Friday Feminist Fuck Yeah: A note of thanks to my fellow Texans

Ed note: This is a guest post by Jessica Luther. Jessica Luther is a freelance writer, reproductive justice activist, historian, and proud Texan. She is on Twitter at @scATX and her main site is jessicawluther.com.
To my fellow Texans:

Living as a progressive in Texas can be hard. Often you feel outnumbered, silenced, and underrepresented.

I have believed for a long time that Texas has the potential to change its political makeup, that all we needed was some kind of spark to light the fire of change.

What happened over the last week, as hundreds and then thousands of Texans showed up in person to protest incredibly restrictive anti-choice and anti-access abortion bills, that was the most beautiful spark I’ve ever seen.

By now, most people have probably heard of Senator Wendy Davis. What she did
on Tuesday filibustering the anti-abortion bill was nothing short of heroic. She used her political position to fight for the people most often trampled on by our state legislature. She used her filibuster to tell the stories of many people who were turned away during the political process, bringing their powerful, sometimes heartbreaking words to the fore. I will be forever grateful to her.

But I want to tell you all, my fellow Texans, how grateful I am for you, too.

Last Thursday, 700 of you showed up and stayed long into the night to tell your personal stories and to help delay the bill as much as possible. You stood in front of the House Committee, most of the members clearly not caring about your words. You all talked of what it meant to be a single low-income mother in Texas, what it feels like to abort a child after 20 weeks and why no one should make that decision for you, how these bills would specifically hurt you as a transgender woman, how you were raped by your brother and cannot imagine what it means not to have a rape or incest exception, what it feels like as a young black woman to be told by a lot of white men about what is best for your body, and how your severe fibromyalgia would make a pregnancy practically unbearable.

Then on Sunday, roughly a thousand of you showed up for the House debate and vote on the bill, many of you again staying very late into the night. You lined the hallways of the capitol and stared down the representatives who were going to soon vote away your right to bodily autonomy. You filled the gallery, following ridiculous rules of decorum that existed only so that members of the House could act like you weren’t there at all. You held signs, you chanted, you cheered and booed along with debate as you watched it on a live feed in an auditorium in the basement of the capitol.

And then on Tuesday – a day I will never forget – at least two thousand of you showed up to support Wendy Davis’ filibuster. There were people who sat in uncomfortable gallery seats for over 10 hours, their knees jammed into the row of chairs in front of them, foregoing food and bathroom breaks for fear of losing their place in the gallery. Because the line to get into the gallery wrapped around three floors of the Texas state capitol by 8pm that night. You were patient, you were friendly, and you were there.

On each of these days (Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday), people drove in from all over the state. I saw people from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth. There were people on both Thursday and Tuesday who worked all day, then got in their cars, and drove hours to be there, some driving back that same night.

The crowd that night wasn’t diverse in a way that truly represented the diversity of Texas (but rather represented the lack of diversity in Austin). Jennifer Longoria, a Hispanic woman who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and now lives in San Antonio, told me that she didn’t view the lack of diversity in a bad way. “It’s good to see that women that aren’t of color were there to represent those who couldn’t be there because of work or childcare,” she said. “If you couldn’t do the drive [to the capitol on] Tuesday, you certainly couldn’t do the drive if you needed an abortion.”

Looking around, I saw the faces of both men and women. There were families, university students, people the age of my grandparents. Ellen Sweets, a 73-year-old writer and author living in Austin, told me that she saw “so many young women.” She said that the number of young people in the crowd on Tuesday “gave lie to the notion that millennials are not engaged, not concerned.” And she noted specifically that so many of those young people were not there lightly: “I was surrounded by so many young people, ones willing to go to jail.”

People from all different walks of life helped me distribute food to the thousands gathered in the rotunda after 10pm on Tuesday night. I stood between a lesbian couple on my right and a mom standing with her teenage daughter on my left during that final, fateful hour. So, while I was mainly looking around at a lot of women who looked like me, I was struck by the overall community of people. And then, with 10 minutes left until midnight, this group of Texans mainly made up of women, literally raised their voices collectively and so loudly that we made it impossible for the legislators to vote through sexist, horrific legislation.

And I literally fell in love with every single person screaming alongside me that night.
But this love letter would not be complete without recognizing the Texans who, as legislators, made me proud to call myself a Texan. Back when the bill was originally in the Senate committee, Senator Royce West asked brilliant, pointed questions of Senator Hegar, the bill’s author. This was similar to what Representative Jessica Farrar did in the House committee. And Farrar stayed up with us until 4am, then was back the next morning to vote against the bill in committee. She returned on Sunday and was joined by the estimable Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Rep. Mary Gonzalez, Rep. Dawnna Dukes, Rep. Sylvester Turner, Rep. Chris Turner, and Rep. Donna Howard, among others. They worked as a team, proposing and debating amendment after amendment, drawing the proceedings that night out until almost 4am. That effort meant that the bill did not return to the Senate until 11am on Tuesday morning.
As Wendy Davis stood there for over 11 hours, filibustering SB5, she was joined by Senator Kirk Watson, who often stood with her and in that final two hours, did his own version of filibustering by asking the greatest, longest questions about parliamentary procedure. Senators Judith Zaffirini, Juan Hinojosa, Rodney Ellis (who infamously touched Davis’ back brace in an attempt to make her slightly more comfortable), Sylvia Garcia, and Royce West remained by her side. Arlene Cornejo, a Chicana woman who was there on Tuesday to protest SB5, told me that “I felt really proud especially of Senator Hinojosa. I felt that he was helping to dispel the myth that all Hispanics in low-income areas are Catholic and anti-choice. I felt that this was amazing that he was coming out not just neutral, but in strong support of women’s rights.”

Finally, Senator Leticia Van De Putte, who had left her father’s funeral to return for the filibuster. Having been passed over by the President of the Senate repeatedly, when she finally got the chance to speak, Van De Putte said, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” Later, on Twitter, she admitted, “I was so emotionally frustrated and exhausted. The words just came out.” But those words set off the gallery. And the gallery set off the people waiting in the hallway, and they set off the rest of us in the rotunda.

If you look at those iconic photos of the legislators holding their two fingers up in the air as the gallery screamed during those final 12 minutes or so, you will see all of these senators and most of those representatives standing together, for us and with us.

In those final minutes, I felt like I saw the future and I saw what Texas could be. I am not naive. I know it was a single event and we have a long, uphill climb ahead of us. It took a whole lot of Texans and a whole lots of work for many days to make those final 12 minutes even a possibility. And yet we did it. You, my fellow Texas citizens, are the ones that made that happen.

I thank you from the bottom of my lone star heart.
Jessica

 

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    This is just beautiful, Jessica. I am so in awe of all of you, and so inspired! You are fighting the good fight, and I’m gonna do whatever I can from California to support all of you :)

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