Diane Viviana couldn’t believe she was having to do this again. But there she was last Tuesday, in the Texas Senate chamber gallery, elbow to elbow with other abortion rights supporters, lending her voice and her presence to her newest hometown hero, State Sen. Wendy Davis.
Viviana said she’s been fighting for women’s rights for 48 years. During the 1960s and ’70s, she sat in, stood up, and marched during the heyday of the Women’s Movement, when she was a college student at Oklahoma State University. Last week in Austin, she was reminded of the solidarity of the women’s movement.
Defeating SB5, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that would have closed most of the abortion clinics in Texas, wasn’t about her own needs, the Fort Worth woman said. “This wasn’t about me personally,” she said. “I’ve had one pregnancy in my life and one child. Now I’m retired. This is for every woman who could possibly find herself in this situation. This is for all women’s rights, just as it’s been for nearly 50 years.”
When Viviana took early retirement from American Airlines a few years ago, she said, she used her newly acquired free time to stay involved with women’s rights advocates, including the National Organization for Women. “I came by this honestly,” she said. “My mother, Donna Gates Meyer, was a lobbyist at the Oklahoma capitol. She gave more than 250 speeches around the state about women’s rights.”
Viviana said she was raised to believe that “there but for the grace of God go I. My mother drummed it in how important empathy was, that we could be in anyone else’s shoes.”
Davis’ filibuster and the attempts to thwart it by Republican members of the Senate, Viviana said, was “political theater.” Like most of the others in the crowd, Viviana didn’t know the details of parliamentary procedure. But watching the Republican senators, some clustering and whispering in different corners of the chamber and challenging Davis on alleged technical violations of the Texas Senate’s filibuster rules, she said, “I knew something was up.”
What was up is now history, and within the past few days Davis has become a national celebrity. By the end of the first special session, Twitter had reported 542,168 tweets for #StandWithWendy, including one from President Obama.
The power and influence of social media proved to be staggering, in Texas and around the country.
Artist Lauren Kaelin posted via Facebook her oil painting of Davis’ iconic pink athletic shoes. “I live in Brooklyn, and I was mesmerized,” she said. “I had seen a few comments about the live feed on Twitter and Facebook, so I started watching it, and I began to get chills.”
Kaelin is in the middle of a yearlong project in which she transforms viral internet images into a traditional art format, such as oil paint on vellum.
“It’s so interesting as it became clear it wasn’t just limited in scope and impact to women in Texas,” Kaelin said. She said she hurried to paint the close-up of Davis’ shoes as the senator spoke that night. “I thought they were a reveal, like a chink in the armor, that she would need such basic support, even as she was coming off as a superhero.”
She said she’s sold more than 40 prints of her painting so far through her website.
E-mails, social media, and phone calls also helped ignite some members of the Fort Worth Republican Women to support the bill. “I got a phone call yesterday saying come down to Austin for a prayer vigil they were having on the capitol property,” said president Cyndy McCoy. “Our legislative chairman was encouraging people to contact anybody they knew in the government” to pass the bill, she said. One e-mail suggested that members of the group call Davis’ office and complain. “We wanted to tell her to get on with her business,” McCoy said.
McCoy said it appears that Davis is using this issue to further her ambitions for higher office. “We think a lot of this is Wendy Davis’ doing, and she’s looking ahead to the future,” she said.
Danielle Wells was there for the filibuster. It was her fourth consecutive day in Austin getting ready to stand with the bill’s opposition. Wells is the assistant director of media relations and communications for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which covers Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, and Waco, among other cities. One of her tasks that morning was to hand out bright orange t-shirts to the assembled throng.
The orange shirts were vivid in news coverage of the filibuster, and lots of people wondered about the color –– maybe a nod to the school colors of the University of Texas? Others suggested that bright orange meant both “danger” and “caution.”
“We chose orange because that’s the only color that was available for next-day delivery,” Wells said, laughing. Planned Parenthood and a coalition of organizations and advocates ordered the shirts so that Davis’ supporters would stand out in visual solidarity.
She said SB5 is what is known as a TRAP — Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Its provisions, she said, “would create a backdoor ban on abortion. Our primary concern is for the health of Texas women. This sort of thing is government over-reach at its worst.”
SB5 was declared dead, due in no small part to the noise from the packed crowd in Senate chambers as the near-midnight vote was being taken. Only a few hours later, Gov. Rick Perry called another special session, which began Monday, with abortion regulation on the agenda.
Even though the fight is far from over, the effects of Davis’ filibuster will be long-lasting: the international recognition gained by Davis, the attention drawn to the abortion rights fight in Texas, and the revelation of the power of social media. Davis has called her effort “the people’s filibuster” and said how grateful she was for women’s stories, many of them sent to her by social media, that she read during her 11-hour marathon.
In one of her many interviews with national media, Davis challenged NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press last Sunday when he suggested that the bill was mostly symbolic and questioned the concern over changing the cut-off for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“This is an omnibus bill that includes four different provisions, one of which would leave Texas with only five clinics in a state as large as we are,” the Fort Worth Democrat quickly replied. “One would dramatically decrease the number of doctors who could function in this area. The turning back of the clock would put Texas in a place where women’s ability to seek good healthcare for their reproductive decision-making would be seriously foreclosed.”
Davis’ staff promised to get her in touch with Fort Worth Weekly, but it hadn’t happened by Tuesday evening.
Wells said that the bill’s provisions, including one requiring women’s clinics where abortions could be performed to adopt equipment and staff more like a surgical center than a physician’s office where outpatient surgeries are routinely performed, would devastate women’s access to healthcare in Texas. “We believe 37 of Texas’s 42 clinics would be forced to close,” Wells said, leaving only a few in major cities.
“We have statements from Dr. Lisa M. Hollier, who is chairperson of the Texas District of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, stating that most of the facility, procedural, and other conditions are not medically necessary,” Wells said.
Tracy Gray of Springtown works as an analyst for a financial software firm. She is concerned that the omnibus bill complicates what to her is a simple issue. “I am against abortion,” she said. “I don’t believe in taking a life, and as soon as the egg and sperm meet, the cells split, and a baby starts to grow. It is a life.”
She believes the government has a place in reproductive decisions. She likens it to criminal statutes. “Life is eligible for protection under the law,” she said, “and a fetus is alive.”
Nonetheless, she believes that the arguments over this issue will never be solved — and will never stop. “People are too passionate on both sides,” she said.
The same package of provisions –– now SB9 and HB2 –– is up for consideration in the second special session. More than 5,000 protesters showed up for a two-hour rally at the capitol on Monday afternoon that was organized by Planned Parenthood and other women’s advocacy groups using social media.
Sandy Emmons and her husband Andy started the drive to Austin early Monday from their small ranch in Fairfield. So did Christine Carey, a small-business owner from East Dallas. Carey posted on Facebook that I-35 was clogged with charter buses carrying people wearing orange shirts. Andy Emmons wore orange and made a sign that read “Rednecks for Texas Women.”
“I’m wearing a 1950s orange bowling shirt,” Sandy Emmons said. “Look for me in the crowd. My sign says, ‘Don’t turn back the clock.’ ”
She explained that in addition to the obvious meaning about women’s rights, she was protesting the alleged changing of the Texas Senate’s time stamp in order to attempt to record a valid vote last week. “That’s a crime,” Emmons said. “A lot of us are going to follow through on that.”
Petitions to prosecute those who changed the time/date records on the Senate SB5 vote in the Senate chamber are being circulated by a group called Progressive Centralists and others. “The unlawful conduct of altering an official state record must not be permitted,” the group says on its website. It also is calling for an official investigation.
Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, and Davis both spoke to the crowd.
“We’ve been shut down, shut out, and told to shut up,” said Richards, daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards. “Women in the legislature have had their microphones turned off and been told ‘We can’t hear you.’ So my question is: Can you hear us now?”
Both houses of the legislature have adjourned until next Tuesday, July 9.
Davis, asked what plans she has for next week, said, “We may have a few tricks up our sleeves.”
North Texas freelance writer Annabelle Massey Malloy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.