Feminism: Filibuster Retrospective (Part 1)

I need to say a few things first.

One. Last night was the most amazing night of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before. I will never forget it. I saw men and women and people of every type and shape and kind come together in my state to protest a travesty of justice and to protest it in a way that was incredibly, amazingly positive and powerful.

Two. Everything has changed and nothing has. The bill will still be pushed through because our governor has a black hole of voiditude where his compassion should be. The mainstream media will continue to mostly ignore us. The federal government will continue to mostly ignore us. The members in charge of Big Feminism -- the ones who pointedly didn't join in until the eleventh hour -- will continue to mostly ignore us. The fauxgressives who urged us to leave our homes or "just vote him out!" as if gerrymandering isn't a thing down here will continue to mostly ignore us.

Even some of the allies who stood firm with Senator Wendy Davis will drop away from this issue, because it takes spoons to deal with this shit. Seriously. I was so tired today that I wanted to crawl under my desk at work and sob from exhaustion after staying up most of the night dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that was this filibuster. None of this advocacy comes for free. It takes something -- time, energy, money, emotions, something from all of us. In some cases it takes everything from some of us.

But. I need to keep talking about this. I need to keep talking about this. And many of you have asked me to do that very thing. And some of you have made me aware that what I thought was nothing, what I thought was Poor Allyship -- sitting in my study, watching the livestream for most of the day and most of the night -- actually put me in a position to talk to this filibuster in a way that many people who weren't there, who couldn't watch at home, who had to work, can't. So I will speak for those who can't, and I hope you can find the spoons to listen.

This is going to be a long post. I ask that you bear with me. I want to talk about the filibuster as I experienced it at the time, using nothing more than my tweet stream and my notes. Later in the month I will speak to the actual senate feed. For those who want to follow along, there is a poor quality feed here in the senate archives. (You will have to download Real Player, which I'm told does bad things to some peoples computers.) I am looking into purchasing a program which will let me convert the feed to something easier to access and/or to purchase an official version through official channels. I will keep everyone updated on that.

Please note, in advance, that I am neither a lawyer nor a senate aficionado. The material I present here is my opinion, and my own limited understanding.

Tweets after the jump.

I was at the computer from the beginning, before it even started, at 10 am. I'd been prepared to watch the tweets as the filibuster unfolded; I didn't realize there would be a feed from the floor of the senate. But by 11 am I had fortuitously been directed to the live feed hosted by Texas Tribune (who did an amazing job covering the event). My first tweet was a combination sound check and source check, to verify that I was watching the correct feed.

Senator Wendy Davis stood at 11:20 am, after Lt. Governor Dewhurst sternly warned the spectators in the gallery against making any noise. He reminded the spectators to be decorous, as if they shouldn't be anything but polite about the fact that he and his supporters were trying to reduce their bodies to vessels owned by the state. Dewhurst also, to my novice opinion, appeared to be rushing Senator Wendy Davis into her filibuster, as if he were determined that she spend the maximum about of time on her feet. Because forcing a lady to stand for 13 hours in order to not become property of the state is a very decorous thing to do.

Texas Senate filibuster rules are hardcore, and not coincidentally were deliberately made even more so on this night in an attempt to silence Wendy. No food allowed, though past senators have been allowed to suck candy mints. No water allowed, through past senators have been allowed to chew ice chips. No bathroom breaks allowed, though the record holding senator for Texas filibusters -- Bill Meier who held the floor for 43 hours against a worker's compensation bill because Big Business -- was given the courtesy of a human wall of bodies to shield him from view while he pissed in a trash can that was brought to him by another, all so he wouldn't have to leave his place on the floor.

Senator Wendy Davis was not allowed to sit. She was not allowed to lean on her desk. She could not leave the narrow bubble of space around her desk. She was barred from "assistance" from her fellow senators, a term which was loosely defined in order to silence her. She was allowed no "off-topic remarks" which was why she couldn't read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale nor hold court with a phone book a la Jimmy Stewart. And unlike the rules in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Senator Davis couldn't pass control of the floor to her Democratic allies.

One woman. Alone. That was the only way the Republicans would allow this filibuster to proceed.

Senator Davis started with her concerns over the bill before segueing into citizen testimony which had been scheduled (if I understand correctly) as floor business for the previous day, which meant that the testimony was automatically considered "on topic" for the bill. Note that this previously scheduled citizen testimony was not the same as the supporter stories that many of us submitted online and which Wendy read aloud later. This distinction between previously scheduled citizen testimony and newly introduced supporter stories would be important later because of the "germane" restrictions imposed on Wendy's filibuster.

Throughout her filibuster, Senator Davis was scrupulous to ask for silence from her supporters in the gallery -- silence that was absolutely necessary lest Dewhurst rule to clear the gallery and bar supporters from the room. And despite the emotions the supporters were feeling, their fully justifiable anger and rage and sorrow and joy and gratitude and ALL THE FEELS, they were silent. They were silent because they knew what was at stake, and because we marginalized people are already heart-breakingly adept at silencing our grief and rage.

One male pro-life opponent of the filibuster was not so restrained.

And, by the way, if you were watching the live stream of the event, it might have seemed strange to see so many empty chairs in the gallery, as if not nearly enough supporters turned up to fill the senate floor. That is a false impression, which I feel may have been created deliberately -- it's my understanding that the number of spectators was a limit imposed by the Republicans. Pro-choice supporters decked in orange were standing in long lines to get in (when supporters on the floor left for breaks), and huge crowds gathered outside around the building.

It was brought up multiple times on Twitter over the course of the filibuster just how ableist the whole concept of the filibuster is. One of the senators on the floor even stated that it is supposed to be a test of endurance, as though legislative power should be based not on the ideas of the person speaking but on their physical ability to stand for 13 hours. This is bullshit, but it's important that we point that out in ways that do not take away from the fact that Wendy Davis was doing the only thing the rules allowed her to do in order to stop this bill.

I said on Shakesville: My issues with filibusters are that (a) disabled people are barred (implicitly and in some cases explicitly) from participating in them, which limits our participation in the legal process and (b) it is fucking stupid for our reproductive freedom to require one woman to stand up for 12 hours without drinking water. I think that gives us plenty to object to before even getting to whether or not it's otherwise a good tool or not.

The testimonies read aloud by Senator Davis were amazing and moving and beautiful beyond belief. Almost all of them were from women. One of them was by a woman whose father had been an abortion provider, a man who had worn a kevlar vest to work and operated in many cases at a loss because he felt that strongly about a woman's right to choose. Another was by a woman who had needed a late-term abortion of a wanted pregnancy because her baby was dying inside her, and how horrible that situation had been which was then exacerbated by religious resistance to getting her the healthcare she needed.

Senator Davis, unallowed by the rules to pause in the testimony, read this brave woman's story with a voice broken by emotion and with tears streaming down her face. Her Republican colleagues in the Senate spent the same time yucking up with private jokes to one another and texting on their smartphones. Beyond everything that is horrible and terrible about this juxtaposition, there's something else I want to point out: Never before, to my knowledge, had so many womens' intimate stories been told on that Senate floor. This was a rare chance to listen, and the men in the Senate choose not to for the same reasons that womens' intimate stories are generally barred from the Senate floor: because these men actively will not care about the woman they represent. It's not just antipathy, it's hostility.

That is a big fucking problem right there.

Twitter "jail", for those who aren't versed in Twitter memes, is when Twitter prevents you from sending any more tweets for a few hours because you've reached a large-but-variable limit. This is intended to stop spam, and probably does, but it also makes live-tweeting an event very difficult. (This became more pertinent later that night, when someone reported my Twitter jail account for spam which caused a 24-hour lock on my account because it was new and therefore suspicious. I never cease to be amazed at how misogynists are able to use automated systems to their advantage.)

And I really cannot thank enough the wonderful people who used their limited tweets for the day to disseminate the fact that I was in Twitter jail. And, indeed, one of the things that really got to me during this live-tweeting and filibustering was how so much of this was about women and people with uteri helping each other. A woman (Davis) stood on the Senate floor and read the testimonies of women willing to share their private lives while another woman senator (Zaffirini) tried to get the men to allow her to sit down while women and people with uteri live-tweeted the event and others retweeted and shared Twitter jail details of the live-tweeters culminating in one woman senator (Van de Putte) calling the whole thing bullshit and then ALL THE SUPPORTERS cheered until the clock ran out. 

This is not in any way intended to disappear men from the event; I know that many men participated on our side (included several senators). But it is intended to point out how women and people with uteri are routinely excluded from political participation and always always with the same tired old excuses that we're too busy bearing children and making sandwiches or to feather-headed with our shoe-shopping and frivolous abortions or whatever. NO. Thousands of women and people with uteri drove to the capitol or watched the filibuster for all or most of the day because we care. And it was awesome.


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