Texas State Senator Wendy Davis is a hero. She filibustered a restrictive abortion bill for 11 hours yesterday without break, without food, without drink, and without more physical support than that offered by a pair of running shoes and a back brace. She then stood or the remaining hour of the special session after the Republican chair claimed that discussing sonogram requirements wasn’t “germane” to debate on an abortion bill. She stood as Democratic senators raised an hour and 45 minutes worth of points of order and arguments largely supplied by people following the debate on Twitter, for 15 minutes more as the crowd made business impossible, and for another 45 minutes or so as the Republican chair claimed the bill had been passed and chaos reigned, in case it was important.

She talked about why safe, legal, easy to obtain abortions are critical to the health of women and the well-being of families and children. She told the stories of people who had had abortions or whose families had been affected by abortions for the better. She talked about the implications of the bill–this being what prompted the chair to claim she was off-topic and declare her filibuster over.

She’s a hero. But I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about that hour that started 15 minutes before midnight.

Senate Republicans were doing their best to ignore parliamentary procedure and rush a vote into place. Several objections had been raised to their claiming that Davis’s filibuster had violated the rules and was, thus, done. Democratic senators were trying to raise more, but they were being ignored by the chair. Then Senator Leticia Van de Putte raised this objection.

“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?”

She wasn’t very loud, but it was a question that had particular relevance for the crowd in the gallery. They had been chanting, “Let her speak”, while the debate went on over ending Davis’s filibuster. That applause you can hear at the end of this video didn’t die off. It grew until it was all that could be heard in the senate chamber. Then it stayed at that level until 12:01, past the end of the special session.

Then an invalid vote took place, and the people in the gallery were arrested.

They’d been prepared to be arrested. Word had gone out over Twitter and from there, I’m sure, through any part of the crowd that wasn’t already aware. The sentence for this kind of disruption was 48 hours in jail. Here were defense attorney phone numbers. Here were the numbers to call to have bail posted. People watching this are ready to contribute for funds for bail.

They were prepared. They disrupted proceedings.  They were arrested.

People on Twitter witnessed the arrests. They tweeted images from within the chambers and described what they saw via the feed.

Twitter also became a collection of real-time testimony on the vote and the aftermath. A huge number of people screamed in protest when they watched the vote be taken and entered after the end of the session. They screamed when the Associated Press reported the word of one Republican official that the bill had passed as fact without attribution. They screamed when the recorded date of the vote was changed from June 26 to June 25 in the legislative computer system.

People screamed last night. They looked up laws and documented what was happening. Armed with those, they stood in the face of a corrupt, incompetent government and a corrupt, complacent press and yelled until they had everyone’s attention. They were emotional, they were organized, and they were ready to stand longer and fight less civilly than Senator Davis or Senator Van de Putte had.

And they won.

That group of legislators–willing to disregard the views of the people they were elected to represent and the rules of body and state that they swore to uphold–gave in to the screaming. They were ready to step outside the power that had been legally granted to them, but the screaming crowd, and the weapons they brought, gave them pause. They admitted the bill hadn’t passed. The screaming won out.

So sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Are you ready to scream?”

Tweet from 11 minutes before the end of the legislative session. Text quoted in the post.

@freebsdgirl: Because apparently screaming is what it takes.

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28 thoughts on “Screaming

  1. 2

    Thanks for writing this. The media focuses on the screaming as if it were just pointless emotional screaming. It wasn’t though, it was screaming at the injustice of what was being done, it was screaming in frustration at our elected officials breaking the law (some say rules, but really, wasn’t it a law?). It was righteous screaming. And it got heard.

  2. 3

    I thought the republicans were in favor of filibustering….? Did I miss that, somewhere?

    I’m seeing the flip side of that argument a lot, too: that you’re a hypocrite if you support this filibuster but not the constant Republican “filibusters” in the Senate.

    There’s a couple of important distinctions, though. Partly the fact that the Texas Republicans tried to sneak this bill through a special emergency session, when it isn’t an emergency and before the public has had a chance to be heard. But mainly it’s the fact that the “filibusters” that take place in the U.S. Senate are not really talking filibusters at all — it’s the rule that you need 60 votes for cloture before you can proceed on anything. Republican senators don’t even have to show up, let alone speak, to “filibuster” in the U.S. Senate, and that’s messed up.

    (Rand Paul’s recent filibuster on drones was different. It was still lame for different reasons — he was holding out for a “concession” that the Attorney General had already agreed on.)

  3. 6

    @#5: Indeed.

    When you have asked nicely, when you have explained and played fair and firmly insisted upon your right to be heard, when you have followed the rules even though you are facing down an opponent who disregards your very right to speak as invalid and resorts to dirty tricks to keep you from being heard or to undo all your efforts, sometimes the only recourse left is the deliberate and carefully measured tactic of incivility.

    I am so proud of Texas right now. <— Add that to the list of things I never though I'd say.

  4. 7

    Is it really fair to call civil disobedience incivility? The people cried out against injustice. They broke the law. On purpose, with the ultimate goal of upholding fairness. Perhaps it’s not straight out of Emily Post, but it has a dignity all its own.

    Whatever you call it, it was a wondrous thing!

  5. 10

    What nowadays passes as a filibuster in the US Senate is much like the fake war in Star Trek TOS: A Taste of Armageddon. Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the old-fashioned way, the way that US Senate filibusters used to be. I’d like that restored. I’d like to see those Republican “filibusterers” try to do what she did.

  6. 11

    I’m struck by the ableism in the law on filibusters. The speaker can’t sit, lean, take a break, eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. So…if they use a wheelchair, they can’t even start one? If they’re diabetic, they’re only allowed to filibuster as long as their blood sugar doesn’t get wonky? If she simply isn’t physically able (as I wouldn’t be, with my back issues and my use of a cane) to stand for 13 hours, then her constituents should have, what, chosen a representative who’s more fit? What is this, Sparta?

    I mean, don’t get me wrong – I think she’s amazing and wonderful, and her dedication to carrying it out when it was obviously gruelingly painful is inspiring – just the rules requiring this of her would seem to be clearly foul of the ADA.

  7. 13

    Oh cool – thank you, Stephanie. I don’t use Twitter, so I find it hard to follow conversations that go there, obviously. I appreciate the update. 🙂

  8. 14

    Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the old-fashioned way, the way that US Senate filibusters used to be. I’d like that restored. I’d like to see those Republican “filibusterers” try to do what she did.

    While I agree with the sentiment, making laws based on physical endurance also is really ableist. For instance, according to the rules, an elected official in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane would be barred from filibustering. So would someone diabetic or with other conditions that preclude going without food or water for long periods. That doesn’t make Davis’s filibuster any less impressive, but it’s not fair representation. (Some commenters pointed out that technically it might amount to torture, since the alternative was to go along with unethical conduct, IIRC.)

  9. 16

    Civility is conducive to useful dialogue. But that takes the participation of all or enough of the parties concerned – both, in a simple case of two parties. If one party’s thrown that out the window already, remaining civil is at best above and beyond the obligation of the other party and at worst capitulation to the abandonment of amiable politics by the villains of the piece.

    Here, shouting and screaming are what honest politics took and did the trick.

  10. rq

    Excellent post. Like, like, like all over this one.
    I’m nowhere near Texas, and I got my lilve-blog information from the Lounge this (European) morning, but even I could feel the tension and the determination and the need for this kind of resistance. I am glad that it happened, that Wendy Davis (and the others) stood up to scream (although I’m not glad that there was reason for it to happen in the first place).
    She was definitely speaking, on some level, for me, as well. And for that, I can never thank her enough (as well as all those that made it possible for her to go on for so long, and, in the end, for all the stalling and the ruckus and, yes, the screaming).

  11. 19

    Just as a matter of interest in the Australian Parliaments (State and Federal) the filibuster is easily thwarted:

    (1) Any member, except a member who has already spoken in the debate, may move without notice that a member who is speaking “Be no longer heard”.

    (2) The motion “That the member be no longer heard” may not be debated or amended.

  12. 20

    Seconded #17. This is the most powerful piece I have a read in a long time. Kudos to the senators who filibustered, power to the masses screaming for justice and congratulations to Texas for holding evil at bay for this day.

  13. 21

    I don’t want to be the grumpy cousin at the feast, but can’t the Republicans keep trying to pass this legislation every week?

  14. 23

    On the need to alter the U. S. Senate Filibuster rules: They do need to be changed. They don’t need to be ablist in construction, but they do need to require an actual presence, a willingness to literally bring the building (and thus, governance) to a dead stop. It would keep it from being used and abused over every little thing. At one point, the GOP has used the current rules to filibuster something as innocuous as a resolution honoring Mother’s Day. (One can legitimately regard such resolutions as trite tripe, but using the filibuster to stop trite tripe is even greater overkill.)

    And yes, this woman is fucking heroic.

  15. 25

    Where is Molly Ivans when you need her? I suspect she would have loved the protests and commotion. But she was only one voice, and all those combined voices, coupled with the here-and-now of Twitter, give me hope. They won’t win, this time, but I hope this is just the beginning of the good fight.

  16. 26

    Rick Perry has some words at National Right to Life Conference today.

    First about Wendy Davis:
    PERRY: In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.

    On the pro-choice movement, “the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.”


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