“Can You Hear Us Now?” More Than 5,000 Pro-Choice Activists Protest at Capitol
At the start of the second called Legislative special session, pro-choice advocates– with the help of their legislators and a couple of celebrity names– came out to the Capitol grounds by the thousands to send a message to GOP anti-abortion lawmakers– don’t tell a woman what she can do with her body.
More than 5,000 (yes, that’s three zeros) Texas citizens, frustrated and angry enough with the GOP-led war against their bodily rights, showed up to a rally… at noon… on a Monday. Let that soak in for a moment. The tidal wave of renewed energy to salvage women’s healthcare caused by Sen. Wendy Davis’ all-day filibuster had some come out of the woodwork while other activists simply kept up the momentum of recent grassroots efforts to block a duo of abortion-restrictive bills. Although they gained no traction during the regular session and failed during the special session, conservative Gov. Rick Perry has revived them for a third meeting of the legislature this year. It seems like Republican leadership won’t let the legislation, part of which would shut down all but five abortion centers in the state, go– but advocates aren’t letting it happen without a hell of a fight.
Coordinated by reproductive rights groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL-Texas and Whole Women’s Health, the organized “Stand With Texas Women” rally featured a cast of vocal pro-choice Democratic lawmakers, including State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and San Antonio’s Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, whose call to be heard on the Senate floor ignited prolonged cheers and applause from gallery activists in the memorable final minutes of the last session.
“We are going to fight back! We refuse to go backward, we refuse to have our voices drowned out!,” exclaimed Thompson. “[…] Women won’t be bullied!”
And of course, Davis, who attributed her strength in standing uninterrupted to the orange-clad activists in the crowd, saying, “It was your voices that made it possible for me stand for those 13 hours.”
“For years, too many Texas politicians have tried to boost their careers by bullying women who need help with health care,” said Davis. “[…] It shouldn’t be unusual for a public official to stand and fight for the men and women who elected them. It should be a job requirement.”
Sharing the stage was Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, and for some more star power, actresses Stephanie March (from Law and Order: SVU), Lisa Edelstein (from House MD) and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who sang the national anthem.
“To put it in terms Rick Perry would understand– I am an American, I am a Texan and no government gets to make personal decisions for me,” said Richards. “We’ve been shut down, shut out, and told to shut up. Women in the legislature have had their microphones turned off and have been told ‘We can’t hear you.’ So my question is: Can you hear us now?”
Protestors, electrified by the speakers and high turnout, felt empowered. Many traveled far just to express their disdain and stand in solidarity with fellow pro-choice advocates. Take Michele Beal and daughter Cassidy, who drove four hours from their home in McKinney, Texas.
“I’m very disgusted with the underhanded way legislators are trying to get this bill passed,” said the North Texas mother, alluding to the suspension of a two-thirds rule that allowed Democrats blocking power. “They were elected to work within the system and now they’ve decided to throw all the rules out.”
Priscilla Bigner hopped a bus from Houston to be at the Capitol on Monday. She says if her and other activists have to come out from all parts of the state every day for the next 30-days of the specially called session, then she and her allies won’t hesitate. “Fundamentally, they need to start respecting our constitutional rights,” said Bigner.
Inside the Capitol the scene wasn’t so lively. Shortly after gaveling in, the full Senate and House called recess until next week. A House committee– the same one that infamously curbed testimony during the first special session– is expected to review the bill Tuesday at around 3 p.m., but will close testimony at midnight.
After the recess, Van de Putte told the Current the outpouring of activism represents how Republican colleagues have grossly “miscalculated the impact their policies would have on women.” The level of ire is unprecedented– at least in the last couple of decades, says Van de Putte. The legislator said she hadn’t seen women in Texas this angry since Clayton Williams, who ran against former Gov. Ann Richards in 1990, said when raped, a woman should just “relax and enjoy it.” That’ll cost you come November, and needless to say, it did. But in Texas today, male legislators aren’t just making terrible verbal faux paus but are actually crafting laws to restrict women’s health care in unparalleled ways and as a result, generating record contempt.
Aside from the excitement, the celebrity, the Davis-mania, what it comes down to is the fact that thousands of Texas citizens have awakened in full force to take the time to get up, get out (even in the sweltering mid-day Texas heat) and push back and that is nothing short of incredible. The sheer numbers alone and snowballing momentum should frighten state Republicans into thinking twice about ramming the legislation through. Will it? Probably not. But the effects may be a long-term shift in representation as many pro-choice advocates continually stress they’ll remember these draconian bills and who supported them come voting day– and that’s an impact that should be well calculated by the GOP.