidate.”  

O’Rourke centered Texas in his remarks and encouraged students to look to the state as a place to significantly improve the lives of others through activism. He said Texas is an “exciting, diverse, electrifying” state that is not accurately represented by its elected officials. 

The politician also pushed back against the idea that young people are “tomorrow’s leaders,” arguing they are already fighting for political change. He encouraged students to become further involved in public service by running for office –– even if timing or circumstances are not ideal. 

“What I think I learned too late in life is that as a young person, you’re conditioned to wait your turn,” O’Rourke said. “There will never be the perfect time to run for office.” 

Bienen and Communication freshman Lili Bannister had the opportunity to meet O’Rourke before the event. 

Bannister said she asked him about the logistics of talking to people from different political backgrounds. 

“He talked about how he obviously goes door to door and really talks to people and levels with them,” Bannister said. “I think we can take a lot from that … coming to people and hearing their story, and even if you know they’re not going to agree with you, still talking to them.” 

NU College Democrats co-president and Medill senior Anna Lansford said she hopes the event encouraged students to get excited about politics, especially in swing states and states that are historically more conservative.

As the 2024 election approaches, Lansford said O’Rourke’s perspective was particularly timely. She cited his work with Powered by People — a hybrid political action committee he founded in 2019 to support Democratic candidates through voter registration and engagement — as one of many ways O’Rourke aligns with NU College Democrats’ mission.

“We chose Beto because we think that he’s a really impressive political figure, and he’s galvanized a lot of support for Democrats, both when he ran and then also in his current nonprofit work,” Lansford said. 

While maintaining steady optimism about the future, O’Rourke also looked to the past, drawing inspiration from Texas politicians such as Ann Richards and Lyndon B. Johnson as well as civil rights activists like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr.

He said it is the responsibility of today’s activists to build upon what past generations have achieved.

“I fear the judgment of my kids and history,” O’Rourke said. “The world, and history, and future generations are watching.”

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