Politicians, Panelists Shine at Texas Tribune

Ahnsa Campbell, Sophia Chau, and Luci Garza

In nearly 100 degree weather, with the sun beating down, lanyard-sporting Texas Tribune Festival attendees wait patiently outside panel doors, hoping for a glimpse of their favorite 2020 presidential candidates or an award-winning journalist.

The Texas Tribune Festival, run by the nonprofit media organization the Texas Tribune, focuses on politics and policy and invites a variety of speakers who work at the state and national level. This year, the festival attracted large crowds and attention because of the high-profile speakers invited.

The festival was held on Sept. 26 to 28, with Nancy Pelosi, Ted Cruz and Pete Buttigieg attending as panelists. Other politicians, commentators and analysts came from all over the country, while regular fans from Austin and states around the US made the trip to see speakers and attend panels at the festival.

Kelly Crook is a festival attendee and Austin native. She attends every year, and she said she views the Texas Tribune Festival as a way to listen to major journalists in person. She believes it is a very different experience than seeing the speakers on television.

“I have been attending every year since it started,” Crook said. “This is the one chance I get to hear all the people that I read in the newspaper and see on TV and see them up close and personal. It’s very educational.”

The festival was established nine years ago. Each year, panelists give their opinions on and analysis of a variety of topics, but they all relate in some way to current events around the globe. The festival also focuses on controversial issues taking place at the same time as the festival. Many of the panelists are urged to talk about these issues during the presentations.

Ricardo Quinto, a festival attendee who waited to see Pete Buttigieg, described how the issues covered differ from year to year. He has attended multiple years and enjoys seeing how issues change.

“Last year, during the festival, was the Brett Kavanaugh hearing,” Quinto said. “This year, it’s impeachment.”

The festival also helps attendees see politicians in the flesh, as opposed to on television. Quinto believes participants being in the same room as many high profile politicians can help them create a more authentic view of their elected officials, while also giving them the chance to develop new opinions on officials running for office.

“I’m a Democrat, but it was really good to see some of these members outside of their scripted element and to see them in a little bit more of a…human lens,” Quinto said. “I still disagree with them, but it’s good to see them as people versus standing behind a podium and giving speeches.”

As the Texas Tribune Festival gets larger, organizers said they hope to be able to bring bigger politicians to the podiums. One high profile speaker this year was Pete Buttigieg. During many of the panels, people, like festival attendee Jennifer Owens, are given the opportunity to submit and ask questions about the subjects they’re interested to speakers like Buttigieg.

Owens drove up from Dallas to attend the festival. She waited in long lines with her friend, who came in from Kentucky to go to the festival as well. She said that overcrowding was an issue this year, as many high profile speakers were chosen to speak.

“I really like Mayor Buttigieg, but this year the festival is just very crowded, and if there’s something you really want to see, you have to get in line early,” Jennifer Owens said. “We went…and barely made it in.”

Owens said that despite the crowding, there was never a shortage of things to do. In just one day, there were around 90 events to choose from. These events include book signings, one-on-one talks and panels with members from all sides of the political spectrum.

“[People] come to this festival from all over the country, and we’re in the position to talk about actual issues that don’t need to be focused on talking points,” Quinto said. “And I think that’s really important.”

Sophomore Sally Edwards was also at the festival this year. She said she decided to attend so she could see the lineup, which she called amazing, and engage with current political issues.

“I think especially with our current political climate and everything that’s happening, it’s such an important time for us to educate ourselves,” Edwards said.

Edwards says that it is important for young people to go to events like the Texas Tribune Festival because the issues brought to the table will affect the younger generations in the future. She said that young people are often the most vocal when it comes to voicing their political opinions, and she feels that the festival is a great opportunity for people to listen and have their voices heard. Quinto said that as tensions in the political culture of America rise, the Texas Tribune Festival provides relief from the constant struggles for regular citizens to connect with politicians and see new perspectives of them and their policies.