Mimi Marziani, previously the legal director for Battleground Texas, will be publicly announced as the new executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project on Tuesday, taking over leadership from founder Jim Harrington, who led the organization for 25 years.
Marziani, 33, who spoke with the American-Statesman before the announcement, said she was drawn to the group because of its storied history of fighting for civil rights and added that the organization will continue to fight against barriers to justice — such as obstacles to voting — under her leadership.
“The organization has long been committed to advancing equality and justice in Texas, and that is exactly what we’ll continue to do,” Marziani said. “By advancing equality and justice, we will naturally be pushing back against this type of resistance to change and contribute to Texas being a much more diverse population.”
Marziani, who is on maternity leave, is working part time and sharing duties with Harrington as she transitions into the role. She will officially take over Feb. 29; Harrington’s last day will be March 11.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to pass (leadership) off to somebody else who brings new energy and a new vision,” said Harrington, who first recruited Marziani to join the group’s board because of her interest in civil and voting rights. “She’s a very good face for us.”
As part of the Battleground Texas team, Marziani set up a voter protection hotline to help people navigate Texas’ photo identification law. Before she worked there, she was a civil rights litigator with the Manhattan-based Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, where she kept an active pro bono practice.
Marziani was also an attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, where she focused on money in politics, voting rights and legislative dysfunction. There, she handled election law cases in front of federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
She was also an adjunct professor at the university, teaching undergraduates in New York and at the school’s Abu Dhabi campus about the U.S. Constitution.
Her experience, particularly in voting rights and election law, will play a key role in the group’s future. As things stand, she said, there is a resistance to allowing minority group participation in the democratic process in Texas, which manifests itself in the state’s controversial voter ID law, considered one of the most restrictive in the country for the kinds of identification it requires, and a redistricting process meant to keep power in the same hands.
“I so fundamentally object to the notion of people in power manipulating the rules to stay in power,” she said. “That said, I also believe strongly that the people of Texas embrace these values of equality and justice and small-d democracy.”
This year, the group will kick off a renewed focus on voting rights, she said, to make sure that “democracy in Texas is free and fair and actually inclusive for everybody” — a task that is doubly important because it is a presidential election year.
Marziani said taking on state laws and institutions will be a tall task but added that she is prepared for the challenge.
“These fights are not won by the meek,” she said. “You have to be bold, and you have to be out there. Something that is incredibly inspirational to me is, you look at civil rights throughout history, the ongoing struggle for equality and democratic participation … we go up and down. But I do also believe Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ ”