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At the top of our Lungs: The People’s Filibuster of the Texas Senate

At the top of our Lungs: The People’s Filibuster of the Texas Senate
Wed, 6/26/2013 - by J. Andrés Araiza

For the first time in recent memory, the shouts from concerned citizens killed one of the strictest abortion bills in the country. Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst labeled us “an unruly mob using Occupy tactics.” I call our actions nothing short of an historic expression of democratic principles.

On the morning of June 25, 2013, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis began a 13-hour filibuster of Senate Bill 5. The bill would have eliminated abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and required all abortions to be initiated in what amount to surgical centers. This bill would force the closure of all but a handful of abortion providers in the second biggest state in the union. Women in rural areas would have to drive hundreds of miles to exercise their right to have an abortion.
 
At 11:18 a.m. yesterday, Sen. Davis began her filibuster. Her goal was to keep talking until midnight to kill the bill during a special session of the Texas legislature. No bathroom breaks. No leaning on her desk. No sitting. Governor Rick Perry put abortion among the many issues for lawmakers to address during the session.
 
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. last night, Texas Republican senators used a series of parliamentary tactics to forcibly end Sen. Davis’ filibuster. Democrats in turn used a series of tactics to delay a vote on SB 5 but their tactics were running out as 11:45 p.m. approached.
 
I sat in the Senate gallery looking directly at Sen. Davis and her democratic colleagues. I will never forget the desperate look on those lawmakers’ faces. The filibuster had come so far and only 15 minutes remained. They were staring right at us. We knew something had to be done to kill SB 5.
 
But what could the citizens seated in the gallery do? We weren’t lawmakers. We were a group of men and women, grandparents, students and professionals. Voters elected the people below us to debate and decide legislation like SB 5.
 
The answer came to us shortly after 11:45 p.m.: Use your voice. The spoken word, including yelling, is one of the most democratic tools in a citizen’s arsenal. Voting is an action you take in a democracy -- but yelling is a blunter expression of democratic principles.
 
People around me started asking: “What if we scream for the next 15 minutes? Can we help Sen. Davis and the democrats kill SB5? Can we create enough noise to make voting impossible?” Then, as we heard a vote commencing on what appeared to be a motion to begin the vote on SB 5, instinct took over.
 
We started to scream.
 
I stood on the front row of the Senate Gallery looking directly at Senator Davis. While holding two fingers in the air (a no-vote symbol that senators use), I screamed at the top of my lungs with others to help delay the passage of SB 5.
 
Lo and behold, our yells were heard around the world. Twitter lit up with people from California to New York discussing the protest. The major broadcast networks aired updates and footage of the People's Filibuster. Dozens of videos were immediately posted on YouTube, including the one I recorded.
 
 
The chants ranged from “Wendy, Wendy!” to “Shame on you, Shame on you!” (in refererence to Republicans' attempt to end Sen. Davis’ filibuster).
 
But the chant that resonated with me the most was “10 more minutes, 10 more minutes, 10 more minutes!” When I heard that, I understood that the entire gallery -- 99% of whom were total strangers to me -- had the same thought and that we were working in unison: delay, delay, delay this bill until midnight when it dies as the special session ends.
 
As the gallery was being cleared by security after midnight, I knew we had won. We had screamed for 15 minutes straight. Dozens of screaming voices muddied the waters. Our democratic expression of yelling had affected legislation.
 
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst responded to the bill’s failure saying that “an unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.” 
 
No, Lt. Governor, we aren’t an unruly mob. This is how democracy is supposed to work. Citizens rise up and speak out, even in the Senate gallery itself, when our leaders take us down a dangerous path.
 
In the final moments of June 25, the citizens of Texas won: for the first time in our history the people successfully filibustered. It might be a temporary victory, because the governor is expected to call another special session to deal with abortion. 
 
But we succeeded in one aspect: the eyes of the world are now on Texas. Because the ears heard us loud and clear.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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