That night at the Capitol building…

Texas State CapitolI read online about how Republican senators refused to let citizens speak in the hearings on Thursday night. I was shocked to hear how some rules were being followed and others were not. On Monday night, I stayed up until the wee hours listening to the live feed as one Texas senator after another tried to get questions answered about a bill that was going to shut down nearly all of the abortion clinics in Texas.  Sen. Jody Laubenberg, who sponsored the bill, wasn’t even present to consider amendments being proposed or answer anything at all. Her aide just stood at the front of the room and said, “no” to whether there would be dialogue about the questions. You see, the Republicans had enough for the vote to go through. They didn’t care what citizens wanted to say or even what fellow legislators wanted to suggest. They were simply hellbent on ramming this piece of legislation through in a special session. And why was it a special session? Because Governor Perry wants it that way. And Rick Perry is used to throwing his weight around in Texas.

But back to Jody Laubenberg, just for a second, she said this (twice):
“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out,”

This is the woman who sponsored the bill. She obviously has very little knowledge of the purpose and function of a rape kit. Why is it that every time the word “rape” is used, Republican legislators make major gaffes, showing how little they really know? So that’s a little of the lead-in to Tuesday.

At 11 a.m., Senator Wendy Davis took the podium. The special session was in it’s final day and if she could hold the floor until midnight, Republicans would be unable to call a vote, and the bill would die. All day, I kept thinking I should be at the capitol. I distracted myself with my busy life all the while thinking, “maybe at the end of the day.” The sun started to set and I knew Wendy had been talking for 9-10 hours. Unlike the movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, she wasn’t reading the constitution. She was reading from a notebook full of first-hand account from women who had made the gut-wrenching decision to have an abortion. They spoke of their lives, their situation and their need for those clinics to exist.  Wendy wiped away tears but kept on reading. The filibuster was continuing. I just couldn’t stand on the sidelines anymore.

I am not “pro-Abortion,” and having never been faced with a difficult pregnancy situation, I don’t know for sure what I would do. My guess is that I would personally not opt to have an abortion. But I do not want politicians making the decision for me.  Or for any other woman.  There was no reason for me to stay home, when something that mattered this much to the health care of women was happening just down the road from me.  I felt I needed to be there for all the women that could not make the trip, but needed someone to do it for them. These Republican lawmakers were, again, trying to silence the voices of women. Even if I had to sit alone, I made the decision that I was going to go.

After a quick trip to WalMart for the “necessary” orange shirt, I was on the highway heading to the state capitol. My friend, Laura Derrick, is an organizer for Battleground Texas. She is an incredible activist and longtime friend. I knew she was at the Capitol, off and on for several days. By the time I was getting there, she would most likely be in the chambers, and I was beginning to doubt that I would be able to get in too. I had no idea if it would be crowded, but if it was anything like the night before, I knew to be prepared. At the last minute, I texted my friend Cydney and asked if she wanted to join me. She threw on her tyedye orange dress and we were off!

The Capitol

When we first arrived at the capitol, we saw people sitting on the steps. It seems something had happened and people were being allowed out, but not in. After waiting there for a little bit, someone came from the side of the building telling us to go in through the east door. The line went outside the door, snaked around the lobby, and then up to the metal detector. After maybe 30 minutes, we were in!

The Rotunda floor was packed with people. So were the stairs and the balconies. We were immediately greeted by someone handing out water bottles. A few feet later, someone handed us prepackage cookies. Up ahead a volunteer was handing out pizza! They clearly didn’t want anyone to leave!

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BNd2445CQAEBrEd.jpg-largeClosed Senate Door

This is the shot of the closed senate chambers. Laura was in there on the 3rd floor, but we were out on the balcony. Soon after we got there, Cydney’s family arrived. We’d roped them into political activism before – picking them up to go stuff envelopes for the first Obama campaign. This time Kaci was with us and she wanted to make a statement on her cheeks.  I couldn’t find a sharpie, but my dark brown eyeliner worked just fine.

Kaci Kent

 We ended up staying on the 3rd floor balcony for most of the evening. We mingled with people who had been there all day, left and come back, and just arriving. We took a few pictures and posted them on Twitter and Facebook. We found ourselves in a sea of people.  Everyone was trying to follow along on what was happening in the chambers. We couldn’t hear it, so we watched live feed and then told each other. We followed along at twitter with hashtags, #standwithwendy, #BGTX, and #LauraDerrick, #sb5, txlege .

upon enteringSue & Cydney

A little after 11 p.m., we were aware that parliamentary procedures were keeping Wendy Davis from speaking. At the time, those of us in the rotunda didn’t realize what was happening. We already knew that the Lieutenant Governor of Texas had thrown out the rule that you had to have 2/3 of the vote and replaced it with a 50% requirement. How could that happen? You can’t get 2/3, so you just change the rule?
Well, yeah, in Texas, it works like that. People were beginning to chant:

“Let her speak.”
“We won’t go back!”
“Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!”

I texted Laura, who was in the chambers and asked if they could hear us in the chamber. Yes, they could. Soon after that, my cell phone died and we were unable to reassure our friends through twitter or facebook. Even Katie, who wanted to report in on how her audition went that day, left me with, “Mom, please don’t get arrested!” Ha!  Yes, there were lots of people there, but no one was out of line – at least not where I was standing.

It was so odd to me how I had friends contacting me from around the country watching the live feeds and trying to reach us. And yet no news coverage teams were there to follow the enormous numbers of people who had descended upon the capitol in the middle of the night.

Senators were milling around the floor, the clock was ticking, and then Senator Letitia Van De Putte, who had just sped back to the capitol after her father’s funeral said this:

Sen. Letitia Van de Putte

And then something just snapped. The crowed basically never calmed down after that. All the tricks that the Republicans had tried to use to silence Wendy, and ultimately, all women of Texas finally caught up with them. The citizens in the rotunda and had enough.

The clock started to tick and it was ten minutes until midnight. The cheering from the rotunda and balconies was deafening. We knew they were going to go ahead and try to vote. We just wanted them to be sure to know we were out there.

Several minutes after midnight, people were sharing that Fox news was calling it a victory and the votes had been counted. The chambers were emptied and suddenly there was a show of force from the Texas Rangers.  Only minimal security had been present until then. But in spite of reports of people falling apart and being escorted out, we didn’t see any of that. We had heard that something had gone wrong around 11, which was why the North door had been locked when we arrived. But we didn’t know the specifics. I spoke to one of the rangers and he told me he was a member of the riot team, and they just weren’t sure what was going to happen. Evidently someone had hit a security guard in the chamber area, or that’s what he had been told, but he agreed with me that, while the crowd could be a little loud, there was no reason for alarm.

Cecile Richards with us Someone came out to tell us that if we could sit tight, they were reviewing something behind closed doors. Different senators trickled out and expressed their gratitude for the crowd’s efforts.

Finally Cecile Richards (Former Governor Ann Richeards’ daughter) came out to talk to the crowd. Within a couple of minutes, she received a text from Senator Davis. It read,
“The Lieutenant Governor reversed the decision. The vote was not counted until after midnight. SB5 is dead.”

Again the crowd erupted. Even though we knew the current Governor could call a 2nd Special Session at any time (and he did), we had been heard. Wendy’s efforts were not in vain. We would live to fight another day. Cecile stood around and took pictures, expressing her gratitude to everyone.

And then around 3 a.m. Wendy Davis – who had to have been completely exhausted – came out with Kirk Watson to talk to those of us who had stayed to the end.  While Wendy had been the senator chosen to attempt the filibuster, she called it a “citizen’s filibuster.” She told the crowd that it would never have happened without us.

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An update from Wendy Davis:

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3 thoughts on “That night at the Capitol building…

  1. Thank you for this post, and for taking time out of your life to represent those of us who were unable to go. You are very much appreciated.

  2. Pingback: Goodnight, 2013! | Lifelong Learning

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