On the night of June 25th, in the ornate senate chamber, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) was approaching the eleventh hour of her now-famous filibuster. She literally stood from 11:18 in the morning to 10:04 pm in a determined effort to stop Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and a horde of other extremist right-wingers who were about to reach down from their high perch of legislative power to slap Texas women.
Their means of assault was a draconian bill to strip every female in the Lone Star State of her inherent right to control her own body, and it also slammed the door of basic health care and family planning in the faces of thousands of lower-income women. Davis' extraordinary action was necessary because the GOP had rigged the rules to shut women and their supporters out of the normal legislative process. The Republican majority was in such a fevered, macho heat to impose heavy-handed government control on 51 percent of Texans that the leaders resorted to brute force to get their way.
But Sen. Davis stood in their way in these last hours of this special, anti-woman legislative session. She had to be sat down soon -- and scowling Repubs were on full watch for any excuse to cut her off. A Texas filibuster is no stroll in the park: You have to stand for the duration (you cannot even lean on your desk), you must speak continuously (no colleague can spell you), you can't even pause for a pee, and you must stay on topic. The last is a very subjective standard, and it's judged by the presiding officer -- in this case, Dewhurst. In a hoked-up claim that she had wandered, the man with the gavel arbitrarily shut her down at 10:04 pm.
That was not the end of the fight, however, for Davis did not stand alone. Ten other Democratic stalwarts were on the floor with her and immediately began making time-consuming points of order as the midnight adjournment time drew ever closer. But most significantly, the uninvited public had shown up to lend support -- some 1,500 Texas women (and men, but the crowd was overwhelmingly female, including every age, color, class, and political party) had heard on the news or through the Twitterverse about "Wendy's Stand," and they had rushed spontaneously to the capitol, many driving a couple hundred miles or more to stand with her.
By late afternoon the citizenry packed the senate gallery. That's when legislators began to squirm, for they now had to make their power plays in front of all the Jane Doe's they usually ignore. By nightfall, the after-work crowd arrived, overflowing the gallery and filling the hallways, stairs, and rotunda. GOP uneasiness now edged toward panic.
Then came the spark. At 11:46 pm, with the GOP just moments away from forcing a final vote, Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, fed up with the chair's deliberate refusal to call on her to speak, spoke up anyway: "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"
EXPLOSION! Women in the gallery erupted in applause and cheers, then switched to jeers, releasing pent-up anger at the lawless effort by so-called leaders to run roughshod over them. A deafening chant arose: "Let her speak! Let her speak!..." People outside the chamber joined in the dissidence, furious at the lawmakers' disrespect for them. The righteous clamor surrounded and overwhelmed those on the floor -- senators couldn't hear themselves speak and were visibly spooked, business could not be conducted, and the clock ticked past midnight as Dewhurst and his allies frantically tried to claim the bill had passed. Later, with hundreds of witnesses objecting and video of the clock being tweeted and posted online to prove that the vote came after midnight, he was forced to admit the bill had died.
As everyone knew, it wouldn't stay dead, for the right-wing governor would call another special session so he and his right-wing majority could finally take their slap at the ladies of our state. But Wendy and Texas women made them do it in the open, exposing them as a bunch of political pricks in power ties who withered when the ladies talked back.
It was a hoot to hear these men-in-charge practically tremble as they spoke after being routed by the women: "Never in the history of Texas have they seen that kind of mob rule," Rick Perry later whimpered on Fox News. Two days later, at a national Right to Life Convention, he huffed that Sen. Davis' filibuster was "nothing more than the hijacking of the democratic process" (never mind that the process had been a sham from the start, or that the gallery was merely asserting corrective democratic authority over the abusive autocracy of out-of-control officials).
Tremulous legislators also expressed their fear of women, often in melodramatic and completely silly terms: "We had terrorists in the Texas State Senate opposing [our bill]," spewed one; "Some days u r extra thankful we still have the right 2 protect ourselves & the 2nd amendment -- today is 1 of those days," tweeted another lawmaker, flashing gun-toting bravado in support of a bill that takes core legal protections away from all womenkind in Texas.
Most comical, though, was Dewhurst, a prissy, multi-millionaire public official who'd prefer never having to deal with the public: "An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics," he shivered after his embarrassing defeat.
Dewy (as he's been dubbed) was so flustered by the estrogen power he encountered on June 25 that he blundered into "Tampongate" a couple of weeks later. When the senate convened its re-do session to pass the bill, the scaredy-cat Lt. Guv imagined that women intended to pack the gallery and throw tampons and such down onto the senate floor. While he couldn't outright ban women from their own capitol building, he did order guards to seize all feminine products at capitol security checkpoints! Ridiculed by Sen. Kirk Watson as "boneheaded," Dewhurst was forced to call off his paranoid, police-state seizure of those dangerous feminine projectiles.
Afterwards, apparently trying to save face, he created a fantastical story about 19 jars of urine and feces that guards had confiscated from purses. See, he seemed to say, these women are despicably vicious! "Really?" asked reporters and others. "Show these jars to us." Alas, he said, they'd all been thrown away. Worse for him, reporters could not find a single guard who'd even heard of the jarred excrement, much less seized any.
Yet, to this day, Dewhurst insists that women posed a bodily threat. He has since asserted that not only had he saved Texas from the ignominy of the Great Tampon Toss, but that it had been a plot devised by "individuals with the International Socialist Movement." Had Davy Crockett known Texas would produce this goofball, he'd have rethought the worthiness of dying at the Alamo.A war on many fronts
It's tempting to say: Only in Texas. But, hardly a day goes by without hearing of yet another state -- as well as Congress -- taking shots at women.