Wednesday, June 26, 2013

History in the Making

Last night, I witnessed a number of historic events taking place in the big ol' state of Texas. I happened upon an article on a women's site I frequent, urging readers to watch a live stream as State Senator Wendy Davis embarked on an intended 13-hour filibuster of a bill that would effectively close most of the state's abortion-providing facilities, which also provide numerous other healthcare services.

Davis wasn't having any of it.

She started speaking shortly after 11:00 CT in pink tennis shoes, reading testimony submitted by fellow Texans in opposition of the bill. Streaming the footage online, I found myself close to tears as Davis read page after page of heart-breaking stories: women whose friends had undergone illegal and unsafe abortions due to limited access to a clinic; women who had fled Texas for New York for the opportunity to have a safe abortion performed; women who spoke out for those that don't have the money to put an extra gallon of gas in their tanks to return to a clinic the following day, as the new bill mandated. Wendy herself was in tears for the better part of an hour relating these stories. I admire her courage to read these raw testimonials to a room largely full of men who could truly never be faced with such choices and circumstances.

I raced home to stream the footage while cooking dinner, and the real "fun" started. Opposing senators started asking to question Senator Davis. The rules of filibuster require that she may engage with other legislators, as long as she did not yield the floor. She did not yield. I listened, horrified and angered, as men mansplained to her that this bill was really, really about women's health, Senator. This bill was going to cut down on the number of abortions, Senator. I love women, and it makes my heart hurt to hear that they have had abortions, Senator. Religion, Senator. Davis kept her composure while I screamed at the television.

And let's talk about television. Not a single mainstream media outlet picked this story up. ONE local outlet, the Texas Tribune, streamed the footage online via Youtube. I took to Twitter. #standwithwendy was the cry of the night, as I watched internet friends pick apart what was happening, and react along with me. Davis continued, not allowed to eat, use the restroom, sit, take a drink, or lean on her podium. She fought back, standing for and giving voice to women who could not speak in front of the body. Then the infractions started rolling in: Wendy was told she had veered off-topic- STRIKE. Wendy was given assistance with a back brace from another Senator- STRIKE. 

Finally, while speaking about sonograms and the abortive drug RU-486, she was called for being off-topic again. Because speaking about sonograms, a requirement under Texas law to receive an abortion, is off-topic to a bill that seeks to limit abortion access. Yup. The filibuster was declared over around 10pm CT. The gallery erupted, chanting, "LET HER SPEAK!"

Roughly 100 minutes to go, and fellow opposers of the bill started politicking. I realized, watching the "Can we preserve some semblance of women's body autonomy by debating points of order for an hour or so," that I wouldn't be going to sleep anytime soon. State Senator Watson started MILKING. THOSE. PAUSES. to the point that I couldn't tell if the feed was cutting out, or if he was just speaking that slowly. He asked questions about the process and procedures, which rules were in fact broken to end to filibuster, who had spoken first or next or last. We had a change in the lineup, (for some reason I still don't know because NO ONE WAS COVERING THIS TO EXPLAIN IT) and a new Senate President came to the front of the room to stand next to the Parliamentarian. State Senator Van De Putte returned from her father's funeral in San Antonio and started asking slow, deliberate questions about what had transpired in her absence. New President of the Senate dude wasn't up to the task. Making it painfully obvious that he had no idea what was going on, hadn't been paying close attention earlier, and had no idea how to follow Robert's Rules of Order, he fumbled his way through Van De Putte's questions. New President dude wrongly calls a series of events in the worst game of Who's on First ever, then refuses to consult the transcript of the live, streaming event, where everyone at home knows you got it wrong. Talk about looking good.

My Twitter feed exploded. I quite literally couldn't retweet fast enough. "The President of the Texas Senate is about 5 seconds away from yelling "BECAUSE GIRLS ARE STUPID!" and running away." "A sit-in has already begun in the Capitol rotunda." "They have locked the doors to the Capitol." "Male legislators literally NOT LETTING a female leg speak about a bill that only affects women." "Amazing. 100k watching #standwithwendy online and no network will cover historic defense of women's rights."

I switched over the Facebook. Crickets. Possibly one of the most historic modern fights for body autonomy, and two people in my network were talking about it. Two more had shared a photo of Senator Davis on the Senate floor. How does this disparity come about? I learned that an old friend from high school, now a Texan herself, was watching from the gallery. She informed me this had been going on since THURSDAY. How did I not know about this?

Senator Zaffarini starts asking questions. Interesting note, here. She is staunchly against abortion, but also atunchly against this bill, as she debated with the Senate president for long minutes. She calls out several things that have been bandied about Twitter, showing the foresight to check in with DA PEOPLE who have been watching these proceedings. Watson starts reading from the handbook for long minutes, making Parliamentary Inquiry after Inquiry. President dude is still way flustered, starts calling on anyone who will get him out of this except WAIT, Senator Watson never yielded the floor. President dude doesn't care. Someone calls the question. Everyone watching the live feed is screaming (just me?).

They start calling roll to vote on this bill. There is commotion in the gallery. And then, Van De Putte decides she has had enough. Mid-way through, she gets the president's attention. Still composed, she asserts that she moved to adjourn the meeting before roll was called. The president retorts that she was not recognized, he didn't hear her, la la la la la. Interestingly enough, the gallery heard herd her loud and clear. Van De Putte isn't done. She asks, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice in order to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?"

The gallery ERUPTS. The minutes tick down. As my favorite tweet of the night reports, "The female bodies in the gallery have a way of shutting that whole thing down." It is 11:59. Still cheering. It is midnight. The gallery will not be silenced. Wendy Davis started it. Watson, Zaffarini, and Van De Putte brought it to the finish line, and the people are taking it home. It is after midnight. I am crying, proud of my generation. "This is what we talk about when we say we are not shutting up." "This is like the playoffs, except for people who care about human rights." "If I scream loud enough, do you think they can hear me in Texas?" "Texas Tribune reporting that State Troopers are refusing to shut down protesters in the gallery." "It is past midnight. Your vote is a pumpkin."

BUT WAIT. These guys are sneaky. The state Senate is massing in the front of the room. They couldn't be... voting? It's clearly after midnight. Over 150,000 people are watching live. The mics are turned off. We watch and howl in outrage. The AP posts an article stating that the bill was voted on before midnight (when their special session was officially no longer in session) and passed. Outrage, outrage.

Because here's the thing. Filibustering is a weird thing, but it is a thing that has a place in our legislative system. Any legislator may hold the floor for as long as they like and speak. Supporters of the bill were vaguely within their rights to try and stop the filibuster (still not convinced about the back brace/disability/reasonable accommodations thing), and they stopped it. Opponents of the bill were within their rights to politick their way to stall the meeting. Which they did.

The GOP still decided to bend time and space (well, just time) and then LIE about it, using an AP contact, in order to win. In order to strip a multitude of women of their rights. In order to remove safe healthcare from largely poor and rural areas. This is a large indication of wrongdoing. This is a large indication of a broken system. This is what needs to be fixed.

Perry can call another special session tomorrow to "ram this bill through." Old white men have this odd fascination with sticking their fingers in women's bodies and poking their heads in women's doctor's offices, while screaming that their bank accounts remain personal, private information.

This is important beyond Texas. Without the Texas Tribune, this would have happened without ANY media coverage, and they could (in all likelihood would) have gotten away with an ILLEGAL passing of a bill after the special session had expired. People in power don't get to pick and choose which rules to follow, and constituents must be vigilant. We vote for our representatives (vote, people!), but that is not where it ends. Even now, Ohio is doing crazy things to their budget to... (ready?) regulate abortion. Let's get on board with paying attention to our government. It's important.