I’ll keep driving to Austin as long as the legislature keeps putting forth these asinine bills designed to strip women of their right to choose abortion by making it a procedure that almost no one can access.
Three of us left after work yesterday, and because the traffic gods were kind to us, we hit Austin by 7. We were home just before midnight, in time to watch the committee vote. By the time the night was over, over 3,300 people had registered on the bill. I don’t know the breakdown of for versus against, but I do know this:
- The hearing was scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.
- The registration for witness testimony was supposed to open at 1:30 p.m. There’s not a hard and fast rule on this, as far as I know, but throughout the process, the registration kiosks haven’t opened more than a couple of hours before the hearing.
- Reports started to come out on Twitter and Facebook that at ~11 a.m., several buses carrying ~200 people showed up to sign up in favor of the bill, and the kiosks were miraculously available when they arrived. Four hours early.
- They registered, then got in line to get seats in the hearing room.
Now, it may seem petty to worry about “the other side” getting to sign up first, and getting all of the seats in the hearing room, but consider the history.
Two weeks ago, I went to Austin for a hearing during the first special. I signed in and waited 9 hours, but was not called to speak. People who had signed in when the kiosks first opened waited nearly 15 hours, but were not called to speak. Even though over 700 people were present, an overwhelming majority of whom opposed the bill, witnesses were called in a random order that didn’t seem random at all once you realized it was weighted toward people who supported the bill.
On the first day of the special session, various representatives and senators brought up the fact that citizens were frustrated by the long waits to testify, which the powers that be have since started calling a computer glitch. Everyone talked about the fact that during this session, people would be called in order.
Truly, we knew that the State Affairs committee would pass the bill to the full house. They could have done so without our testimony. But, as Representative Turner pointed out multiple times, yesterday was only the second day of the special session. The committee chair could have decided magnanimously to allow a full second day of testimony, granting citizens the right to have their voices heard and recorded, without jeopardizing the bill’s ultimate passage.
The chair and the bill’s sponsor could also have allowed other representatives to present amendments, and allowed the committee to debate those amendments.
The GOP chair of the committee, acting on behalf of the GOP majority, demonstrated just how little regard they have for process, house traditions, or citizen participation. Debate was cut off. No amendments were offered, with Rep. Cook giving Rep. Turner a very dismissive and curt ‘you can offer your amendments on the floor,’ which everyone knows is legislative committee code for fuck you, I’m in charge.
Democracy is messy. We want it to be like the filibuster, the great speech, the defining moment, but when democracy is truly working the way it should, it is about reasonable people working together to find a compromise. There is give, and there is take.
Lately, in Austin, and North Carolina, and Ohio, it has been entirely about the take. No give. And what’s being taken isn’t an abstract right. What’s being taken is access to desperately-needed and very common medical procedure, and procedure that people need to access for a variety of intensely personal and equally valid reasons.
Austin is going to get more frustrating over the remaining 28 days. Anti-choice groups will be sending buses from Washington, D.C., in order to have enough protesters at the capitol.
I believe this is what true grassroots organizers like to call Astroturf?
The silver lining is the connections that have been made, the relationships that have developed, and the trust that has been built. I now know people from across Texas, people I respect and trust, and when and if things get bad, I know how to reach them and how to work with them. This experience has been a turbo-infusion to the true grassroots in Texas. I look forward to watching us grow up through the cracks in the political process to take back our state.
Conventional wisdom (and I use the term wisdom advisedly) suggests that Texas progressives aren’t organized enough to capitalize on this groundswell.