A Filibuster for Feminism (Drama in the Texas Statehouse)
I was working on my website yesterday (doing a bunch of boring stuff y'all don't really need to know about) when someone on my Facebook page mentioned that there was a filibuster going on in the Texas state house. My first reaction was 'what is the Texas legislature doing in session'? and my second was 'why should I care'?
Another post crossed my Facebook, and this one mentioned that the bill she was filibustering was about abortion restrictions. That got another piece of my attention, as I am passionate about a woman's right to choose for various and sundry good-enough-for-me reasons.
So I peeked at Twitter. Twitter was going nuts with the hashtag #standwithwendy (Senator Wendy Davis). I read a few tweets and started to get a fuller picture, then did my research. The bill was designed to close down nearly every abortion clinic in Texas using strict operating guidelines designed not so much for a woman's safety (though that was the excuse) but to make it prohibitive for an abortion clinic to continue to operate.
I became intrigued, and then began to view the livestream of the filibuster. What I saw impressed the hell out of me. A passionate, beautiful woman stood in a blue dress and pink tennis shoes and talked, story after story, about women whose lives would be affected by this legislation. She talked clearly and slowly, measuring her words and energy. She talked with authority and compassion.
She contextualized the bill. She talked about how it, when combined with other anti-choice measures, would make it unnecessarily difficult for Texas women to exercise their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion. She did not lose her temper when she was provoked. She did not allow people to pull her off topic. She did not rise to the bait of an anti-choice, female Senator with a medical degree who attempted to derail her using her gender and profession.
Nonetheless, at roughly ten p.m., the President of the Senate, David Dewhurst, decided that it was 'not germane' to tie this current legislation to an earlier bill that was passed forcing women to undergo sonograms before having abortions, and began the process of ending the filibuster.
At this point, Senator Davis stepped down and her colleagues worked tirelessly to run the clock down (the special session ended by law at midnight, and no further legislative business could be done after that deadline). They raised procedural point after procedural point, using parliamentary rules of order to highlight that the way the filibuster was ended did not follow proper form.
They asked questions, and asked more questions. They referred back to points of order and to issues that they believe had been decided erroneously. They had burned up nearly an hour and a half doing this when Senator Leticia Van de Putte, tired of being spoken over, ignored, and dismissed, finally asked “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
The crowd of mostly women, shoulder to shoulder in the galleries, went wild. All the pent up frustration and anger and deeply felt resentment came pouring out. Here in this room, an issue that deeply affected their lives was being pushed through by (mostly) white, (mostly) men, and women and their allies were being pushed aside and marginalized.
They kept up the cheers until after midnight, as Dewhurst tried several times to get a vote going but was unable to do so because he could not be heard in the din. Senator Wendy Davis' filibuster had become a filibuster led by and conducted by the women of Texas, using their right to assembly to make themselves heard -- heard so loudly that no one else could speak -- long enough to run out the clock on the legislative session.
Despite an attempt to vote shortly after midnight and declare victory, the women in the gallery and the 300,000+ women and men watching on livestream kept these privileged men honest and forced them to rescind their fraudulent vote.
I woke up this morning knowing that despite attempts to subvert it, the rule of law had prevailed in this case.
Whether you are pro-choice or anti-choice, this was an amazing testament to the power of the people to be heard. This was a moment when the women of Texas decided that they would not be told to hush. They had come to the session to make their views known, and they succeeded in doing so.
This event, nearly spontaneous and certainly garnering far more attention than the average legislative session receives, was one of three major political events this week, the other two being the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, both decisions of the US Supreme Court. I wrote about these three events and their far-reaching consequences in more detail on my home blog. Please visit and let me know what you think.