Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Day WE Shook the Capitol

June 25, 2013 - The day I posted 76 times on Facebook over the course of 7 hours from the same seat in the Texas senate gallery. I took my seat sometime around 5pm and there came a point where they locked the doors - if I got up to pee, get water, eat, I wouldn't be allowed back in. That, of course, was nothing compared to what Wendy Davis was going through. She had been on her feet the entire day, filibustering SB5 (which later became known as HB2). This bill ushered in some of the most draconian, restrictive measures to abortion access in the entire country, and the gallery was full of women wearing orange who were there to support Davis in her efforts.

She just had to talk until midnight.

Filibusters in Texas are more of an ordeal than elsewhere. More rules to follow. More difficult. This wasn't a case of Davis opening up the phone book and reading until the clock ran out. She had to stay on her feet, on topic, without assistance, without leaning on her desk, without......

The rest of Texas would like you to think we accomplished nothing that night. The filibuster failed, the bill passed, it was just spectacle, "just theatre," Davis was a one hit wonder. And every single one of us that was there, three years later, still feels so connected to that day and are still so energized to fight. One result of that night was the mobilization of democrats in Texas - not an easy feat. Another was to get people across the country to wake up to the TRAP laws that weren't just happening in Texas but which were soon to happen - and which are now happening - in every state.

I was sitting just above where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was standing, over his left shoulder. I was facing Davis as she spoke most of the time. What I can tell you (especially for those who think this was "just theatre") is that this was the most riveting 7 hours of storytelling of my entire life. There was NEVER a moment when I was bored, NEVER a second not spent on the edge of my seat. We knew the stakes, they were high, and in the years since Texas has since seen an increase in the number of self-induced abortions, the number of women crossing into Mexico to obtain care, and of course the closure of over half the state's clinics.

I don't really have a huge social media presence - I leave that up to Travis. But that night friends were FOLLOWING my facebook page, refreshing it for new content. It was an amazing feeling.

At one point I posted that protesters (outside the gallery) were in need of food - and my high school drama teacher in New Hampshire ordered pizzas.

The filibuster eventually fell apart and other Democrats in the room began attempting to run out the clock. I was so anxious, counting down minutes that were left as they tried desperately to cram the vote in.

I was in that seat when Leticia Van de Putte spoke the words that turned us from restrained gallery audience members into stars of the show - the Unruly Mob, as we were called the next day. "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?" It was our permission to be outraged. And then WE ran the clock out, by screaming until past midnight.

At that point my laptop was dead and I was posting via my phone - I had messages coming in that just said "LOUDER." These were from Austin but also OUTSIDE Austin - friends of mine were watching the filibuster live on TV, and were cheering us on, telling us to be louder, drown out the vote that was now attempting to take place.

I got home after midnight, after the state troopers were called in to remove us. When I got home, Travis told me that the bill had passed. What I didn't know until a few hours later was that the protesters who were NOT in the gallery had stayed, and the senate had stayed, debating the bill and whether or not the vote had taken place, and the conclusion was eventually reached that it hadn't happened before midnight. For a brief period of time, we fought and we won.

I had thank you messages on facebook the next day from people who had been watching my feed.

On Monday the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, which is a direct result of the bill that eventually, unfortunately, passed. Pay attention, because this one is important. If the court deadlocks on it, my understanding is it confirms the lower court's ruling and the law stands - we want 5-3. I think in the last three years that so much has happened nationwide, Texas is no longer the worst state in the country in terms of abortion laws and access to women's healthcare. How much worse is it going to get?

In the meantime I can't forget why Texas is an especially difficult situation for bills like these. Its sheer size means that driving times to the few clinics that remain are long, and those clinics are located mainly in the larger cities, which are centralized - giving people who live on the border fewer options. The relative availability of an abortion for a woman depends heavily on where she lives, how much money she has, what kind of job she has, whether she has children already. I knew that for me, the law was not going to prevent me from receiving the care I needed, should I ever need it. I had resources, and options, and money, and I lived in Austin. That is NOT the case for most Texans.

When we left the capitol that night we knew that this was eventually going to the Supreme Court. And the day of that decision is almost here.
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