On Tuesday, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis launched an 11-hour filibuster against Texas anti-abortion bill SB5, which would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy as well as effectively shutting down nearly all the abortion clinics in the state. To become law, the bill had to be passed before midnight on June 25. Davis' goal was to filibuster into Wednesday morning.
Davis didn't quite make it past midnight, though not for lack of trying. Her filibuster began at about 11 a.m. and for hours she shared real women's stories and told lawmakers to "either get out of the vagina business or go to medical school." However, despite her quote-worthy and on-topic commentary, the Republicans controlling the state senate claimed that her discussion of Planned Parenthood's budget and a previous bill requiring sonograms before abortions were not "germane." Combined with a "third strike" of a colleague helping her with a back brace, her filibuster was shut down at around 10 p.m. From there, other Democrats and the raucous Senate gallery picked up the slack and kept the Senate from voting on the bill before the midnight deadline.
There are plenty of reasons to love Wendy Davis right now, but the the bill not passing isn't her victory alone — it is a victory of American democracy. The courtroom essentially turned into a modern, non-musical version of "Do You Hear The People Sing?" from Les Miserables. After the bill's defeat, Davis said, "Today was democracy in action. You all are the voices we were speaking for from the floor."
Davis was right — last night was democracy in action. Here are three ways all of American democracy will change as a result.
More than 200,000 people watched the live-stream and #StandWithWendy wasn't just trending on Twitter — some reports say that up to 17,000 tweets were coming in every minute with the hashtag. Instead of reporting on this key political event, CNN analysts discussed the calories in a blueberry muffin. It seems that in the future, it will the citizens who become the source of democratic news, using social media and live streams to report live.
While Republican senators shut down Davis' filibuster on technicalities — claiming sonograms and Planned Parenthood aren't relevant to a debate on abortion and that assistance with a back brace broke the rule that Davis must remain on her feet — they themselves tried to pass SB5 after midnight. A vote was taken and SB5 passed by a wide margin. The Texas Senate website released a statement announcing that the bill had passed, while the Texas Tribune reported that an official time-stamp showed the final vote had taken place at 12:02 a.m., past the deadline. Eventually, evidence emerged that Republicans had changed the time-stamp of the vote to fake its passage. After enforcing the rules strictly and unfairly upon Davis, they attempted to ignore the rules completely, but their lie could not be upheld with the hundreds of witnesses in the gallery and thousands more online. "Democracy in action" held these legislators accountable.
After Davis' filibuster was shut down, the people in the gallery voiced their disgust, chanting "Let her speak!" The 400 protesters interrupted the proceeding roll call 15 minutes before it could be completed in what they called a "people's filibuster." It was indeed ultimately the people who prevented this bill from passing — this time around. It is the people who will need to prevent the bill's passage when Texas government inevitably brings it up again.
It is the people who need to stand up against the many similar bills that have already proposed or passed this year in states including North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Kansas. There have been 38 bills or amendments proposed in U.S. Congress this year attempting to restrict abortion, including the recent Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that recently passed in the House of Representatives.
This "people's filibuster" proves that when it comes to our rights, the citizens of America won't just speak with our votes. We will raise our voices and demand that they be heard.