Show Us What Democracy Looks Like

This is what democracy looks like!

I’ve spent more time in the Texas Capitol in the last month than in the entire 19 years before that, and though there were times when I was tired or sick or hungry or on the verge of tears or actually crying, I never once regretted my choice to spend that time in the Capitol.

Thousands of us fought for our rights together; some of us sitting, some of us standing, but all of us together. There is no law, no piece of legislation, and no GOP campaign slogan that can wipe those memories from my mind. There is no law that can silence the women of Texas, and we will not go back.

Watching an ophthalmologist claim to be qualified to make decisions about reproductive healthcare; watching a couple in blue giggle every time a Democratic Senator explained the prevalence of child rape in America; watching women in blue claim that we were plotting to violently attack those on the other side of the aisle; watching women in blue hide their newborns from women in orange; watching Sen. Hegar table every amendment without debate and claim that he hadn’t heard testimony from rape survivors at the committee meeting; watching DPS confiscate tampons and pads from women entering the gallery; watching DPS take water and hard candy away from diabetics trying to control their blood sugar levels; watching Lt. Gov. Dewhurst adjourn for a two minute break to circumvent Senate rules, and watching 19 Republicans and 1 Democrat vote to deprive millions of Texan women of a Constitutional right and access to affordable healthcare: I would imagine it stretches the limits of anyone I know. It certainly stretched mine beyond belief.

At the same time that these things were happening, I was watching something else, too. I was watching a pro-life Senator stand up defiantly in opposition of HB2 because it wasn’t a bill designed for the health and safety of women and children; watching a woman in blue hold hands with a women in orange during incredibly emotional testimony; watching women who fought for Roe v. Wade 40 years ago fight for our right to control our own bodies all over again; watching feminists and activists from across the country send messages of support, food, and coffee as needed; watching those in the gallery tell us that they could hear us chanting and that we were keeping them strong; watching Texans refuse to allow HB2 to pass without forcing the GOP to look at us, to hear us; watching mothers and children and grandchildren put themselves at the front and center of a debate about our bodies. I was watching Texas women and the men who truly respect them fight to have their voices heard.

Whose choice?
OUR CHOICE!

Let this summer spark a lifetime.

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The Impact of HB2* on Women of Color

The national media missed its chance to cover the SB5 debate and filibuster in real time. Despite being contacted by hundreds of pro-choice activists, the cameras didn’t start rolling until after Tuesday night. Now that the battle against restrictive abortion laws in Texas is receiving national attention, Senator Wendy Davis is at the core of almost every report. Though Sen. Davis took an incredible stand for the women of Texas, her story is not the only story. 

In the House, the battle to delay a vote on SB5 was controlled almost entirely by women of color. Representatives Dukes, Farrar, Gonzalez, Allen, González, and Thompson were responsible for offering amendment after amendment to SB5 – all rejected without debate. The bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, not only refused to answer questions on the floor about the bill, but refused to take the mike to enter her Motion to Table each amendment. As a result, Democratic legislators were left debating themselves on the merits of proposed amendments.

Representative Mary González, who introduced amendments that proposed delaying implementation of the bill until Texas reduced its repeat teen pregnancy rate to 15%, said “I have seen bills where they didn’t allow amendments because it wouldn’t pass the Senate again, but I’ve never seen someone refuse to answer questions. It was very disappointing that Rep. Laubenberg forced us to debate ourselves on such an important issue.”

The SB5 debate in the House stretched on until almost 4 a.m. on Monday morning, hard fought by female Democratic Representatives attempting to force Rep. Laubenberg and her colleagues to engage in real, fact-based debate on the bill. The House debate continued into early Monday morning, leaving the Senate unable to take up the bill until Tuesday due to a required 24 hour waiting period. No small accomplishment, this 24 hour delay meant that only 13 hours of legislative time remained in the special session – an amount of time that Sen. Davis could feasibly filibuster.

Though the efforts of Democratic Representatives in the House were crucial to Sen. Davis’ filibuster, there was little conversation about the role that women of color played in the battle against SB5. Most media coverage of the SB5 battle focused on a single narrative: that of Sen. Davis’ filibuster and the globally trending hashtag #StandWithWendy.

“I don’t think it’s about whether or not we were interviewed. Representative Dukes, Representative Farrar and I were definitely talked about. The problem with national media is its inability to move beyond a single identity. They pick women legislators to focus on; Democratic legislators; they never entertain the idea that we’re women of color,” said González.

González’s comment that “the media doesn’t apply an intersectional lens” to issues isn’t just reflected in the lack of discussion about the women of color who were crucial to preventing SB5 passage – it’s paralleled in the way that national media outlets talk about the potential impact of SB5 and other restrictions on abortion.

The SB5 requirement that abortion clinics meet the same standards as Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) would force 37 of Texas’ 42 abortion providers to close, leaving only five clinics open to cover 268,581 square miles. These clinics provide not only abortion services, but birth control, STD screenings, cancer screenings, HIV testing, pregnancy testing, the morning after pill, and other healthcare services. For women in major metropolitan areas like Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, this provision of the bill might not prove disastrous. Certainly, it would be more difficult to schedule an abortion before the 20 week mark with hundreds of women from smaller towns flocking to the same clinics, but there would be a clinic within a three hour drive. For women who live in border towns, rural areas, and cities like El Paso, there would be no clinics in the immediate area, forcing women to choose between a costly multi-day trip to San Antonio or a trip over the border for a considerably riskier abortion in Mexico.

Abortion in Mexico is a dangerous proposition: legal and accessible only during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City, abortion has been outlawed in 18 Mexican states. Studies indicate that although punishment for an abortion in Mexico depends on the state in which a woman undergoes the procedure, 127 women have been prosecuted for receiving an abortion over the last five years. Because abortion is illegal in so many Mexican states, women often turn to pharmacies that don’t ask questions before prescribing Misoprostol, to flea markets, where the pills are sometimes available, or to unregulated abortion clinics.

Women of color and women living in rural areas would be affected by SB5 and bills like it far more harshly than any other demographic. Legislation that attempts to offer affordable healthcare to women in rural areas or women with low income is not only unpopular in the Texas legislature – it’s impossible to get out of committee. Legislation that addresses teen pregnancy and aims to reduce unwanted pregnancies is “completely off the table for the GOP,” González said.

But in a world (this one) where Texas is currently ranked 4th highest in the nation in terms of teen pregnancies, the GOP’s unwillingness to look at the intersectionality between race, poverty, and education contributes directly to the problem. In 2010, 78% of pregnant teens in Texas were women of color. Offering preventative healthcare options to reduce unwanted pregnancies in both teens and adults might seem like common sense – but it’s simply not an option in the GOP-dominated Texas legislature.

Nancy Cardenas, a women’s rights activist from the Valley, made the trip to Austin for the SB5 hearings and debates. “It’s hard to hear male Republicans impose their blatant religious agenda on bills like SB5. They are under the impression that women who choose to have abortions are confused. Abortions will still happen. Women do not need to be guided by Republicans through one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. Trust women,” said Cardenas.

González commented that she “introduced two pieces of legislation in regular session to solve this, and it wouldn’t even get a committee hearing. To them, it’s so far removed from their reality. 20% of my district didn’t graduate high school, and a lot of that is because of repeat teen pregnancies. Those things are correlated – I can’t just ignore it. It impacts not only teen pregnancy rates but educational access, healthcare access, and economic stability. ”

The attitude of the GOP exacerbates the already existing structural problems that make it more difficult for women of color to access safe abortions. During the SB5 filibuster, almost no Spanish-speaking media covered the week’s events. Univision broadcast one report on SB5, but it was far from impartial or balanced coverage, urging women in the Valley to call the local Dioceses for more information about SB5. “The absence of Spanish speaking media throughout the process of the SB5 debates is alarming, and the absence of media attention on women in the House is even more striking,” said Cardenas. “The media has always found a way to exclude minority women from the spotlight they are entitled to. Although in Austin we know these women well, their actions are tossed aside by the media.”

There were thousands of pro-choice activists present for committee hearings and floor debates, but few women of color spoke during the opportunities for public testimony. Cardenas pointed out that “the absence of women from the Valley and El Paso during the protests is in no way shape or form an example of disinterest. It only proves that women from rural areas cannot access the only cities that will be left with centers that provide important health exams and safe abortions. If women from the Valley and El Paso could not make it for debates about the most restrictive piece of anti-abortion legislation that has been proposed in the Texas Legislature, they will not be able to afford the trip to Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston for a safe and legal abortion.”

There’s one thing that all pro-choice activists and legislators can agree on. Limiting access to abortion won’t stop it from happening, but it will make it more dangerous. “I can maybe understand people who are ‘pro-life’ but what’s more frustrating is that there’s not even a possibility of compromise for rural women, women on the border, or rape and incest survivors,” said González. “If you’ve been raped, you should be able to decide the outcome of that situation. This is a Constitutional right, and the GOP won’t engage in a serious conversation about how to address problems like teen pregnancies.”

*Interviews done for this piece were about SB5, but there is no substantive difference between the regulations contained in SB5 and HB2.

Texas Politics: Getting Ready for the Second Special

Did y’all think this was all going to die down after the first special?

Think again.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has now made the following threats:

  • He will arrest any members of the media he believes were “inciting the mob” or “inciting the riot” (shockingly, when everyone backlashed, he withdrew this threat and decided that the TX Press Corp hadn’t incited a riot)
  • He will close the gallery and/or completely clear it
  • He will arrest House Dems who were on the Senate floor Tuesday night

while at the same time:

If Lt. Gov Dewhurst is going to shut down the gallery, why do anti-abortioners (“pro lifers”) need to show up in full force? My guess is that he’ll allow the gallery to be filled and then claim that we’re violating the rules of decorum, having troopers escort all in orange out of the gallery, and allow those in blue to stay — claiming that they’re following the rules of decorum.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst would never be able to arrest his direct opponents in the Senate, so his second best option is (apparently) to start arresting House Dems for what he will probably claim is an illegal presence on the Senate floor during Senate proceedings.

If y’all want to keep up with this on Twitter, SB5 has become SB9 and HB2, meaning you should check out the following tags:

  • #SB9
  • #HB2
  • #KBV2
  • #standwithwendy
  • #txlege

and follow:

  • Jessica Luther (@scaTX) <– Seriously, Jessica for everything. Her blog is here.
  • Virginia Pickel (@tootwistedtv)
  • Dan Solomon (@dansolomon)
  • Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock)
  • Nancy Cardenas (@nancycardenas91) <– #txlege updates in Spanish// informacion sobre #txlege en Español!
  • Me! (@alexisjkostun)
  • Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes)
  • Lilith Fund (@lilithfund)
  • Planned Parenthood (@PPact)
  • Planned Parenthood Greater Texas (@PPGreaterTexas)
  • NARAL Pro Choice TX (@naraltx)

There is a lot of activity as we get ready for the second special but the most important thing to remember is that we’re not going anywhere and that means pacing ourselves through the next 30 days. Jessica Luther has posted a comprehensive schedule of what’s planned so far here.  Virginia and I are working on a list of all members of the House & Senate with their FB pages and Twitter handles so that it’s easy for you to contact your reps and let them know you don’t support these bills.

If you’re available, I’m re-posting the following call to action from Texas Dems:

Texas Democratic Party needs people to phonebank Democrats with a high pro-choice rating. We are trying to get as many people out to the Stand Up Monday – Rally at Texas Capitol at 12pm. If you are able to phonebank either at the TDP headquarters or from home, please contact our Vice-President, Pedro Villalobos (pedro.villalobos09@gmail.com).

Texas Politics: An Open Letter to the Media

Dear News Outlets,

I want to clear something up — something that friends and relatives have asked me — and something that I feel has been inaccurately represented by news organizations reporting on the SB5 filibuster. There was no previously organized Democratic “scheme” to run down the last 12 minutes of the special session with help from those in the gallery, rotunda, and outside the gallery and Senate chambers. There was no concerted effort to organize the hundreds or thousands of people left in the Capitol at 11:48, no carefully organized attempt to subvert democracy.

What there was, and in abundance, was the fierce spirit of Texas women (and the men who love them). Thousands of Texas men and women gathered in the Capitol on Tuesday to send a clear message to Gov. Perry, Lieutenant Gov. Dewhurst, and every member of the GOP caucus that we would not be bullied into silence. We decided, individually and as a group, that we would no longer permit men to congregate in secret, making decisions that should be solely between a woman, her doctor, and her family.

The GOP’s claim that the cheering in the last 12 minutes of the night was orchestrated by Democratic leadership is not only irresponsible, it’s false, and I’m disappointed to see you run with that message — rather than fact-checking with any of the thousands of Texans at the Capitol. Jessica Luther was an amazing presence throughout the week, tweeting accurate information and helping organize people in real time. She summed up our disappointment in certain national media coverage eloquently:

“If you had asked me on Tuesday morning if TWO THOUSAND people would show up that night, that 200,000 would watch the livestream, that Barack POTUS Obama would tweet about us, I would have said that wasn’t going to happen. No way. No how…It feels wrong to paint it as if some mastermind created the BEAUTIFUL moments that happened on Tuesday.”

Was it strategic? Certainly. Leticia Van de Putte lit a flame: one that could not be dampened by GOP leaders demanding that we follow the rules of decorum (the same rules that Texas Republican Senators can be seen ignoring in their efforts to push SB5 through), nor by the dutiful state troopers who began to arrest those in the gallery. I was camped on the second floor, outside of the Senate gallery, and when we realized that the GOP had and would break any and every rule to end the filibuster, we realized that we could stand for Wendy, ourselves, and every other Texan woman who has a fundamental and Constitutional right to make decisions about her own body. She stood to represent the voices of thousands of Texas women, and in the last 12 minutes of the night, it wouldn’t be possible for troopers to arrest every last one of us. We stood too many, and we stood too long, to go unheard. The last 12 minutes became ours for the taking, and in Senator Davis’ words, it truly became the People’s Filibuster.  But was it planned? No. And if you ask me, it was all the more powerful in the beautiful spontaneity of our actions.

It’s no surprise that the GOP is attempting to spread misinformation: but I believe, perhaps naively, that news outlets covering the events of the last week should be doing so responsibly.

Alexis