Democratic Senators Wendy Davis and Kirk Watson lead a rally before start of the special session. (Reuters/Mike Stone)
In the category of sentences I never thought I’d write, there is this: When it comes to a thrilling televised spectacle nothing beats sports, except perhaps a filibuster in the Texas state senate.
Like thousands of others, I was riveted to the live feed of Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster aimed at keeping her colleagues from destroying women’s reproductive health in the state. I was frankly in awe of her marathon eloquence, physical endurance and cool head. She did it all while simultaneously having to explain Sex Education 101 to a room of ham-faced men who were taking an infuriating pride in their own ignorance.
Then with several hundred thousand others watching on the live feed, I careened from awe to depression to elation over the next hour. First, Wendy Davis was removed from the floor on specious grounds. It looked to all of us that this awful vote was going to be pushed through just before the midnight deadline. Then it was stopped at 11:45 pm by what will now be known forever as “the People’s Filibuster.”
For fifteen minutes the spirit of Molly Ivins came alive and the kickass women of Texas—along with their male allies—raised their voices and prevented a travesty. As the clock ticked toward midnight, and the smug, anti-choice men of the Texas State Senate developed a deathly pallor, we started to count down like it was New Year’s Eve. On Twitter, even the normally apolitical sports bloggers I follow were zeroed in like it was the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Now the fight begins anew on July 15 as the Republican Senate again attempts to ram through the closure of most of the states clinics that perform abortions, and a mass march has been called that very day to protest their cowardly efforts. There is also a call for local demonstrations in cities across the country in solidarity with the reproductive rights community of Texas. In honor of this effort, I wanted to turn over my space to one of those kickass Texas women who seized the moment in June so she could take us inside “the People’s Filibuster” and talk about what’s next. I give you Katie Feyh.
It was like a wall of sound. I’ve never heard anything so loud in my life, or so powerful. I thought we might blow the doors off the Senate chamber. Throughout the day and night we had been quieted by Senate decorum rules and the caution of groups who understandably wanted to maintain a presence in the Senate gallery. But coming up on midnight we realized we had nothing left to lose. So we made noise. Lots of noise. I was up on the third floor of the rotunda just outside the Senate gallery. My friends were spread out on the first and second floors as well. We were all packed in tight, sweating from the heat, when the crowd began to roar. Before long, our ears rang with thousands of Texas women yelling, “Kill the bill!” and “Our bodies! Our choice!” The groups that had been holding back joined in and called for more. They, too, knew we had nothing left to lose.
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We left the Capitol unsure of the fate of the bill. But when we got word that SB5 was effectively dead, it was a joyful moment. We’re used to defeat after defeat in Texas politics. The People’s Filibuster was a rare and beautiful victory, won both inside and outside the Senate chamber. We had the feeling that Texas women and allies had the power to change the course of politics.Our victory was short-lived, as Governor Rick Perry called a second special session, determined to shove anti-abortion legislation through, even though a majority of Texans oppose it. Using rapist logic, he said, “The louder they scream, the more we know we are getting something done.”
This past week has been exciting. A Democratic Party–led rally on July 1 drew nearly 10,000 to the Capitol—again, a rarity in Texas politics—followed by a 2,000-strong activist march. On July 2, when we went to testify against HB2 (an omnibus bill in the House similar to SB5), hundreds surrounded an anti-choice rally, chanting, “Our bodies! Our lives! Our right to decide!” Testimony was cut off by the House State Affairs Committee with over 1,000 voices left unheard. The House originally reported 2,181 in support of the bill and 1,355 against, but those numbers were reversed. Decked out in orange, pro-choice forces far outnumbered anti-choicers that day and every day at the Capitol so far.
This week the Texas Senate will hear testimony on SB1, the successor to SB5. HB2, an identical bill, has passed out of committee and is on its way back to the House for floor debate. Given the dynamics of the special session, it is possible that these anti-choice bills will be rammed down our throats before long. But we are determined and prepared to keep on fighting. A number of organizations, from Planned Parenthood and NARAL to the International Socialist Organization, GetEqual and Occupy Austin, have been working hard inside and outside the walls of the Capitol to keep up momentum in opposition to this legislation. Anti-choice forces are mobilizing as well, but so many are coming from out of state. Our opposition is homegrown, and it is loud.
With the legislative process so stacked against us we need to look outside the Capitol to find activists and allies to keep the struggle going. We need to build a movement not only to fight these bills but to win back so much of what we’ve lost over the years of legislators chipping away at women’s right to control our own bodies. I’ll be protesting on July 15 to show that we do have a pro-choice majority deep in the heart of Texas. I’ll be protesting because I want to join with other activists to rebuild a fighting abortion rights movement here and across the country. I’ll be protesting to show that, even if we lose the battle over these bills, Texas women have awakened, and we’re determined to win the war.
If anyone wants to contact Katie Feyh about interviews or upcoming actions, she can be reached at [email protected].
Jessica Valenti wonders if we are looking at the future of pro-choice activism.