VOCAL-TX is building a movement of low-income people dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and homelessness across the country. We fight for systemic change rooted in justice, compassion, and love. We approach this work with a firm belief in reducing harm and ending stigma, and the knowledge that the issues impacting our communities are driven by institutional oppression, not personal failings.
VOCAL Texas (VOCAL-TX) was formed by building off the community organizing project of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA). Founded by Mark Kinzly and Joy Rucker, THRA emerged in 2019 in response to unprecedented opioid overdose rates and apparent statewide need for harm reduction policy advocacy, education, and capacity building for direct services. THRA quickly became the primary syringe services provider in Austin, Texas and a leading voice fighting for systemic changes on the state and local levels. THRA successfully led a campaign to divest from law enforcement and reallocate funding for harm reduction services, served on the Reimagine Public Safety Taskforce, and helped drastically reduce low-level drug prosecutions in Austin.
In March of 2022 – building on years of successful advocacy work and recognizing the need for grassroots organizing – THRA launched an organizing project, modeled after VOCAL-NY. THRA adopted large parts of VOCAL-NY’s community organizing model: base building at methadone clinics, encampments, soup kitchens, homeless service providers, and building a strong team of community leaders. In addition to local organizing, THRA continued to support an alliance of harm reductionists fighting to end overdoses in their communities across Texas. After important victories, like winning free public transportation for people experiencing homelessness and investments to end overdose deaths in Austin, the organizing project spun off to become VOCAL-TX.
VOCAL-TX joins VOCAL-KY as a new state chapter, modeled after VOCAL-NY, which was founded in 1999. VOCAL-NY and VOCAL-KY have saved and improved the lives of countless New Yorkers and Kentuckians, and we’re excited to support Texans to step into that same power.
Our model of movement building draws inspiration from three traditions:
TRADITIONAL COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZING
DIRECT-ACTION AIDS ACTIVISM
BLACK-LED SOCIAL MOVEMENTS FOR RACIAL JUSTICE
Before organizing at VOCAL-NY, Paulette worked at MFY Legal Services where she organized tenants precariously housed in “three-quarter houses.” She also worked as a union organizer, organizing graduate employees at the United Auto Workers-Region 9A and car wash workers at Make the Road New York. Paulette holds an M.A. from the CUNY Graduate Center and B.A. from Gonzaga University.
Originally from CA by way of NC, Cate moved to Austin in 2011. Long before then, their experiences with using drugs and overdose inevitably led them to harm reduction. After earning a MPAff/MSSW, Cate worked for Mental Health America of Texas during the 2015 legislative session. That year, they helped pass SB 1462, the bill that expanded access to naloxone across Texas. In 2016, they were awarded a Fulbright research award to study Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy. For over a decade in Austin, they have organized their community to fight for abolition, harm reduction, and racial justice.