Read

Search form

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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

Brexit, E.U. Referendum, UKIP, British austerity policies

Scotland was told in 2014 that a vote for British unity was the only way to stay in the E.U. Now, the opposite is true, and along with Northern Ireland's growing call for independence, the fragmentation of the U.K. appears to have begun.

Dozens of members of the Traditionalist Worker Party gathered with the Golden State Skinheads for a rally at the state capitol and were met by about 400 counter-protesters.

The new investment policy forces the city’s pension fund, worth $850 million, to divest from shares of European oil giants.

gun violence, gun lobby, mass killings, National Rifle Association

Powerful almost by default, and handled with a clear mission at hand and an eye for empathy, "91%" is a call to activist arms.

Oaxaca teacher strikes, Educational Reform, National Coordinator of Education Workers, National Union of Education Workers, Enrique Peña Nieto, student deaths, student disappearances, Nochixtlán blockade, Nochixtlán violence, Popular Assembly of the Peopl

Teachers in southern Mexico are back on the barricades, and once again the state has responded with brute force.

Hawaii GMOs, anti-GMO movement, genetically engineered crops, Syngenta, Monsanto, Earthjustice

Most people know Hawaii for its beautiful beaches, world-class surfing and delicious Kona coffee, but the islands are also ground zero for GE crops – and last week various counties were in court to defend themselves against them.

Posted 6 days 9 hours ago
Abby Martin, Monsanto, World Health Organization, carcinogens

Few corporations in the world are as loathed – and as sinister – as Monsanto, but the threat posed to people and planet could be reaching new heights.

Posted 4 days 9 hours ago
Brexit, Jo Cox, E.U. referendum, Britain Stronger in Europe, Electoral Reform Society, Left Leave, rightwing movements, U.K. xenophobia

Many are calling the U.K.’s European Union referendum vote on Thursday, the most important vote in every British person’s lifetime.

Posted 5 days 8 hours ago
Jo Cox, white supremacy, racism, anti-immigrant, Brexit, Tommy Mair, political killings, E.U. referendum

The murder of Jo Cox has shocked British society, sparking renewed discussions about how to deal with racism, hatred, xenophobia and white supremacy just days before the Brexit vote.

Posted 6 days 9 hours ago
gun violence, gun lobby, mass killings, National Rifle Association

Powerful almost by default, and handled with a clear mission at hand and an eye for empathy, "91%" is a call to activist arms.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago
Hawaii GMOs, anti-GMO movement, genetically engineered crops, Syngenta, Monsanto, Earthjustice

Most people know Hawaii for its beautiful beaches, world-class surfing and delicious Kona coffee, but the islands are also ground zero for GE crops – and last week various counties were in court to defend themselves against them.

tax avoidance, corporate tax evasion, corporate taxes, job creation

While candidates bicker and Congress stagnates and the rest of us dwell on the latest shooting tragedy, the super-rich enjoy the absence of attention paid to one of our nation’s most destructive issues: tax avoidance.

Brexit, Jo Cox, E.U. referendum, Britain Stronger in Europe, Electoral Reform Society, Left Leave, rightwing movements, U.K. xenophobia

Many are calling the U.K.’s European Union referendum vote on Thursday, the most important vote in every British person’s lifetime.

Bernie Sanders, political revolution, National Nurses Union, racial inequality, economic inequality, Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party, Democratic Socialists of America, Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, People and Planet First Budget

Last weekend's People's Summit concentrated on domestic policy and economic inequality, featuring spirited debates, discussions and workshops that tried to chart the path ahead for America's new left.

Abby Martin, Monsanto, World Health Organization, carcinogens

Few corporations in the world are as loathed – and as sinister – as Monsanto, but the threat posed to people and planet could be reaching new heights.