Wednesday September 25th, 2013 was the evening the Lilith Fund celebrated its 10th Annual Reproductive Equity Awards, honoring those who fought for Reproductive Justice in the recent past. This year’s winners were all familiar faces: representatives Jessica Ferrar, Dawnna Dukes and Mary Gonzalez, and activists Brittany Yelverton, Jessica Luther and Andrea Grimes. Each of these women was an integral part of the fight against abortion restrictions here in Texas this summer, and their speeches reminded everyone present how special it was to have thousands of concerned citizens band together at the Capitol. Although I am not a native Texan I could not be more proud of the women of Texas had I been born here.
Tuesday June 25th I arrived at the Capitol, eager to hear new feminist icon Wendy Davis filibuster her way into history. At 4PM the line to get into the gallery already wound around the rotunda and down the stairs, and it would only get longer from there.
I joined my friends and colleagues in the auditorium serving as the overflow room and hunkered down for the evening. Politics is a lot more fun when you get to cheer and shout and commiserate with those around you. Who needs a gallery!? Davis had to delay vote on the bill until after midnight, when it would expire. There are many excellent accounts of what transpired during Davis’ filibuster, but my most vivid memory is the people’s filibuster, the last 15 minutes of the night when the Republicans decided to call the vote.
The line to the gallery swam from the third floor around the rotunda, down the staircase and around and down to the first floor. When the hour was approaching my fellow activists in Get Equal Texas and I went up to the third floor to check the scene out. The left side of the hallway was open, so we walked directly up to the doors of gallery, where we were met by State Troopers who told us no one was going in and no one was coming out.
We stood there, waiting, as a crowd gathered behind us, a sea of humanity, waiting, holding our collective breath. Before too long the entire hallway was jammed full of people in orange, going crazy with the pent-up feeling that “WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!” I was standing at the threshold of the door, holding onto a brass railing for the few steps that lead into the gallery itself, with the crowd nudging me forward. The drone of people talking in the hallway sounded like a beehive, and when a State Trooper grabbed me by the arm to force me away from the stairs all I could hear was Tiffani by my side shouting “SIT!” as she linked arms with me. So we sat, arms linked, and others from Get Equal Texas sat too, then more and more people near the doors sat, until it was clear to the Troopers that we weren’t going anywhere. #StandWithWendy became #SitWithWendy and people throughout the Capitol were staging a spontaneous sit-in. Then the texts came in from friends in the gallery telling us to make noise….
And make noise we did.
Lead by Brittany Yelverton, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ Community Organizer, the hundreds of us crammed into that hallway chanted, clapped, stomped, booed, and screamed our bloody hearts out. We had sounded the alarm for every person in that giant building who cared about human rights, and for fifteen full minutes we gave everything we had, thousands of us, crying out for justice. And it worked!
The clock struck midnight and we kept screaming, just to make sure we weren’t imagining things. Of course the politicians played their dirty tricks and changed the time stamp on the official documents to show that a vote in favor of the bill had taken place before midnight even amongst the chaos, but too many intelligent citizen journalists around the country had already taken screen shots showing that the vote did not take place before the deadline.
Total hours at the Capitol: 9
We were satisfied with ourselves but as you know it wasn’t enough to stop the bill for good, so in the words of the late, great Governor Ann Richards “I’m hardly satisfied. I’m outraged most of the time.”
Join us next time for continued coverage of Texas women’s tenacity. There’s a lot more to come, I promise you.