Anne Lewis : Women Who Misbehave (in Texas!)

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis speaks to a crowd of thousands at the Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas, July 1, 2013. Photo by Phillip Martin / The Frisky.

Deep in the heart of Texas:
Women who misbehave

The Gallery erupted when Dewhurst ruled in Campbell’s favor. We yelled ‘Shame’ and ‘Let her speak.’

By Anne Lewis | The Rag Blog | July 4, 2013

“They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history; against Antinomians and witches, these pious matrons have had little chance at all.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1976

AUSTIN — Recent experience in Texas gives both the well-known quote and its context new meaning. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) sits alongside those virtuous and unquestioning women. When Senfronia Thompson (D), a wire coat hanger hanging from the podium, called for the exemption of victims of rape and incest from the anti-abortion bill that Laubenberg had filed, Laubenberg objected, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” She instantly became the subject of national ridicule.

Laudenberg speaks for more than Christian fundamentalists in the Texas House. She is the Texas State Chair of the American Legislative Council (ALEC) — a behind-the-scenes organization that is anti-union, anti-choice, anti-environment, and anti-immigrant. ALEC is responsible for the “shoot first” legislation that in part caused the killing of Trayvon Martin.

I went to the Capitol on Sunday and stood in the hallway leading to the House Gallery. A few “pro-life” people had also gathered to greet the Representatives with tape over their mouths, I suppose pretending to be fetuses. One miserable-looking man in a shiny blue shirt and black tie shouldered me aside.

When they began humming Amazing Grace, I could bear it no longer and began to talk about the meaning of the hymn written by a reformed slave trader, sung by the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, brought to life by Mahalia Jackson for use in both the mass Civil Rights movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War, and a source of inspiration on union picket lines. The man’s lips began to puff up around his taped mouth.

Demonstrators fill the Capitol stairs. Photo by Anne Lewis / The Rag Blog.

Finally inside the House Gallery I heard the beautifully articulated amendment to SB5 by Donna Howard (D-Austin). Supported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the Texas Hospital Association, Howard wanted to strike language that might keep doctors and nurses from acting in the best interest of both mother and fetus.

Laubenberg got up to state her opposition, was asked simple questions about her bill by Lon Burnham (D-Ft Worth), and mumbled something about it gutting the bill. Burnham persisted with specifics. As a result Laubenberg moved to table all subsequent proposed amendments to the bill without returning to the microphone.

This included an amendment by Mary González (D-El Paso) who spoke eloquently of the disproportionate impact on women in her community who would have to travel 600 miles each way to the nearest abortion clinic in San Antonio.

We sat in the gallery, occasionally giving voice but quickly silenced by Planned Parenthood and Democratic Party organizers. A succession of amendments by House Democrats and procedural issues delayed voting on the bill into early Monday morning, giving the Senate filibuster a chance to succeed.

Like many, I returned to the Capitol Tuesday evening and became part of a long line trying to get into the Senate Gallery to observe Wendy Davis’ filibuster. We snaked in circles and I was thrilled to see students and former students — many young women who I had never thought of as radical — in the crowd. Once more we were told to be quiet and follow the rules of decorum — the time would come to make noise. And we did, for the most part, remain quiet and contained.

Wendy Davis during filibuster..

I tried to think about some comparison to the mass civil rights movement — or to the movement that ended the war in Vietnam. I thought about that moment when our relatively minor differences go away, when we act in one loud clear voice against a system of oppression, when we are willing to be obnoxious or even go to jail for our deep-felt beliefs. As Joe Begley from the eastern Kentucky coalfields put it: “Everyone should go to jail for a night or two.”

The third strike against the Wendy Davis’ filibuster took place at 10 p.m., filed by Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) who said that the sonogram bill had nothing to do with abortion. I was in the Senate Gallery. Campbell stood down below us, the sharpness of her features complemented by a thoroughly unpleasant expression. A man near me said, “And I always liked going to New Braunfels.”

The Gallery erupted when Dewhurst ruled in Campbell’s favor. We yelled “Shame” and “Let her speak.” I remember a man with a shoe in his hand and an older woman pointing down at the legislators and yelling at them. Both were removed along with nearly all the people who happened to be nearest the door.

Every time the door opened we could hear the crowd outside. They yelled, “Let us in.” The troopers locked the door and the only way out was through the Senate Chambers.

“Let her Speak” June 25 2013 10 07 to 10 10 Texas Capitol from Anne Lewis on Vimeo.

I leave it to my friends who know more about Texas traditions to explain some of the more sadistic rules of decorum in the Senate chambers, which includes the need for Depends. Having stood in line for three hours followed by an hour and a half in a Senate Gallery seat, considering what might happen if I peed in the Gallery, I could stand it no longer and removed myself to the Rotunda where facilities awaited. So did the largest, most energetic, and by far noisiest indoor rally I’ve ever seen.

At 11:50 p.m. we began to scream and didn’t stop until after midnight. It felt as though the entire Capitol was vibrating. On Wednesday, June 26, after calling a new special session to pass the anti-abortion bill, Texas Governor Rick Perry presided over Texas’ 500th execution since 1982 — his 261st. Kimberly McCarthy, an African-American woman was put to death for the robbery/murder of a 71-year-old neighbor.

Protesters outside the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville,Texas, Wednesday, June 26, where Kimberly McCarthy was the 500th person executed by the State of Texas. Photo by Otis Ike / The Rag Blog.

Just hours later, Perry spoke at the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas saying, “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. “ He attacked Wendy Davis, “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.” I wonder at his inconsistencies and the political opportunism of priorities that shift so quickly from pro-life to pro-death.

(insert side by side pictures from Patrick)

There’s an element in Perry’s and the other Republican legislators’ reactions to Wendy Davis that remind me of the way white supremists branded white Southerners who took up the banner of racial equality as “race traitors.” How could she, a white woman, betray him. But it wasn’t mainly white women who stood up to the majority in the Legislature.

Senfronia Thompson, Leticia Van de Putte, Dawnna Dukes, Mary Gonzales, Alma Allen, Judith Zaffirini, Yvonne Davis, and others proved themselves smarter than all of those right-wing men put together and far more competent to govern. I remember seeing this man with a wooden stick poking around while Wendy Davis filibustered hour after hour — not allowed to eat, drink, sit down, or use the bathroom. He might as well have been jerking off.

And it’s not just the Republican men but also those infantilized right-wing women. Baby dolls that men protect and control, they are sanctimonious, hidden, and vicious when someone calls them out — very much Ulrich’s well-behaved pious matrons. It’s all about the white man’s party and its ability to rule.

At 11:45, fifteen minutes before the end of the session, Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) — who had returned from her father’s funeral in order to be heard – stood to demand that her colleagues recognize her. It was not the first time she had defied those in power. In response to the sonogram bill, she said, in parody of Grover Norquist’s promise to shrink government to a size that could fit in a bathtub, “”Texas is going to shrink government until it fits into a woman’s uterus.” On Tuesday night she said, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

That line — so solidly expressive of misuse of power and male supremacy — was the cue for the Gallery. They yelled and chanted and took over the Chamber.

We could hear the Gallery through the locked door. The whole Capitol filled with a giant roar. We cheered, yelled, and chanted.

“Vote Stopped by Protesters” Texas Capitol June 25, 2013 11:50pm to June 26, 2013 12:01am from Anne Lewis on Vimeo.

Last Tuesday night at around midnight, thousands of Texans took their Capitol. A crowd of predominantly young women defied a group of sour and narrow legislators by screaming at them until they stopped. What a wonderful night of misbehavior it was!

[Anne Lewis, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas and a member of TSEU-CWA Local 6186 and NABET-CWA, is an independent filmmaker associated with Appalshop. She is co-director of Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, associate director of Harlan County, U.S.A, and the producer/director of Fast Food Women, To Save the Land and People, Morristown: in the air and sun, and a number of other social issue and cultural documentaries. Her website is Read more articles by and about Anne Lewis at The Rag Blog.]

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