Did you #StandWithWendy? Were you part of “The People’s Fillibuster”? Are you a member of the #UnrulyMob, the #FeministArmy, the #FeministJusticeLeague or some other hashtag-friendly group that emerged in mid-June as a result of the battle against laws that regulated most Texas abortion clinics out of existence? Were you watching Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ virtuoso filibuster performance from the gallery, or streaming it on your computer? Did you get chills when State Senator Leticia Van De Putte set off a roar of applause from the gallery by asking, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Those were pretty heady days, weren’t they? Not only were there dozens of abortion clinics at risk of closure, there was also a portion of that bill that would interfere with a doctor’s ability to provide abortion care for people who had found out mid-way through their pregnancies that they were carrying babies that would either die in utero or be born only to suffer and live a few hours in pain and uncomprehending terror. There was so much at stake, and letting it pass without remark or protest was unthinkable.
I took to describing myself as a “vagilante with a vagenda.” I tweeted and texted compulsively day and night. I’d work at my regular job all day and then head to the Texas Capitol to bring bottled water and snacks to share with my fellow citizens and watched the proceedings from galleries or overflow rooms, as available.
For the first time in a long time, it appeared that there were two political parties in Texas. Furthermore, it also looked like there were a lot of people engaged in the civic process, which is a definite change of pace for this state, long known for low voter registration rates and even lower election turnouts. Well, those things and gerrymandering of such epic proportions that even people who bother to show up to vote are pretty much operating under the assumption that their votes matter very little if they are anything other than local or straight-ticket Republican at the statewide office level.
But all of a sudden, things were up in the air, exciting, interesting, both to those here in Texas and elsewhere across the country and around the world. Some people found it only interesting because they thought it provided fodder to poke fun at the state or to use as another reason to make faux-witty jokes about how Texas should secede. However, it seemed as is many more people found it riveting because of the touching citizen testimonies during committee hearings, the heady mix of stagecraft and statesmanship that some politicians brought to bear on the issue when they spoke about it, and the ham-handed, moustache-twirling villainy cloaked in bland parliamentarianism displayed by the leadership of both the House and the Senate.
However, as gripping as it was to watch the proceedings, and as thrilling as it was to be a part of a huge crowd of people united in purpose and passion, ultimately Texas Senate Bill 2 passed, and was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry. Shortly thereafter, several abortion facilities around the state announced their pending closures. Press reports of increasing numbers of women seeking abortion drugs in nearby Mexico were just a few more kicks in the gut when we were already down.
So, here’s the big question: “What now?”
Do we give up? Hoard wire coathangers and mifepristone? Pray to insert-your-favorite-deity-here that we either don’t get pregnant at all, or have perfectly healthy, perfectly normal pregnancies that don’t necessitate medical intervention in the form of abortion due to gross fetal defects or threats to the health of the mother?
Well, I’m not going to advocate for hoarding DIY abortion supplies, and I’m not going to get between you and your numinous cosmic forces, but I can confidently say that I do not think we should give up.
People often use the phrase “Remember the Alamo!” as a threat, often presaging an impending ass-kicking. There’s some value to that, but I’ve long viewed it as having a more nuanced meaning— the rebels used that as a battlecry to not only frighten their enemies but to remind themselves viscerally of the cruelty and dishonorable treatment that their fellows had faced in the aftermath of that battle. I don’t think there’s a perfect parallel between the Battle of the Alamo and the efforts expended trying to stop SB-2 from becoming law, but I do think that this defeat should stir up something deep in the genes of every daughter and son of Texas—ferocity and cunning in the face of overwhelming odds.
So, without cannons and rifles and catapults and Bowie knives, how can we Texans be ferocious and cunning in our efforts to protect women’s health and choices?
1. Register to vote, and then actually vote.
Even in the dinky elections. It matters who gets elected as Agriculture Commissioner—that was once Governor Perry’s job, on his way up to his current office.
2. Support public policy that protects women’s rights — not just to abortion, but also to fair workplaces, accessible healthcare, and freedom from sexual assault.
This can come from politicians of any party, so take some time to learn who is working on these issues in a constructive way and show them your support and give them your input. As an interesting side-effect, those kinds of public policy also tend to reduce the need for abortion and improve the lives of men, as well. Funny how that works.
3. Speak up about your pro-choice beliefs.
Show a human face to an often-demonized position. Make it clear you don’t love abortion, you hate the idea of someone being forced to go through a pregnancy that they don’t want or may not survive. You may be surprised to find that there are more people you know that agree with you than you realize.
4. Donate money, volunteer your time and give in-kind donations to organizations that provide abortion-related services.
My personal favorites are Jane’s Due Process, the Lilith Fund, and the Texas Equal Access Fund, because they directly assist women who face financial barriers to abortion care. However, there are many organizations that would put whatever you give them to good use.
5. Show up and participate in your government.
After you vote, you probably think you are done with what it takes to be a good citizen. Nope! Show up. Listen carefully. Take pictures. Stream video. Document what happens, and share it with friends, family, and the world at large. A lot of bad public policy happens because no-one is there to speak up against it. At a bare minimum, we need to show up and bear witness to what is happening, but it’s even better to learn how to formally register to comment and actually speak directly to your representatives.
Perhaps those things don’t sound all that ferocious. They probably aren’t cunning, either. However, they are a way forward through these dark days and towards something better. Maybe we’ll have our equivalent of the Battle of San Jacinto sooner than we think.