This past Tuesday morning, I was on Facebook reading the usual updates about people’s vacations or food issues or what have you when something caught my eye. And that something was the pictures and reports from some of my Austin friends—all of them women, all of them writers, all of them wearing orange—who were at the Texas state capitol building in support of Senator Wendy Davis who was planning to give a 13-hour filibuster that day in hopes of squashing state bill 5 (SB5).
SB5, for those of you not up on Texas politics, is the omnibus anti-abortion bill currently advancing in the legislature and nobody but the politicians behind it really seem to like it. In fact, polls show that “80% of Texans don’t want their lawmakers to be considering abortion-related bills during the special session that Gov. Rick Perry (R) convened at the beginning of the month” and “57% said they don’t trust the Governor or the legislature to make choices about women’s health care. And that opposition cuts across party lines: The support for women to make their own reproductive decisions remains strong among both Independents (76 percent) and Republicans (61 percent).”
What that says to me is that whether they’re pro-choice or pro-life, Texas women want to have control over their own bodies. Or at least have a say in matters of reproduction before a bill this restrictive is passed. (And I’m sure many of you disagree with my views on this, which I do respect.)
Throughout that afternoon, I watched Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster online and kept up with the tweets of Austinites who were actually there in the senate gallery. Part of me wished I was with them because I so strongly believed in what Wendy was doing, but the bigger part of me kept thinking, “Why bother? It’s David versus Goliath and no matter what we do, they’re always going to triumph. For the love of god, Perry just vetoed the Fair Pay Act for Texas Women. Plus there’s ice cream in the freezer.” But then two little words started popping into my head: What if?
By 5 p.m. I could no longer ignore those two little words and I knew I couldn’t just stay home. I showered, dressed and told my family that I was heading downtown to give my support. “OK,” my husband said, “Give ’em hell, honey. Oh, and fill up the gas tank on your way back.”
By the time I arrived at the capitol, there was a fairly long line to get into the packed senate gallery (400 public seats) where the filibuster was taking place. Luckily, I found my friend Kimber in line and the two of us were let inside as soon as two people came out. (Texas Senate Nightclub, y’all!)
We found seats in the front row, but after a few minutes, a 25-year-old male page—who was clearly raised right—snuck over to us and whispered that there were seats over on the left where we could better see Senator Davis, so we moved. Here’s a blurry iPhone photo:
Senator Davis—in her now-famous pink sneakers—was at the halfway mark of her filibuster at this point. She wasn’t allowed to lean, sit or go to the bathroom for a sum of 13 hours. Kind of like a car trip with my dad. And her opponents weren’t making it easy on her. In fact, right after I took this picture, she was given her second of three strikes because she let another senator adjust her back brace. (And then, of course, someone made a Wendy’s Back Brace Twitter account.)
What struck me the most as I sat and listened to her for almost four hours was how prepared, measured and calm she was. Other senators would object or interrupt her and each time she remained 100% unflappable. Her arguments against SB5 were logical, medical and personal while her opponents used terms like “The Creator” and phrases like “pregnancy only occurs after accurate intercourse.” (Wha?) Her composure and dedication were unlike anything I’ve ever before seen.
The gallery was filled with Wendy Davis supporters (mostly women, but more men than I’ve ever seen at an Indigo Girls concert) and most were wearing orange. They were all quiet, polite and riveted by what was happening on the floor. Almost everyone was tweeting or on Facebook, myself included. It wasn’t long before my tweets started getting more of a response as word of the filibuster spread throughout the country and the #standwithwendy hashtag blew up. All total, more than 150,000 people watched the live proceedings on YouTube that night. (Meanwhile CNN was busy with a compelling story on muffins.)
After four hours in the gallery, my phone was almost dead, my bladder was crying and I had to make the decision to stay or go home. I knew that if I left the room, I couldn’t get back in because there were hundreds of people waiting to take my place. Including my friends Carlotta and Heather, who texted me photos of the long lines. But I just couldn’t stay, so I got up, exited the gallery and then my jaw dropped when I saw that the somewhat large crowd from before had swelled into an amazing sea of orange. Every staircase, every floor, every hall was packed with people of all ages. There was no way to get one photo of everyone in the building, but I like this one on the cover of the Austin Chronicle.
And here’s one from Carlotta (notice the portrait of Ann Richards on the right—-her daughter Cecile was there that night):
As you may have heard, what happened between 11:30 p.m. and 12 a.m. that night was something truly incredible. Senator Davis’ speech was halted by the Republicans on a technicality not too many minutes before the clock ran out. Then the gallery—who, like I said, had been very respectful the entire time—completely erupted for a solid 10 minutes, chanting, “Let her speak! Let her speak!” Senator Leticia Van de Putte also brought the house down with her question: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” Yep, don’t mess with Texas women.
Amazingly, their actions effectively delayed the vote on SB5 until after midnight when it was no longer valid—even though the Republican senators still tried to count it. Thanks to Wendy Davis, Goliath was beat this time. (And I never would have left my seat in the gallery if I’d known there’d be shoutin’.)
Carlotta was in the rotunda during all of this and hundreds of people started chanting, “Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!” (I’ll upload the video once I figure out how). I totally wish I’d been there with her and not just because I could have pretended it was actually “Wendi! Wendi! Wendi!” they were screaming.
By now the story of exactly what happened that night has been reported in the mainstream media (here’s a great recap in photos from the Texas Tribune) and most people now know who Wendy Davis is. And, not unexpectedly, Governor Perry has already scheduled another special session on Monday to vote on SB5 and has been talking trash about Senator Davis left and right. I have no doubt that he’ll do whatever he can to get this bill passed and that’s very disheartening. But still.
What if hundreds of people left their homes and headed to the capitol on a hot Tuesday night? What if an outnumbered female Senator in pink running shoes stood strong for 13 hours to give a voice to millions of women across the state? What if a YouTube feed of the Texas senate was suddenly being watched across the world? What if standing up for what you believe actually made a difference? What if hundreds of exhausted, exhilarated, passionate supporters standing in the capitol rotunda started singing “The Eyes of Texas” in unison in the wee hours of the morning?
And what if you learned that no matter how daunting the opposition, how insurmountable the odds, how small you may feel—-it matters that you still put up a good fight? My god, does it matter. Tuesday night I learned that we all have a voice. And if we don’t use it, someone else will.
Next time I’m staying for the shoutin’.