Nobody drives halfway across Texas—or halfway across the country—because they are unsure about what they believe.
Nobody takes time off work to sit in a capitol extension overflow room for 9 hours hoping a really smart stranger will completely change his or her worldview.
Nobody shows up at a rally, ready to chant, carry signs, and find someone with a totally different belief system and have a deep, personal, life-changing conversation.
Trust me on this.
It can be powerful to engage in dialogue with someone who doesn’t understand why you advocate for abortion rights, to share stories, to probe the uncomfortable space where your values and experience do or do not line up and discover common ground, but that’s a conversation that requires time, trust, and an assumption of good intentions.
Those are three things in very short supply when you are on the front lines of direct action.
Tomorrow, paid outside agitators will arrive in Austin. I refer to Mike Huckabee and the Duggars, people who are less interested in creating dialogue and finding common ground than in making sure they are relevant enough to have their highly lucrative television contracts renewed.
At the same time, buses full of students—amped up, egged on by peers, excited to be fighting for what they believe is right—will arrive on the capitol grounds.
Don’t engage. If you really must feed the trolls, go do it on Twitter.
Look, it isn’t that I don’t think you are smart, convincing, charming, or right. It is that I know that we have a very specific focus for the work being done at the capitol this session, and it isn’t convincing random strangers to abandoned their deeply held and often sincere beliefs. Here are our goals for being at the capitol:
- Sign in and/or testify as opposed to SB1, HB2, and any other anti-choice bill that comes up, to create a public record of our opposition and to show that the majority of Texans are opposed to such legislation.
- Be a silent but visible presence in the hearing rooms and legislative chambers both to remind lawmakers that the majority of their constituents believe that individuals, not elected officials, should be the ones making decisions about whether and when people become parents, and provide silent but visible encouragement to the legislators protecting our rights.
- Sign in at our elected representatives’ offices (they all have a guest books outside their offices) with an address (to demonstrate you are a constituent) and a quick note like “I’m here to oppose HB2 and ask you to do the same/thank you for doing the same.”
- Meet other people working in this movement to help strengthen coalition ties throughout our state, because we are going to have to keep working together long after the special session ends.
- Be a vocal and loud presence, in the appropriate time and place (e.g. outside at a rally), to show our appreciation for the fantastic legislators working hard on our behalf to prevent bad bills from becoming bad laws.
We’re not there to win converts to our side or argue with people who approach the issue of reproductive justice from a fundamentally different framework. We’re not there to refine our debate skills.
We’re really not there to create fodder for their fundraising newsletters, viral videos, or other gotcha social media ploys.
Your flip comment, offhand aside, or outburst in a hearing room, recorded on a phone and edited by someone with an agenda, shifts the focus away from our goals. Your getting arrested for provoking a confrontation with someone in blue, or someone in a uniform with a badge, proves nothing other than you know how to provoke and get arrested.
Our legislative goals are the primary focus, but behind them is something even more important.
People. People whose rights and access to safe healthcare, safe abortion, are in extreme jeopardy. My rights, your rights, our rights.
If you want to debate, provoke, disrupt, argue, or troll, please go elsewhere. Things are already tense at the legislature, and the intensity is about to ramp up. There is critical work being done, and debate, provocation, and trolling get in the way.
I’m not saying that the way our legislative process is unfolding is above criticism. I think we can all point to multiple examples of the way in which it is not working well (at best) or actually being rigged to work against us (which is, believe me, germane), but engaging with a random anti-choice activist isn’t going to fix that.
Stay safe, stay calm, and stay focused at the capitol this week. Focus on our legislative goals and the impact that achieving or not achieving those goals will have on the lives of Texans. That’s the best we can do, and the most important thing we can do.
*For Ken – the actual, practical, everything you need to know about tomorrow’s hearings on SB1 courtesy of Jessica Luther.