Last night I participated in one of the most important acts of political theater that I have ever witnessed. As Republicans attempted to force themselves onto the bodies of Texas women, a chain of events began that ultimately led to the Texas State Capitol being rocked by chants of “Wendy!”
The extremely conservative Texas Republican caucus in both houses took it as their charge to do anything and everything they could to prevent women from having access to safe medical procedures. They began by shutting out hundreds of citizens from delivering their testimony, moved to the claim that rape kits were used to “clean women out”, and then pulled a few dirty tricks to get HB5 to the Senate. The Texas Senate is where things got wild. Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s father died Friday. On Monday, the first day after HB5 was passed, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst sent her a letter saying her father’s death was not reason enough to stick to the rules of the Senate. Those rules say that any bill coming from the House needs to sit at least 24 hours before being taken up. When this hit the wires the outrage among Women’s rights advocates in Texas began to boil, and Sen. Van de Putte threatened to leave her father’s services to help block the rule change. This set the stage for Senator Wendy Davis to mount a 13 hour filibuster to block SB5 from getting a vote. Her time standing without water, food, or restroom breaks did not go unnoticed. By the time she reached the ten hour mark #StandWithWendy had become a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
That’s around the time I showed up to the Texas Capitol with a friend of mine. We, as historians and political junkies, felt that we needed to be there and support the efforts of Texas Women to maintain control of their bodies. As we walked up to the North entrance of the Capitol we could hear people on the South Mall chanting. The entrances were busy but not jam packed quite yet, and after we went through security we stepped into a building full of angry supporters of Women’s Rights. By this time, Republicans had begun their abuse of rules and power to silence Sen Davis, but as the clock continued to tick toward midnight the atmosphere inside that Pink Dome became more and more electric. Regardless of the outcome pro-choice Texans made it known that taking away women’s rights to their body would not be done easily.
As the midnight hour approached we all waited [im]patiently and were continuously asked to maintain decorum until our Senators needed us to make noise. That moment came when Sen. Van de Putte challenged the patriarchal disrespect being flaunted from Dewhurst’s podium. After Van de Putte asked how loud her voice needed to be to gain recognition over her male peers the chamber erupted into chants and screams of SHAME! That’s when the capitol rotunda erupted into deafening and thunderous cheers, applause, and outright noise. It got so loud at one point that my ears could only register the vibrations from the sound waves and not actually the sounds being made. The People’s Filibuster made themselves known.
The midnight hour came and went, and more cheers erupted. Then people started seeing the AP report, at the suggestion of Dewhurst, that a vote had been taken and SB5 passed. Questions and confusion spread quickly. Had the vote been taken after midnight? If so, is that legal? Did the bill really pass? These questions would not be answered until after I left, but it was clear that no one in the building would be satisfied without an official ruling. Eventually, Senate Republicans led by Dewhurst admitted their defeat, but vowed to do it all over again… because they have that power.
My experience last night was incredible. It felt amazing to be a part of a historical moment; even if that moment was very short lived. For a political junkie like myself those are the moments that make politics so compelling. I was in awe at the power of my fellow Texans to take back their house, if only for a night. We made sure that Republicans in Texas, and everywhere else in the United States, knew that we would not roll over and think happy thoughts while they trampled on the institutions of our state to gain cheap political points. Unfortunately, we will have to do it again on July 1. Rick Perry has once again used his unbridled power to attack women’s bodies and health by restricting access to safe, legal abortions.
¡La Lucha Sigue!