Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman… usually we look to comic books and folk legends to find our heroes, but on Tuesday all we had to do was turn on the news. State Senator Wendy Davis, a Texan Democrat, became a hero to many around the world. It was in pink and green running shoes, not combat boots, that Senator Davis went in to battle in the Austin, Texas Senate chambers. For eleven hours she stood in senate filibustering against a proposed Republican bill against abortion that would have seen over thirty abortion clinics shut down in Texas, leaving those who need services, and want choice, with nowhere to go. With all the ferocity of a lion she bravely stood; for choice, for women, and for our generation. Senator Davis couldn’t have predicted just how far her determination would resonate with others. From Austin to Edmonton, around the world and on the internet, her audacity was applauded.
Her battle plan was to stage a filibuster. In parliamentary procedure, a filibuster is an extended debate on a topic, and is used to either delay, or in this case prevent, a vote. Although Davis is not new to this strategy, she made history by filibustering for nearly eleven hours on Tuesday. To draw a picture of what this means, Davis was unable to sit, to use the washroom, or to eat during her attempt to get the bill thrown out. Moreover, she was not able to discuss anything even slightly unrelated to the omnibus bill, and had to remain speaking, for the whole eleven hours. By extending the debate on the bill single-handedly, Davis was attempting to push the debate past midnight, when Texas’ special session would conclude. By staging a marathon speech, Davis was able to run the clock out on the debate, thereby getting the bill thrown out through a smart and determined maneuvering of senate procedure.
To highlight the importance of this feat, the details of the bill must first be considered. First, the Senate-Bill 5 would legislate abortion after 20 weeks of gestation illegal. It also sought to establish facility and practitioner restrictions that would essentially shut down the majority of abortion clinics in one of the largest states. Also worth noting, the bill was written by a Republican male, which is problematic in itself.
Throughout her speech, Davis shared stories of women who pled for their rights to be upheld. The testimonies of women from throughout Texas are worthy of praise themselves. One woman wrote that she was deeply concerned at the rejection of scientific fact by the Texan Senate regarding abortion. She noted that “the wonderful thing about scientific fact is that it is true whether you believe in it or not” and that Senate was purposefully ignoring fact with this bill. Legislators were called out for treating Texan women as “second-class citizens”, for ignoring constituent needs, and for catering to the most “conservative branch, of a conservative party”. The testimonies of women were each powerful in themselves, and Davis conveyed the magnitude and importance of each as if it were the first she was reading. Throughout those eleven hours, Davis became the voice of every Texan woman who would not sit quietly as their rights, their bodies, and their power was legislated away.
The magnitude of Davis’ feat is still sinking in. This move on her part not only protected the rights of Texan women, but is testimony to the power that a single individual holds, and what they can accomplish with pure will. Davis fought against everyone, including her colleagues, who told her the filibuster would never work, that she wouldn’t be able to hold out for eleven hours of non-stop speaking. Her success is due to her will to convey in an unwavering voice her thoughts, her values, and her beliefs. For anyone who has ever been told to be quiet or to keep their thoughts to themselves, whether internally or by others, Davis is proof of what ignoring those voices can do.
Sometimes ordinary people can do extraordinary things. In old comic books Clark Kent would go in to a phone booth to change into his superhero costume as the Man of Steel. We don’t need fiction for superheroes in 2013, we can find them walking among us, and we can find them in ourselves. The way this story caught fire online shows how social media can be a tool to inspire great change.
What we saw was a remarkable effort, not just from Davis, but from all of the brave Democrats who stood with her, and from the hundreds and hundreds of Texans who filled the building and rallied so loudly in the final hours of the night that any voting had to be disqualified for lack of comprehension on the part of the Senators. With no time left to vote, at the stroke of midnight, the bill was thrown out. Wendy Davis didn’t need a phone booth, all that she needed was her voice and a pair of running shoes to show the world that if you are loud enough, if you are strong enough, and if you believe in something hard enough, you can stand up for those who may not be able to and give a voice to those who aren’t always heard and the world will rally with you. Should the bill, or others like it, be brought forward again it is certain we will see the Democrats in Senate, Texans, and the world, rise to meet the challenge.
Photograph of Texas’ State Senate courtesy of mattscoggin on Flickr