Last night at the capitol

So last night, June 25-26, 2013, I was at the Texas capitol to support efforts by the remarkable Texas state senator Wendy Davis and other Democrats in the Senate to filibuster a bill that would have set back women’s reproductive rights in this state 40 years. It would have closed down 37 of 42 abortion clinics in this state.

To go from 42 to 5 abortion clinics operating in a state with a population of over 25 million is unconscionable. It sure feels like a war on women. Rural women, poor women, overburdened women will be underserved. Unwanted children will be born. Including children of rape and incest.

After a few hours of debate (and after I went home exhausted, hoarse, deafened, and with sore feet from standing for hours), legislators finally (rightfully) agreed that the clock on the special session had indeed run out before the vote was complete.

We prevailed last night. The issue was galvanizing, and victory tasted sweet.

My favorite protest sign simply said, “That’s Mine”.

Governor Perry today called for another special session that will again include abortion legislation. So it ain’t over, not by a long shot, but I have to say that last night was electric. The Texas Democratic party and supporters of reproductive freedom are revitalized, and we showed that progressive forces can win in this oh-so-red state.

Anyway, a local Presbyterian minister who’s an activist for progressive causes did such a great job writing about it that I’m sharing what he wrote. To read the original, go to http://jimrigby.org.

About Last Night (Arab Spring Texas Style)

There could have been a riot last night in the Texas Capitol. I don’t know how to put what happened into words. I have been involved in Texas politics for maybe thirty years and I have never seen anything like it. I suspect few of us had.

After the Republicans appeared to have won the day and passed a bill that added a horrible burden on poor rural women seeking reproductive healthcare, as soon as it became clear that the Republicans were going to make up the rules as they went along, including a final dirty trick of letting the bill pass after time had expired, it was clear that the women of Texas had had enough.

Words fail. It was like a Kafka novel where humanity and the structure of a building merge. Suddenly, from the capitol extension, one could feel a vibration coming from the Rotunda where people had begun shouting and stomping and producing a noise that was so loud it was hard to make out the words being chanted.

At the time, I could not make out what people were saying, but the men were chanting a refrain and the women were answering. It turns out the chant began with the men asking, “Whose house is it?” and the women responding in deafening thunder, “Our house!” Through the early years of this movement in Texas I always expected to be one of a handful of men at such a gatherings. My eyes filled with tears as I realized those days are over. The women of Texas have found their beautiful angry voice and the men of Texas have their back. We have all begun to realize that reproductive choice isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is a human rights issue as basic as any other.

The people seemed to realize they had to stop asking for their own power. They needed to stop asking permission to be fully human. When this bill passed, it could have been just one more indignity for Texas women. After all, the Republicans of Texas have launched a tireless assault on women for decades. As one more anti-choice bill passed in the Texas House and then Senate, suddenly a realization seemed to dawn on the masses all at once. They realized that these Republicans will never stop trying to control Texas women. They will never really listen to what Texas women have to say. And they will cheat at every turn because they believe they are right by definition.

After the bill appeared to pass another reading, people ran toward the rotunda for what might mean certain arrest. One Republican talked about removing the people if they would not be quiet, and then something happened. I saw a look of determined peace in the peoples’ eyes as they ran toward what might be their own arrest. It was the peace one only sees in those who have given themselves to do their duty at any price.

As the politicians struggled to justify their anti-democratic actions, democracy broke out all around them. It must have been hard to think with apocalyptic thunder ringing from the heart of the building. In the end, the Republicans agreed to throw out the bill. I have no idea what happened behind closed doors, but this much seems clear. Last night would not have happened had the people lacked a revolutionary courage and a willingness to be civilly disobedient. Nor could last night have happened had there not been people who stayed to work within the system to translate the peoples’ energy into law. And we must not forget the x factor. Last night could not have happened had not at least one Republican done the right thing. Republicans are not our enemies, they are our friends, but they cannot be our overlords. This world belongs to us all and if necessary the people will rise up to make it so.

The evening ended with Cecile Richards leading us in a song that, as a native Texan, always seemed trite, ”The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.” I have never heard the song as a revolutionary anthem until last night. Our nation is a representative democracy. And, as Jefferson warned, if the powers that be do not represent the people, then the people must rise up and remind them where all real legitimate power resides, not in the government but in the people. Last night Republicans were served notice that they must represent every Texan or find new employment.

The Eyes of Texas are upon you, 
All the live long day. 
The Eyes of Texas are upon you, 
You can not get away. 
Do not think you can escape them 
At night or early in the morn- 
The Eyes of Texas are upon you 
‘Till Gabriel blows his horn.

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