Late last night I got caught up in the drama unfolding in Austin, where hundreds of women rallied to stop a state senate vote that would have effectively shut down most of Texas’ abortion providers.
The effort to ram this bill through in a non-emergency “emergency” session of Texas’ legislature led to a very strange week. We heard Republican state legislators explain about “accurate intercourse” and about how “in the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” And then we saw more than 700 Texas women sign up to testify against the bill — many of them sharing their personal stories, the kinds of stories supporters of this bill usually deny or ignore or choose not to hear.
But the not-emergency session was on a tight schedule, and if lawmakers had allowed every woman who would be harmed by this bill to testify then those hearings might have gone on forever. So hearings were cut short and so were procedural corners and the bill was set for a vote yesterday, the final day of the session.
Sen. Wendy Davis planned to filibuster the bill, but its supporters weren’t worried. Texas’ rules for filibusters are quirky, draconian, and nearly impossible to follow. For Davis’ filibuster to succeed, she would have to speak for 13 straight hours without pausing, sitting, leaning, eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, or addressing anything other than the specific topic of the specific bill in question — with the bill’s supporters allowed to define that as narrowly as they like.
Just consider that for a moment. A single topic, no exceptions, for 13 hours. Speaking aloud for 13 hours straight without wetting your throat. Thirteen hours without a potty break.
Plus, well, Davis is a woman. Supporters of this bill support bills like this one because they believe that women are inherently irresponsible and untrustworthy, requiring legal guidance because they cannot be expected to make correct choices on their own. They tend to underestimate women. And did they ever underestimate Davis.
In the end — after Davis had held the floor for more than 11 straight hours — the only way to silence her was with a bit of procedural Calvinball. When Davis began discussing sonograms, the Republican majority ruled that she had introduced subject matter not “germane” to the bill in question and declared her marathon filibuster over.
Problem is that by that point it was too late. It wasn’t yet midnight — the majority still had time to ram through a vote on the bill — but Davis’ 11-hour ordeal had drawn the eyes of the world to that chamber in Austin. It was a live-stream, YouTube, Twitter sensation. Everybody was watching, and that put a crimp in the original sneak-this-through-while-no-one-is-looking plan. Plus all those people tuning in to watch had heard Davis speaking, sharing more of those stories that the bill’s supporters had been trying so hard not to allow to be heard.
After another hour or so of parliamentary tit-for-tat, it was suddenly 10 minutes to the midnight deadline. That’s when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte set things off in the gallery. Remember all those women who hadn’t been allowed to speak when the hearings were cut short? They spoke. They spoke loud.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst scrambled to regain order and called a voice vote — at 12:02 a.m. That’s Wednesday morning, after the session had officially ended.
No problem, just tweak the time-stamp. Who’s gonna notice?
Well, everybody, as it turns out. As karoli writes:
There was a YouTube live stream, there was a paper record with a timestamp of 12:02 AM for the vote, there was this image of the date discrepancy, and there were plenty of reporters who put it together and deduced that hijinks were afoot.
Oops. Dewhurst had to concede that the vote came too late. Live by the procedural shenanigans, die by the procedural shenanigans. The Texas women who would not be silenced had successfully staved off a bill to silence Texas women.
For now, anyway. Gov. Rick Perry could choose to call another “emergency” session this afternoon, and just keep calling them until the thing passes, as Charles Kuffner says:
Rick Perry can order another special session five minutes after this one ends, and without redistricting to clog the calendar a bill like SB5 would pass with plenty of time to spare. But some fights aren’t about whether you win or lose, they’re about whether you fought or rolled over. Say what else you want, Democrats didn’t roll over. Wendy Davis sure as hell didn’t roll over. Oh, and she kept standing after her filibuster was interrupted by that last point of order.
Here’s my one suggestion for the next round, or the one after that. The roar of “Let her speak” from the gallery was impressive, but chanting can seem unruly and it’s hard to sustain.
This is where we should take our cue from our Kiwi friends. This is where we should be singing.
Sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” or “America the Beautiful,” or “God Bless America,” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas” — they’d be afraid to stop you, since cutting those off would look bad.
Sing “We Shall Overcome” or “I Shall Not Be Moved” — those songs have historical resonance and, more importantly, they have an infinite number of verses and an endless permutation of harmonies. You can keep them going for hours if you have to.
Sing “This Land Is Your Land” because Woody Guthrie still scares all the right people. Heck, you can sing anything just as long as enough of you know the words and the tune. “Amazing Grace.” “Sweet Caroline.” “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” “Hey Jude.” “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
It doesn’t really matter what you’re singing as much as it matters that you’re singing. Singing works.
Next time — and there will be a next time — I’d love to hear some singing.
Update: My bad … there was singing, after the bill’s failure became clear, the crowd sang “The Eyes of Texas”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3VH9OLRDNY
Excellent. Next time, let’s hear even more singing.