Monthly Archives: June 2013

It’s Democracy, English!

The line to get into the Senate gallery wrapped three times around the Capitol rotunda.

The line to get into the Senate gallery wrapped three times around the Capitol rotunda.

This is a follow-up to my previous post, “I’m Naive, Not Stupid. There’s a Difference.”

I am still reeling a little from the number of readers who contacted me about that piece, which I wrote the morning after sitting through the Texas House of Representatives hearing on the now-infamous Senate Bill 5. My blog typically generates about 8 page-views a day. That single post has generated about 70,000 page-views since Monday. (By the way, if you haven’t already, please read Dan Solomon’s 3-part series in the Austin Chronicle for the most substantive and informed coverage of the week.)

Now, having watched the history-making Senate filibuster alongside 2,000 protestors inside the Capitol and at least 170,000 around the globe, I feel almost embarrassed about how naive that post, in fact, was.

My shock and anger over GOP representatives’ churlish behavior on the House floor prompted me to write that post. I truly could not believe my eyes. Some have pointed out, rightly, that this is standard for the legislative sausage-making process, the endless train of amendments only part of the grand political theater that would culminate Tuesday night in thousands of demonstrators shaking their fists and screaming “Let her speak!” as Sen. Wendy Davis stood calmly in her back brace and pink sneaks for the thirteenth hour in a row. As such, Republican House members could not be expected to listen or care about the “chubbing,” as it is called when proceedings are artificially prolonged in the House.

Was it just “chubbing”? Although House Democrats were undeniably running down the clock, I still say no. Every single amendment introduced a reasonable exception to an unreasonable bill, and was backed up by evidence of the catastrophic “unintended consequences” of the unamended bill. The only disingenuous aspect of their testimony was the word “unintended,” which everyone knew was a lie.

* * * * *

Regardless, I am here to tell you that if the Texas State House of Representatives is a frat-house, the Texas State Senate is a shark pit. Having watched it from the gallery for eight hours and the auditorium for seven, I can tell you, new depths of my naivete have been plumbed. Every time a point of order was called over some new imaginary violation of the filibuster rules, I was flabbergasted anew. The back brace! The ruling that Roe v. Wade was not “germane” to a bill about abortion! The ruling that discussing the state’s already-rigid restrictions on abortion was not “germane” to a bill introducing further such restrictions!

(And I would like to point out, in case anyone watching missed it, that Sen. Kirk Watson was reprimanded on the “germane” issue for discussing a woman’s right to choose just moments after pro-life Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio had given the Senate an earful of his own personal beliefs on the matter. In fact, the only legitimately germane questions I heard all night from a Republican came from Sen. Bob Deuell. Note that I didn’t say “evidence-based.” I said “germane.”)

Every time the mics went dead as Lt. Gov. Dewhurst consulted with the parliamentarian and other senators, I thought, “There is no way that objection is going to be sustained. There is just no way the Texas GOP would risk shutting down a high-profile filibuster on a technicality—not when they’re just planning to pull a second special session anyway if the bill is blocked.”

Once again, I was naive enough to believe that the reasoned and impassioned words of Sen. Rodney Ellis, Sen. Kirk Watson, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, and most of all, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, whose absence due to her father’s death the GOP tried to exploit for political gain—I was naive enough to believe that their brandishing of the rule book would shame even Republican senators into voting with the interest of “the body.”

But then again, why would they vote to protect “the body” of the Texas Senate when they wouldn’t vote to protect the bodies of Texas women? Or the body of the fiercely intelligent and candid and brave woman who stood before them in her pink tennis shoes, who forewent food and drink and bathroom breaks to withstand a punishing filibuster during which every word out of her mouth made perfect, crystal-clear sense.

Ladies and gentlemen of the world, Sen. Wendy Davis makes more sense after standing alone on her own two feet talking about abortion for 12 hours than House Rep. Jodie Laubenberg does when she’s propped up at the podium for five minutes answering questions about her own bill. Both women refused to answer questions after a while. The difference is, Sen. Davis wanted to be heard, while Rep. Laubenberg wanted to be silent. Only one of them got their wish.

When the words “sustained” rang out each time, a collective gasp of shock rang through the spectators even before the boos and angry yells. Honestly, even cynical (read: knowledgeable) watchers of the proceedings did not believe those calls would be made, that when Sen. Ellis called out a list of examples of assistance being given to filibustering senators in the past without garnering warnings, that when Sen. Zaffirini read the rules out loud (getting in a delicious dig about the applicability of the word “his”), these direct allusions to the law would make a difference.


But there was one more big surprise waiting for us all at the end of the night. After Sen. Davis had been interrupted so many times that it became clear a full-on battle was being pitched against the filibuster, the atmosphere among orange-shirted protestors in the Capitol were tense. It had by that time become a relief to me that there was no chance I would get back into the gallery, because at least the spectators in the auditorium were free to cheer and boo and chant as loudly as we wanted to, while those in the gallery could only lean forward in their seats, white-knuckled and close-mouthed.

When Sen. Kirk Watson, whom I’m proud to call my senator, began raising parliamentary procedure questions, essentially filibustering in Sen. Davis’s stead for the last hour with the help of the other Dems, the thing started to turn into a bit of a spectator sport. But it wasn’t until that final half hour, when GOP senators turned their attack on Watson, that it really hit the fan. I have no idea what happened in that last half hour. Try as I might to keep up with who was contesting what motion and what was being put to a vote, I simply could not follow the recursive logic of the proceedings, except to note that Sen. Ellis (I think?) kept asking for the transcript to be read to determine what order some things happened in.

I have to say, though, the room around me was on top of it. I know they were, because every time Sen. Duncan (who got called in to replace Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as the President at Sen. Watson’s request) claimed a particular motion had been tabled, the noise around the room was genuine astonishment. Not rage (though that was bubbling under the surface), but astonishment and confusion. “That’s not right!” the spectators in the auditorium yelled pointlessly at the screen, and “Check the transcript! You’re wrong!” The minutes ticked on.

In the last twenty minutes before midnight, as we in orange began to congratulate ourselves, tentatively, for having outlasted them, Sen. Duncan again and again tried to steamroll past the legitimate questions raised about what was quickly becoming a parliamentary nightmare. Sen. Van de Putte called out to be recognized and was ignored during a roll call for a vote on a motion to who-the-hell-knows-what, and a few minutes later, after the vote was counted, she delivered one of the final crushing blows to SB5 by stating in a calm, quiet, voice. “Mr. President, parliamentary inquiry. At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

This time, when the gallery erupted, it never died down. Sen. Duncan reached for his gavel, picked it up, looked up at the gallery, and then put it down. Women in the gallery and the Capitol, women all over Texas, were sick at this point of not being heard: not being listened to during the public hearing, being ignored in the House hearing, not being permitted to filibuster in the Senate, not being recognized by the President, and, most of all, not being heard when we yell at the top of our lungs that we want the right guaranteed to us by the 1973 Supreme Court decision that, germane or not, gave us the right to a legal abortion. Duncan banged his gavel and said the precise wrong thing at the right time, “If this continues we will have to suspend the vote,” at which point the yellers in the gallery went berserk for a solid 5 minutes. In the auditorium, someone started a call-and-response chant, “Whose House? OUR HOUSE!” And for a minute, it really felt like it was.

And then, a few minutes after midnight came the astounding announcement that the bill had passed.

What followed—the tampering with date-stamps on the Texas lege website to “prove” the vote happened before midnight, the AP reporting the bill passed, since no major national news outlets had covered it were there to contradict it, the violence by some of the DPS officers in the gallery, who put one young activist’s arm in a sling (and having seen the video, I can tell you she wasn’t resisting, in truth she was bawling her eyes out after being awake for nearly three days straight)—I found, once again, that I had been appallingly naive. Again, I am saying, I hope I never lose the ability to be astonished by lawmakers in Texas who ruthlessly abuse their power. Because the more blatant the abuse, the more I want to stand up and never sit down, to talk and never go silent.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and daughter of Ann Richards, Texas's second female governor

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and daughter of Ann Richards, Texas’s second female governor, rallies the troops Monday night at The Rattle Inn

* * * * *

I think the reason so many people identified with my previous post is that we’re afraid. We’re afraid of being “policitized,” afraid of the time it will take away from our already busy lives, afraid of having to learn that we understand even less about the process than we think we do. We’re afraid of boring our friends and of making new enemies, people we have not wronged but who seek us out to wrong us. We are afraid of being called that most hateful of words, “babykiller”—when our beloved President, on whom we pinned so many hopes, has allowed drones to kill babies and children in countries we’d prefer not to think about.

But most of all, and I’m speaking for myself here, we are afraid to care. We are afraid to get invested because we are going to lose again and again, many losses for every hard-won victory, and it’s going to hurt so much. After the House voted to approve SB5 at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, I found myself crying and saying, “those bastards” over and over again as the legislators on the floor looked up for the first time and grinned at us up in the gallery. Tuesday I cried tears of joy at midnight, followed by tears of rage, and by the time I learned we had “won,” I could only think about when Gov. Perry would call the inevitable second special session to show us that our voices still don’t matter. No matter how loud we scream for our rights, he will always have the upper hand, and because of the relentless gerrymandering in our state he or someone like him probably always will. It hurts so much when something you love hurts you, and I love Texas, guys, I really, really do.

The only other time I have been involved in organized protests, it was in graduate school. I briefly became active in the Graduate Students United movement at the University of Chicago, where we hoped that we could improve stipend support, working pay, and living conditions for students who often became stuck in their graduate programs for a decade, indentured servants unable to finish because they had to support themselves on extremely low pay. Those meetings were long and often grueling, filled with the quibbling and in-fighting over fine procedure and large ideology that so often divides movements from within. I would drag myself home at 2:00 a.m., sometimes without even getting to vote on the main point of the meeting, because I had to get up and write a paper the next day.

I was, at the time, one of perhaps two humanities students at the meetings and the only one from the English department; the majority were from the social sciences. I remember one guy, a very young Marxist in an olive drab hat, who knew my name but called me “English” instead, which made me feel like I was simultaneously on a barracks and in a Cary Grant movie. Whenever he noticed me sighing in frustration at yet another point of order, or yawning and rubbing my dark-circled eyes, he would lean over, tap my shoulder, and say, with a smile and a clenched fist, “It’s democracy, English!”

It was, and is. The fight in a democracy is not always as exciting as it was Tuesday night. It involves canvassing on foot and registering people to vote and following local government initiatives that most media will never begin to care about. But because of all those groggy, boring meetings, GSU succeeded in doubling the pay of graduate student TAs whose wages had been stagnant for 18 years. And I have no doubt that all the sitting and waiting and standing and yelling and walking and slogging and quibbling and chanting I am prepared to do with my newly politicized peers alongside those who have been there the whole time will eventually turn Texas into the state it was always meant to be.

Pro-choice protestors in the Texas State Capitol rotunda sing “The Eyes of Texas” after the defeat of Senate Bill 5 is announced in early Wednesday morning.

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I’m Naive, Not Stupid. There’s a Difference.

Gathering in the rotunda. Drop in the bucket of orange pro-choice supporters.

Gathering in the rotunda. Drop in the bucket of orange pro-choice supporters.

This morning I woke up after a surreal night with a lot on my mind. One phrase in particular was ringing in my ears: “Don’t be naive, Amy.”

Back when I quit writing for CultureMap Austin over a nasty, misogynist editorial masquerading as a news story by the Dallas staff, the business manager (then–he’s since been fired) called me up on the phone to “discuss” my decision.

What he really wanted was to cajole or shame me into reversing my position–if not publicly, at least in a private phone call. He talked in circles, but having survived grad school, I am not easily confused even by smart people talking in circles, much less idiots. While some of the details of the call have become fuzzy in my mind, one stands out. After he had failed to make his arguments look logical for half an hour, he went ahead and said what bullies always say in situations like this:

“Don’t be naive, Amy. We both know how this works. This is going to be news for about ten minutes, and then it’s going to blow over, and we’ll be fine. Why would we apologize?”

Why, indeed.

* * * * *

Yesterday, I went to the Capitol wearing a faded orange UT shirt to stand in an orange block of women’s rights advocates protesting the omnibus anti-choice legislation being forced through using Rick Perry’s weapon of choice, a special session, which allows Republicans to circumvent ordinary procedural rules.

I have never done anything like that before. I was in Chicago last week when my husband signed up along with 700 other citizens who had assembled, amazingly, in under 24 hours to testify against the bill in a public hearing. He was silenced in the early hours of the morning along with 300 other citizens when proceedings were shut down and testimony was arbitrarily cut off. I followed it all on the internet from O’Hare and promised myself that if it was still going on when I got back, I would surmount my embarrassment about my political ignorance and go there too.

I went to the Capitol because reading about Thursday night’s proceedings  made me wish I had the chance to show the world that Texans care about the rights of women.

In case you don’t know what the legislation would do, find some background here andhere, or just Google SB5. The information’s out there. The most important thing is that it will introduce burdensome restrictions that will shut down abortion providers statewide, leaving only 5 in the entire state of Texas.

Have you seen the state of Texas recently? It’s the size of France. 26 million people live here. About 13 million of them are women.

About 9.75 million of those women live in the “urban triangle” in close-ish (close is a relative term in a state this big) proximity to Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio. Those 9.75 million women would have their pick of 5 abortion providers, assuming they were willing and able to drive up to 6 hours to get one.And, you know, if there’s not a line.

The other 3.25 million women in Texas live in rural areas, in the Rio Grande Valley, in the Panhandle, in the long stretch of rocky desert that is West Texas. Many of these women suffer under conditions of poverty and marginalization that most Americans don’t believe still exist in their country. Pleading for exceptions, a rep from the Valley  testified that many of her constituents don’t have running water or indoor plumbing. These Texans are uninsured, and because of the dismantling of the Texas Women’s Health Program, they have no access to breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings, STD screenings and prevention, and, of course, birth control. We also, as a state, withhold sex education from these women and girls.

(And always remember, when we talk about women getting health care, we are also talking about girls, children as young as 12, who cannot give their consent but somehow get pregnant anyway due to their extreme vulnerability to sexual abuse and assault, especially in impoverished and underserved communities.)

As a representative from a rural district pointed out last night, to ask these women to somehow pick up and drive 400 miles to a San Antonio clinic within the time frame and restrictions already dictated by Texas law (don’t forget that ultrasound, ladies!) is absurd, stunning, and laughable. (Is cryable a word?)

The irony of all this, the disgusting, horrific irony, is that the Republicans pushing this legislation have the unbridled gall to suggest that they are doing it “to protect women.” They are doing it under the auspices of increasing safety standards. They say that currently abortion providers have medical standards no better than “butcher shops.”

Do they understand what an actual “butcher shop” is? Because they will. Back-alley butcher shops will pop up like mushrooms if these bills go through. And we will learn a bloody lesson about what it means to vote “pro-life.” We will learn it on women’s bodies.

* * * * *

Now here’s the part where Amy, naive Amy, gets politicized. Are you ready? Because I went down to the Capitol with butterflies in my stomach, not just because of my ignorance of the political process, but because of my untested views on abortion, views I have never had to examine, explain, or defend at length, to myself or others.

I know that abortion is a moral, religious, ethical, and philosophical issue for many people. You don’t have to be a religious zealot to see that there are serious questions to be posed, especially in later-term pregnancy. As a doctor friend of mine told me, at 20 weeks, a fetus is approaching viability. There is a case to be made for restrictions after 20 weeks (though not, I want to emphasize, a ban). [There are already intense restrictions on these abortions in the state of Texas, and women who must make this difficult decision for medical reasons face enormous stigma. Please see the comments section for some of those women’s stories. -Oed]

I will say it again: There is room for a real, legitimate debate about the specific terms and restrictions surrounding abortion.

So why should you still be out there screaming, “My body, my life, my right to decide,” with the orange-shirted women and men at the Capitol? If you have conflicting feelings, if you take the ethical concerns surrounding abortion at face value, why should you stand up and shake your fist and yell at the top of your lungs for “choice”?

Because the debate will never happen. Because it’s all a big fucking sham.

Don’t be naive, Amy, I can hear you saying. You didn’t know it was a sham? You thought Texas Republicans were actually invested in women’s health when they introduced this bill, in making medical procedures safer for women?

I wasn’t that naive. But I did think that state reps maybe, just maybe, had ethical and moral objections to abortion.

I no longer believe this is the case.

If they did, they would have debated the issue.

If they did, they would have answered questions about their own bill.

If they did, they wouldn’t have been playing Candy Crush on their cell phones, talking loudly to one another, milling around the floor, snoozing in their chairs, and cutting up like a pack of fourth-grade boys in gym class.

They wouldn’t have been showing each other stuff on their laptops and slapping each other on the back during nonpartisan testimony from the Texas Medical Association that as written, the legislation would introduce a new medical threat to all pregnant women because of a chilling effect on doctors—not abortion providers, mind you, we’re talking about ob/gyns—preventing them from making medical decisions to save the life of mother and child.

They wouldn’t have been smiling and bursting into unrelated laughter as a Democratic rep testified about the difficulty he and his wife had of conceiving their first child, speaking movingly of how serious and complicated an issue abortion was for him.

They wouldn’t have been facing the opposite direction or talking loudly on their cell phones when Rep. Dukes told the story of a woman she met who went through a botched, back-alley abortion before Roe V. Wade.

If Republican Pat Fallon, for instance, gave a shit about the life of the fetus, he wouldn’t have spent the entire eight hours of debate sneaking potato chips from a manila envelope, doing bizarre little dances from his chair, and brandishing a yardstick like a play sword to poke his buddies in the butt as they walked by. But Rep. Pat Fallon wasn’t actually fighting for the life of anything but his own political career. And all he had to do to accomplish that goal was to ignore every logical argument,  compassionate plea, and harrowing anecdote delivered that night, just plug his fat little ears and pretend he was back in the frat house. Mission accomplished.

House Republicans visibly not giving a shit. Couldn't catch the yardstick in action, sadly. It was hilarious though.

House Republicans visibly not giving a shit. Couldn’t catch the yardstick in action, sadly. It was hilarious though.

The blue-shirted true believers up in the gallery cared. They (or, more probably, others like them from out of town) elected him to fight for their pro-life agenda, and as far as they are concerned, he is doing his job, more or less. But do not for one second think it’s because he cares about the pro-life agenda. I watched him like a hawk last night, and while he provided plenty of much-needed amusement in the small hours of the morning, I guarantee you ladies and gentlemen, he did not care.

Rep. Farrar (Democrat from Houston) cared. She lost her voice after 19 hours of logical, compassionate, well-spoken argumentation that she knew was futile. Never once did Dems fall into meaningless chatter, not even after the bill’s supposed author (read: figurehead), Rep. Laubenberg, refused to answer further questions about her own bill. (I would think it was a strategic move, given her ridiculous gaffes–including demonstrating she literally has no idea what a rape kit is–but honestly she was probably just tired of pretending to care.) Rep. Dawnna Dukes (from the EAST SIDE baby! And classy as they come!) cared. She made reasonable, detailed, informed arguments, and delivered her last piece of well-crafted rhetoric at 3 in the morning in a crystal-clear voice. There were more. Believe me, I will figure out who is fighting for me, and I will thank them, individually, in emails when this is all over.

The amazing Rep. Sylvester Turner from Houston said it best in his rousing speech at the end of the night. I can’t find the exact quote on the internet, but the gist of it was this: If abortion is such a goddam serious issue, why wasn’t this legislation introduced earlier? Why was it introduced in a special session designed to push past all procedural rules and force the issue in a matter of days, with no chance for reasoned debate on both sides?

“What you vote for in the dark of night, you will be accountable for in the light of day!” he thundered, and the gallery, disobeying the House rules for the first time in 14 hours, burst into shouts and applause. Rep. Turner gestured toward us and demanded to know, if this was such an important issue, why  we had been silenced during the public hearing? Why wouldn’t Republicans defend their bill, or even answer questions about it, or consider any amendments?

The only answer of sorts came from the gallery, in the form of applause, and it was of course immediately suppressed with threats to remove us. The reps on the floor? They did not feel the need to look up from their Blackberries and iPhones, their potato chips and their yardsticks, their private conversations about the game or whatever else was on their minds.

Meanwhile, we who cared enough to sit there silently, powerlessly, for 14 hours were not even allowed to wiggle our fingers in the “silent clap” of solidarity. We who lined the gallery on all four sides, we who cared enough to be up in the middle of the night, were kept to the strictest rules of decorum, while overgrown frat boys threw figurative spitballs at one another on the floor during this serious debate.

It was a fucking sham.

Daylight left, these people hung around. And a whole whole bunch more.

Shhhh, no clapping from up there! This is just a tiny fraction of the folks who stayed into the night.

* * * * *

So by now you must be asking yourself: Is Amy still naive? Unbelievably, the answer is yes.

Despite the amazing cynicism I saw down on the floor last night, I am still naive enough to believe that my visible and vocal support of women’s rights will make a difference. And so are the hundreds of other orange-shirted Texans—more than a thousand all told, both women and the men who support us because they understand that we are all people, goddammit it. We are incredibly naive. We are naive enough to believe that our presence mattered, that it filled the House Dems with spirit and pride and motivation to do the most thankless work imaginable on the House floor: taking an issue seriously that Republicans in our state honestly could give a flying fuck about, so long as they get reelected.

We who are the under-dogs can afford to be naive, because we’ve got nothing but our bodies to lose.

*Read my follow-up account of Tuesday’s filibuster here.

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