Wendy Davis Filibuster Shows You Don’t Mess with Texas Feminists
Periodically, we Yankees need a reminder that the term “southern feminist” is not an oxymoron. This past summer, we received an especially vivid one: Senator Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster of SB-5, which sought to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, to regulate first-trimester abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers, and to restrict access to medication abortions.
According to interviews in the Houston Chronicle,
Older women said the scene reminded them of bygone battles for women’s rights that they never imagined they’d have to fight again. ‘It’s the 1970s all over again,’ said Regina Rogoff, CEO of People’s Community Clinic in Austin, a federally qualified health center. She said she was one of the law students who helped attorney Sarah Weddington argue Roe’s case before the Supreme Court. The number of young women in line outside the Senate Tuesday encouraged her. In recent years, she said, other events dealing with women’s health issues seemed to be attended by older generations. ‘This time, I see a lot of younger women,’ she said. ‘I think people are starting to wake up. I hope it’s not too late.’ Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president and daughter of the late former Gov. Ann Richards, said her mother would have been proud of the men and women standing up for their rights. ‘When mom ran, she really ran because she thought we should open up government and invite all the people in,’ Richards told me. ‘Over the last few days, I’ve seen hundreds of people take her up on that invitation.’
What wasn’t like the 1970s was the use of social media to announce and promote the filibuster. According to Know Your Meme, on the evening of June 24th, Senator Davis tweeted her intent to filibuster the bill for 13 hours. The tweet was soon retweeted more than 9,000 times and favorited nearly 7,000 times. Davis then gave more details about her intentions on her Facebook fan page, and asked supporters to go to her personal website to submit stories she could read aloud during the filibuster. The website also encouraged constituents to “Stand With Wendy” and follow along with the proceedings through the Twitter hashtag #sb5. Immediately after her announcement, someone created the novelty Twitter account @WendysFlats to build support for her filibuster by tweeting under the guise of her shoes.
Although the Texas Tribune live-streamed the event on their Youtube channel, the major networks failed to cover the story. Instead, word of the filibuster was spread through social media, most notably by various celebrities, such as Martha Plimpton, Wil Wheaton, Sarah Silverman, and Perez Hilton who tweeted their support to their followers. President Barack Obama’s #StandWithWendy tweet gained more than 17,000 retweets and 6,200 favorites in less than 24 hours. Many attendees at the Capitol also used Instagram and Vine to share photos and videos from the event.
As someone who studies and teaches about digital history, I sure hope someone is archiving this outpouring of born digital content so we can have a full account of this historic event! Meanwhile, I’ve created a timeline on Storify to show how news about the filibuster spread through Twitter.
This post at OccupyDemocrats calls Davis “A new breed of Southern Democrat” [as compared with the “old breed” such the southern Senators in 1964 who led a 38 day filibuster of the Civil rights Act.]:
As progressives and Democrats we must look at how astonishingly progressive the Southern Democrats of today are. State Senator Wendy Davis is a picturesque example, of how the ideological shift within the Democratic Party is not only healthy but it is also appealing. Under our own very eyes there is millions of Wendy Davis’s [sic] fighting for women’s rights amongst other issues in the south. Ultimately it is this fight of the people against politicians which is what the people’s filibuster represents. We can hope that the protest of the Texas State capitol, the Moral Mondays in North Carolina are ushering in a new age of progressive activism. We show them we have the backbone to fight, and they crumble into nothing. Let Wendy Davis’s filibuster be a testament to the fighting spirit of progressivism. In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to get up, and in 2013 Wendy Davis refused to sit down!
Will #standwithWendy become a social movement? Texas feminists think so. Leslie Simms, a senior at St. Edward’s University in Austin, told the Houston Chronicle that the battle isn’t over: “If he (Gov. Perry) calls a special session again, the whole United States is going to be looking at him. All of Texas will show up. ” 63-year-old Ruth Pennebaker, agreed: “If he calls another session, we’ll be back.” Texas, she said, was never “a state that was built by wimps.”
The “stand with women” movement has spread to other states such as North Carolina, where anti-abortion legislation was slipped into an unrelated motorcycle safety bill. As legislators discussed the bill, protestors showed up at the capitol wearing motorcycle helmets and the hashtag #motorcyclevagina began trending on Twitter.
So, fellow Yankees, let’s take some inspiration from these southern feminists, past and present. The late Texas Governor Ann Richards would no doubt be proud of the work her daughter, Cecile, and other southern feminists are doing to protect reproductive rights. When you get pissed off by (mostly) male politicians who want to take away women’s ability to control their bodies, ask yourself, “what would Ann Richards do?”
Heather Munro Prescott is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. She is the author of The Morning-After: A History of Emergency Contraception in the United States, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.