On Wednesday I came out of my vacation from politics fog to a barrage of emails from my feminist Texan friends. I had been, admittedly, trying to ignore the news out of the Texas legislature. These were my two weeks – my ONLY two weeks – off from politics, and I was really enjoying myself.
I felt like there was really nothing I could do to halt these horrific attempts to further restrict abortion access in Texas, especially from my mother’s couch in Houston. But then I found out that women from across the state were being asked to come out and speak to the House Committee on State Affairs. The plan was two fold: First, our perspectives and our stories should NOT be discounted in this special session, so we needed to make sure the committee heard from us. Second, even though there are not many rules in a special session, it could be possible to try a citizens’ filibuster by packing the witness list and continuing to speak until it was too late for them to get the bill to the House floor.
I was sitting on my porch with my dad, trying to decide if I was should drive back to Austin in the middle of my vacation, and he said, “You know, if they can’t get enough people without you always having to be the one to show up, maybe the people trying to pass this bill are right.”
I tried to wrap my head around this thought. Could my dad possibly be right? Were Representative Laubenberg and Senator Hegar speaking for the true voice of the women of Texas? Should I really go just to add my little three minutes?
Then I started to get the messages.
“Genevieve, please go up there and protect my rights!”
“I wish I could be there – Hold it down for all of us in Houston.”
“Please let them know that for every one of you there, there is someone else at home you are speaking for.”
Yes, I am always at the pro-choice rallies, but it isn’t because I’m the only one who cares: It’s because I am one of the people who can. I walked up to my dad and said, “Because I can, Dad. When so many people can’t, I can.”
So I hopped in my car and drove to Austin. I had no idea what I was getting into. By some reports, over 700 people had registered to testify on House Bills 60 and 16 before the committee. We started around 5 PM and still had over 200 witnesses remaining on the first bill at 1:00 AM.
Some of the witnesses spoke about their own experiences with abortion. Some of them cited evidence and statistics to break down the arguments in these bills piece by piece. Some of them spoke out about life before Roe and what they feared these restrictions would do. There were lawyers, CPS workers, OBGYNS, doctors, teachers, students, mothers, grandmothers, fathers, brothers, seasoned political activists and first timers. Some people were shaky and nervous when it was their turn to speak, and many tears were shed at the microphone and in the audience.
There were so many people there for the hearing that they had to open two overflow rooms so everyone could have a place to sit. We all stayed. We spoke, we listened, and we shared what was happening with the world through social media.
At 12:30 AM, with over 200 people left to testify, the Chairman of the committee announced that we had become “repetitive” and that he was going to shut down the testimony.From outside the hearing room, it sounded like all hell had broken loose.
There were shouts and chants, culminating in a rush into the main hearing room and a chorus of, “Let her speak! Let her speak!’ DPS officers brought in and everyone was feeling a little tense. “I am willing to go to jail for this,” a woman said, in passing. Activists were discreetly filming, because the official audio live stream had been turned off. As the committee members gathered in the back room, we tried to figure out what we were going to do. We decided to keep sharing our stories with each other.
Four or five witnesses read their testimony aloud. Then, State Representative Jessica Farrar came out to give us the verdict: they would let us testify, but only for 25 more minutes. We could choose which witnesses were heard. We had to be “respectful.” We had no other options.
In fact, testimony on House Bill 60 (and then House Bill 16) went on before the committee until 3:30 AM. With five people left in line, the chair decided he had heard enough. He tried to adjourn the hearing. After enough outrage and demands that these women have fifteen more minutes to finish sharing their stories, he said he would hear just two more.
True to his word, he gavelled out over the protest of those still present, and he and the author of the bill left the room. There was a moment of uneasy tension as the three remaining witnesses and the other committee members and representatives tried to decide what would happen next.
In the end, the three young women took the podium, even without a working microphone. Seven representatives stayed in their seats to hear the last three witnesses share their testimony.
They planned to vote the bills out of committee last night. Instead, the chair left them pending. This morning, in a hurried vote in a small room, the committee voted them out. But we had made sure that they had to listen to us, first.
I cannot adequately describe what being a part of this citizens’ filibuster felt like. I was moved and inspired by friends and strangers alike. Speaking of the kindness of strangers, supporters from across the state and the country came together to order pizza, cookies, and coffee in solidarity with our struggle. #HB60 was trending worldwide on twitter. And the messages of support from those who stayed up all night at home, watching the livefeed and refreshing their social media feeds, meant as much to me as those who were with me at the capitol.
We may not have stopped these restrictive bills in their tracks with our citizens filibuster, but we did slow them down. And we showed them what happens when you mess with Texas women. We show up. .We drive in from across the state. We speak out. We are not afraid. We are not backing down. AND WE VOTE.
As one witness said, we will be here every time they try to take our rights away. And if you do not stand with us, you will see us standing next to your opponents.