The Texas State Senate just saw an absolutely amazing act of civic and democratic engagement. There is so much I want to say about it, but first I want to outline the events as they went down, for context.
The outline of the facts:
On May 27, Texas governor Rick Perry abused executive power and called a special session of the senate that had more lax rules about how bills could be passed. These special sessions are meant to deal with specific issues and crises, but have been exploited to ram through bills that the regular senate sessions didn’t pass. Special sessions only need a simple majority to pass bills, unlike the 2/3 of quorum required at regular sessions.
On June 11, more than two weeks in, Republicans added an omnibus bill SB5 to the special session that directly targeted reproductive justice: One would ban abortion at 20 weeks, regardless of rape, incest, life of the mother, ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, or divine intervention. The other imposed such stringent requirements on abortion providers (down to the fucking corridor sizes) that only 5 of the 47 abortion providers in Texas would qualify, and the others would have to shut down.
(This special session was called for redistricting issues, and had just had transportation funding added to its docket. Oh, special sessions are meant to deal with crises? And should focus on specific issues? Well fuck you, I’m Republican.)
Last Thursday on June 20, 700+ Texans showed up at the hearings in Austin to testify with their story and to stage a citizen’s filibuster against the vote. They were shut down at around 3 AM, despite there being hundreds of people left who had been there for 12 hours who did not get a chance to testify, because their testimonies were getting “repetitive”.
Last Sunday on June 23, hundreds of Texans showed up again at the debates hoping to prevent a vote on SB5, as Democrats proposed amendment after correction after amendment that delayed the vote for 15 hours. It’s notable that the woman who actually sponsored the bill stopped taking questions 2 hours in, because she was jeered for saying that rape and incest exceptions to the abortion ban were not necessary because rape kits can “clean a woman out”.
On Monday morning at 4 AM, the Republicans used their majority to force an end to the debate and the legislature gave preliminary approval to the bill. I should mention that about 63% of Texans think there are enough abortion laws on the books in the state, and 75% of Texans think abortion is a decision for the woman and her doctor, not for politicians. This meant, however, that there was a 24-hour-delay until the Senate could consider it.
On Tuesday morning at about 11 AM, SB5 came under consideration in the Texas Senate. And that’s when State Senator Wendy Davis started talking.
If the Democrats could filibuster the vote until Tuesday night at midnight, the special session ends, and the bill cannot be voted on until another session is called. Davis needed to talk for 13 hours if she wanted to stall the vote: she had to talk only about things pertaining to the bill, she had to be standing, she couldn’t lean against the podium, eat, drink, or go to the bathroom, or receive assistance from any other senator in any way.
Davis talked for 12 hours, reading out testimonies from the 12,000+ testimonies she had received on her website from people around the country, talking about their abortion experiences and how this bill would affect them. She only stopped talking because the Republicans gave her three strikes for breaking the rules of the filibuster: Once because they alleged that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood funding had nothing to do with abortions, once because a Democrat senator helped her adjust her back brace when she’d been standing for 10 hours, and once because they alleged, again, that sonograms had nothing to do with abortions.
Both before and after she was cut off just before 11 PM, the other Democrat senators rose beautifully to the occasion. They called point of order after point of order, challenging the Republican’s rules-lawyering with some fine-toothed rules-lawyering of their own, delaying the vote as much as possible and giving Davis a chance to breathe. At a certain point around 11:30 PM, the Republicans began just completely ignoring the Democrats to focus on getting everything ready for a vote.
Then, at about 11:45 PM, Senator Leticia Van de Putte, whose father had passed away on Friday in a car crash and who flew in from her father’s funeral on Tuesday to attend the session, uttered this epic sentence that will go down in history:
“At what point must a female senator raise her hand, or her voice, to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”
Van de Putte had been trying to get the attention of the Republican senate president repeatedly for ten minutes to challenge their ruling on Davis’ warnings, only to be told repeatedly that she was not recognized. And this bombshell really defines the entire clusterfuck that is this vote: how far must women go to be heard by the men around them?
That’s when the gallery of thousands of pro-choice Texans as well as the many standing outside the state capitol, sporting orange in protest against the bill, went wild. They cheered for Van de Putte and chanted Wendy’s name and they did not stop until Wednesday morning.
And even though the special session was over by midnight according to the Texas constitution, even though the Democrats had succeeded in their challenge, even though Davis followed all of the rules to the letter for 12 hours, even though an incredible groundswell of grassroots activists in Texas and around the country had poured their heart out over this, the Republicans still tried to call for a vote on the Bill. No one could hear anyone else, but they still did a roll call, and tried to claim that the bill passed 17-12.
At its height, 180,000 viewers were watching the livestream of this senate vote on YouTube. #SB5 and #IStandWithWendyDavis were trending worldwide on Twitter. Hundreds of thousands of people were glued to the proceedings. Hundreds of thousands of people can testify that there was no vote before midnight. (While the national cable media, might I add, were talking about a loose red panda and the number of calories in Starbucks muffins.)
So what did the Republicans do? They leaked to AP and other news outlets that the bill had passed anyway. And they went on the Texas state legislature website, and changed the timestamp on the record of votes so that it would look like the vote took place on June 25th, rather than June 26th. State troopers were called in to arrest the protestors in the gallery.
Unfortunately for the GOP, they have just as little understanding of how the internet works as they do about how clocks work, or how bodies work. Thousands of screencaps are out there of this fraud. Thousands of people saw exactly how the cowardly senators couldn’t win properly, so they cheated, and couldn’t win by cheating, so they committed outright fraud. The protests pouring in online and from the gallery and from the Democrat senators got so fierce that at around 3 AM the Lt Governor was forced to concede that there had been no vote, that SB5 was dead.
He blamed it on the protestors’ uncivil “Occupy Wall Street” tactics. To that I say – fuck yes, you could do with some occupying here.
I was glued to my screen as everyone else I know was, and I don’t have words for how inspirational I found everyone who shared their stories in person on Thursday or via Davis on Tuesday. I am in awe of Jessica Luther and all the other reproductive justice activists in Texas for rousing this massive campaign. I was in tears when midnight rolled around and a huge roar erupted from the gallery, these women and men who had been there for the entire night hoping that 19 senators would do the right thing. I am so grateful to Planned Parenthood and the Lillith Fund for doing the hard work that the government is unwilling to do, and to everyone around the world who chipped in money to pay for food and drink for the protestors.
I know this is a symbolic victory, and that Perry can just call another special session. I know that civil rights in this country have been set back enormously in other ways by the SCOTUS’s actions of the past few days (more on that later, maybe). But god dammit, symbolic victories matter. Texas showed their politicians that they were paying attention, and Texas showed the rest of the country that we are coming after you for this bullshit.
I do have words for the politicians who were involved here. This event highlights more starkly than ever just how important local politics are. We need to get out the vote locally to affect the municipal and state policies that other states use as examples, and we need to vote in the candidates we want locally so that the national stage has a better roster of candidates to choose from. (Incidentally, a friend’s suggestion of a Clinton/Davis 2016 ticket is the only compelling reason I’ve ever heard for pursuing citizenship.)
Here are the politicans to cheer and to vote in:
Senator Wendy Davis – who unwaveringly stayed on her feet for 14+ hours even after the Republicans ended her filibuster; who gave voice to thousands around the country who had none; who eloquently laid out each argument in favour of granting us our bodily autonomy; who was the height of dignity and respect throughout in some badass pink tennis shoes.
Senator Leticia Van de Putte – who flew in from her father’s funeral so that she could stand up for the women of Texas; who called out the Republicans for being contemptuous of a woman’s voice; who pointed out that this bill had nothing to do with actually helping people who needed abortions; who knew her parliamentary jiu-jitsu inside out.
State Rep Jessica Farrar – who organized and stayed with the citizen’s filibuster till the wee hours of Friday morning; who fought back against Republicans when they tried to shut the testimonies down; who was instrumental in helping facilitate the protest on Sunday; who maintained morale among activists when the Republicans just rammed through a vote anyway.
Senator Judith Zaffirini – who pointed out that the rules governing against a senator receiving help from other senators only used male pronouns and should not apply to Davis; who raised point after point to let Davis rest while the president sorted out her questions; who clearly read Twitter when we pointed out that Davis has only been called out on two counts of germaneness and one count of assistance, whereas the Senate rules required three strikes of germaneness to end a filibuster
Senator Rodney Ellis – who helped Davis put on her back brace because that is the right thing to do; who tried to appeal to the human decency of the house when Republicans threw a fit about it; who pointed out that iPads and computers do indeed count as “paper” in today’s age for god’s sake.
Senator Kirk Watson – who appealed the Republican’s decision to end the filibuster and thereby bought Democrats an extra hour; who saw the illegality in the president uniformly moving to table the motion and rightfully called it out; whose inception-styled points of orders were so carefully bureaucratic that it was almost an art.
Senator Royce West – who asked for motions to be provided in writing, and read out slowly; who did his best to tell the national media that the “vote” was unconstitutional.
Senator John Whitmire – the most senior senator in the legislature, who refused to adjourn the session, who spoke out against the unconstitutionality of such a “vote”.
These people were doing what they were elected to do, which is to represent and fight for the rights of their constituents. Mad props. I hope all of them succeed excellently in their future legislative career.
The name and shame:
Every story has a villain. This one has far too many.
State Jody Laudenberg – who sponsored the SB5 bill and then refused to take amendments, or discuss it substantively in any way; who thought that rape kits were basically abortions; who literally does not care if the victims of rape incest or people who could die from their pregnancies are forced to carry it to term; who is perfectly happy to be the mouthpiece of a party that is systematically destroying our rights.
Senator Bob Deuell – who was the author of the portion of SB5 that requires that all abortion clinics to have the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers, despite most abortions not being surgeries, despite abortion being the most safe invasive procedure there is in the world where the mortality rate is so low it’s not even worth measuring; who said in 2003 that women who had been forced to carry to term a pregnancy resulting from rape would see the child as a blessing and thus no rape-exception was needed in any abortion legislation; who tried to argue that no clinics will be closed by the legislation despite Dewhurst himself saying that closing down clinics was a reason for sponsoring the bill.
Senator Robert Nichols – who thinks that talking about Planned Parenthood is not germane to a discussion about abortion legislation when it is Planned Parenthood clinics that will be shutting down and no longer able to provide health services to poor people around the state.
Senator Tommy Williams – who thinks a woman who has been on her feet for 8 hours should be denied a back brace; who doesn’t understand that refusal of adaptive technology is an issue of disability discrimination; who is happy to withhold pain relief from his colleagues for the purposes of politicking.
Senator Donna Campbell – who thinks that in a country where we can be forced to get sonograms those very sonograms are not germane to a discussion of whether we should be allowed to control what happens in our own bodies; who uses her medical specialization in ophthalmology (eye disease) to claim expertise in reproductive health; who clearly has not taken a word of the Hippocratic Oath to heart and lies through her teeth.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst – who tried to claim that the vote past midnight was constitutional when it wasn’t; who said in callous disregard of the lives that he’s impacting that “it’s been fun” when the session finally came to a close; who sustained all those bullshit points of orders against Davis.
Senator Glenn Hagar – who immediately introduced SB5 to the docket on Tuesday morning and forcing Davis to endure the longest filibuster possible.
Governor Rick Perry – Do you really need more reason to hate Rick Perry? Wasn’t the 2012 election enough reason?
Remember these names. Let your politicians know that actions have consequences, and that we know who they are.
And if you feel like taking some facile potshot at Texas, stow it. I will delete it. The people of Texas have proven their mettle and commitment to social progress. Can you say the same?