The People's Filibuster Begins
The story begins on Thursday, June 20, at a House State Affairs Committee hearing.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:Before the session, I worked real hard to get a slot on the State Affairs Committee. I knew that was going to be an important committee for reproductive justice issues. I assembled key members to ensure I could stop any bills or slow them down.
Rep. Donna Howard:It was clear that some of the members had a strong desire to pass greater restrictions on abortion rights or further demonize providers like Planned Parenthood. Thankfully, however, none of these bills were brought up for debate on the House or Senate floors. I believe that this was primarily because of a concerted effort among members like myself to avoid the long, ugly floor fights that we had seen in 2011.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:That’s basically what I did all session - make sure these bills never saw the light of day. It’s like one of those games where the little heads keep popping up, and as soon as you hit one down another one pops back up.
Rep. Donna Howard:Once the first Special Session was called, we knew that the addition of an anti-abortion item was a distinct possibility. We also saw a group of conservative lawmakers sign onto a letter to the Governor, asking him to add a number of anti-abortion measures to the call.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:It had everything to do with David Dewhurst winning a primary. Which he failed to do. So now not only did he lose his primary, but the women of Texas lost because of his political ploy. And I knew that I couldn’t win on the inside because of the rules. I’d have to win on the outside with public pressure. That’s when Lize Burr and I became peas in a pod.
Lize Burr (Organizer, Capitol Area Democratic Women):Her office, and the people who worked in her office, were absolutely essential to making it happen.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:So, I just started counting backwards. Sine Die — the last day of session — was on Tuesday, and the hearing was at 1:00pm on Thursday. If I could get to Friday then possibly a filibuster could be in reach, if we could also do some stuff on the floor on the weekend. 3 minutes a person plus questions I could ask from the dais, I said we need 200 people - in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, to speak about this.
Heather Busby (Executive Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas):We were all reaching out to our lists. It was us, Planned Parenthood, Lize Burr, Mary Gonzales’s office, Whole Woman’s Health. It started out with a small group of us putting out the call, and then it spread like wildfire.
Brittany Yelverton (Organizer, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas):I reached out to our rapid response team and we said, “If you would come out and testify, even just share your position if you don’t feel comfortable vocalizing your personal experience, or just pass this along to your network.”
Rep. Jessica Farrar:And that’s when all of these people started to show up.
Andrea Grimes (Reporter, RH Reality Check):On the morning of the people's filibuster, I thought, “OK, this is going to be just another committee meeting, we might have a lot show up, but you know I’m going to be home by 9 and go to the bar with my husband.”
Rep. Jessica Farrar:We use the iPad now, and you can see now how many witnesses have testified, who is testifying, what their position is, and how many are left. Typically, as the hearing goes on the number of witnesses goes down. I’m looking for that magical 200 number, and when I opened my iPad there was just over 700 people who were lined up.
Brittany Yelverton:We were hoping that could be the kind of crowd we could amass. So when we hit the number that we hit that night — 700 people registering their position — it was just overwhelming.
Amy Hagstrom Miller (Founder & CEO, Whole Woman's Health):Watching people stand up for three minutes at a time and tell their abortion stories, one woman after the other after the other — I could see the
abortion stigma melting away in a way I’d been trying to encourage and make happen for years.
Some people were righteous and happy and unapologetic, and other people knew they made the right choice but were sad. Others had God in their conversation, and other people were vocal in saying, “Now I have a baby. I had an abortion and I don’t regret it.” It was just as complex as abortion is. It was like a rite of passage to tell your story and you became part of this group and it wasn’t isolating.
Andrea Grimes:It became personal for me so quickly. I mean it’s already personal because I do this work because I care about reproductive justice. But it had never felt so imperative. I’m used to big journalism not caring about this kind of thing until it becomes a crisis. You know, when 6 clinics are open. So I expected it be the thankless kind of reporting that I’ve become used to, but it was the opposite of thankless. It was so gratifying.
Tina Hester (Executive Director, Jane's Due Process):I was called early to testify, which I wasn't quite ready for — I thought I had many hours. I'm from Lubbock, Texas, and I'm just used to these good ol' boys. It's sometimes more frustrating to hear your opponents testify. You just shake your head in disbelief that they can actually say what they say.
Terri Burke (Executive Director, ACLU of Texas):I testified about 7:00pm I left for dinner. When I returned, instead of one overflow room there were suddenly three, two of which were filled with “our side.” More important, those two rooms were filled with young people. I had never seen so many young people at the Lege — at least not in the last four legislative sessions. It was like walking through a college dorm. They were sitting on the floor, in the window ledges, on the tables, all on their iPads, tweeting and chatting and summoning more.
Brittany Yelverton:But then you also had women in their 60s and 70s and 80s, and people of all genders, who were older and who had fought this fight before. And somehow they found the energy and passion to come back out again. You had such a diversity of people.
Heather Busby:Overflow rooms were a lot of fun because you could actually clap and cheer and jeer depending on what was being said. The community that was built up in those rooms was really fun, too. When people would get called up to testify, everyone was cheering them on. So many folks — and specifically young people — would tell me, “You know, I didn’t know you could do this. I’ve never been to the Capitol.”
Brittany Yelverton:That was the first night we got an unsolicited food donation. It must’ve been 12, maybe 11 pm at night, and some guy came up to me and was like, “We got 15 pizzas here from Randy in California.” I was thinking, “Who in the world is Randy from California?” That was the beginning of what I think was one of the most surprising elements. The floodgates of people from Wisconsin or Guatemala or New Jersey sending us donations because they were watching us from across the globe and felt such a deep feeling of solidarity with what was happening with this movement.
Dan Solomon (Freelance Reporter, Austin Chronicle):The whole thing kind of felt like a lock-in. I was watching Game 7 of the Spurs game on my iPad on the side.
Terri Burke:Within 15 minutes of Chairman Cook announcing there were 500 more speakers lined up and he was cutting it off in three hours, the doors opened and more young people poured in, asking how to sign up to speak. When told it was being cut off, they stayed. They never left.
Andrea Grimes:Once they figured out how many people were there to say what they were there to say, they tried to over-represent the anti-choice point of view.
Jessica Luther (Activist):I think Rep. Farrar at some point said or implied that they had messed with the lists. And that’s something that can come out of last summer. They need to be way more transparent about that process.
Dan Solomon:(Quoting from his story in the Austin Chronicle): Rep. Byron Cook – the committee chair – suddenly declares that the testimony will be ending regardless of how many people are still waiting to speak. Because he’s bored. “The testimony has been impassioned, but it has become repetitive, so I am going to only allow another hour of testimony on this bill.”
Lize Burr:I ran into the room, and I videotaped him stopping it. I have it on my phone to this day -it was a jaw-dropping moment. That was the time when the social media component really took off.
Jessica Luther:Dan Solomon and I ran into the hearing room from the overflow room, when we heard they were going to lock down the room. So I was sitting in the front of the room when Byron Cook left.
Dan Solomon:The committee left the room and we thought they weren’t going to come back at all. They got mad that people were upset and decided they weren’t going to hear anyone anymore.
Brittany Yelverton:This was owed to us. It was owed to us to have a space to speak as citizens of this state. We were supposed to be allowed our 3 minutes, and to see that right taken away.
Lize Burr:I have observed him over several sessions, and knew from his demeanor how he was feeling during that hearing. I know when he is having a good hearing, and I know when he is having a bad hearing, and this was not a hearing he was enjoying.
Andrea Grimes:I don’t think we realized the power of what we were doing in there until Byron Cook shut that meeting down and showed us how scared he was of what we had to say.
Lize Burr:I was outraged, but I was also so worried, at all times, about people being endangered. I focused on how people are going to be comfortable, safe, heard. How are we going to deal with the anger and the repercussions for us - those of us who need to have this thing go for the 200-person filibuster that Rep. Farrar had laid out.
Heather Busby:People were shouting. It was late, and I was just like, “Oh god are we going to riot? How do we diffuse this?” Reps. Jessica Farrar and Donna Howard helped the situation by allowing people to continue to speak. And it kind of fell over. It wasn’t a crazy, unruly mob.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:What I had to do was highlight to the public how extreme Republicans are, and in that I think we were successful.
Brittany Yelverton:After Rep. Cook came back in and said he would give us another hour, one of the first people up to give public testimony was Leslie Simms. She made this statement and I’m going to paraphrase it, because I can’t remember it exactly, “Our stories and our lives are not repetitive, what is repetitive is your attack against us and your attacks on our bodies.” That was a beautiful summation of what so many of us were feeling.
Heather Busby:Deep down in my heart I know people cared about this, that the majority of Texas does not support these restrictions on abortion. Seeing that manifest in front of my eyes was a relief. I had faith in Texas and Texas pulled through.
Brittany Yelverton:Rep. Donna Howard’s Chief of Staff, Scott Daigle, saw that there were still like 400 people there at 1:00am. He brought from Rep Howard’s office’s a tiny, tiny coffee pot, which makes 8 cups of coffee at a time. He started brewing coffee for what was essentially an army of people, 8 cups at a time. But he was going make it happen for us.
Ed Espinoza (Executive Director, Progress Texas):At first, Texas media was not covering the Capitol events. Our team happened to be at a conference of online organizers, so we started tweeting the #HB60 tag and asked everyone else to do the same. The tag started trending in two cities - Austin, TX and San Jose, CA. By the end of the night it was trending globally.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:I don’t know if this could have happened ten years ago without social media. It really was a People's Filibuster.
Lize Burr:The last of us left at 4am in the morning. That’s when “End the War on Women” was projected onto the north side of that building. And when those of us who’d been there all day saw that on the outside of the building, we knew we’d lived through an historic night. That we would never forget what we’d done, and that other people had seen it, too. It was fantastic.
The House Debates
The following is an overview of the floor fight in the Texas House of Representatives on Sunday & Monday, June 23 & 24.
Yvonne Gutierrez (Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes):The House strategy to get to a filibuster included all hands on deck. Blake Rocap from NARAL and I worked very closely with House members and their staff, especially Rep. Farrar and Rep. Chris Turner, on more than 50 amendments covering every provision of the legislation.
Lize Burr:We were trying to time this whole thing out. There was a concern that if we asked people to come too early, they’re not going to want to stay.
Heather Busby:Everything up until then was done through texting and emails and phone calls. There wasn’t really a lot of planning, it was just rapid response, adaptability, and moving and changing with what was happening. I went over my text limit and had to add to my plan.
Brittany Yelverton:A couple of us would hop on phone calls to figure out how we wanted to phrase this ask to our rapid response team. We came up with, “Come early, stay late, wear orange.”
Heather Busby:By the time I got back to Austin and the Capitol that day, Planned Parenthood had already given out 1,000 Stand with Texas Women orange t-shirts.
Lize Burr:The day before, I went and bought two orange dresses before the Gap closed.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:We designed that bright orange t-shirt at the beginning of the regular session. Who knew that orange would become such a big thing.
Brittany Yelverton:Whole Woman’s Health and the other coalition partners decided that orange would be the color. To see all of a sudden this visual representation of a sea of orange — to see over a thousand people who were deeply invested in this movement and deeply cared about reproductive justice. That’s when a switch flipped in mind: we can change the course of history in Texas.
Heather Busby:I walked into the rotunda, and I looked up and saw all those people filling that building. It was this immense feeling of what we were doing matters. Reproductive rights, reproductive freedom, and access to abortion are important to Texans. This is something they are going to take time out of their busy lives to protect. And I saw Lize Burr on the Capitol rotunda floor, and I just hugged her and cried and said, “All these people are here for this.”
Dan Solomon:I was shocked that more people came the second day than the first day, because I thought after that Thursday, well we’re done. We’ve seen what happens and it doesn’t work. I thought people were there to run out the clock, and when that was no longer an option I thought people were going to stop coming. I was shocked that it grew like it did.
Brittany Yelverton:The auditorium had become part of the overflow room, and that became such an inclusive, communal, supportive space, where people were able to listen to testimony when the gallery was filled, or prepare their testimony and practice with other people. There was an immense feeling of family and community.
Lize Burr:People started to get to know each other. They waited all day. They watched the proceedings in the auditorium. People also started to see the hardball tactics that were going to be used against us.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:Not enough credit has been given to our House members, who absolutely did the work. We’re Democrats operating in a Republican controlled legislative body. We have to know the rules, and we have to utilize them in a manner to protect our constituents. Our House members did an incredible job.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:When the issue hit the floor, we had to figure how to eat the clock up. Our office, volunteers who came in, and staffs from other offices as well worked very hard to get questions to the back mic, to get possible amendments, and all kinds of things we could do to basically eat up the clock so we could get within that filibuster striking range.
Andrea Grimes:I was in the chamber for the entire time that night. It was the night I fell in love with Rep. Gene Wu. He and Rep. Dawnna Dukes were doing this back and forth, “Where you aware…, Mr. Wu?” “No I was not Ms. Dukes…” These two representatives are just standing there and running out the clock, asking each other the most asinine and obvious questions to suck up the entire time that they had on the floor. “Were you aware that one in three women who have abortions are already mothers?” “Well in fact, I thought it was closer to two in three.” It was just hysterical and well-timed and evocative.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:My colleagues - they’d just done a regular session, they wanted to get home, spouses are giving them the evil eye, children and dogs don’t recognize you — they want to go home. But when they stepped into the House Chamber and they saw the gallery just swell with orange shirted people, they were uplifted.
Rep. Donna Howard:I offered up three amendments for the SB 5 floor debate. Unfortunately, all of my amendments failed to be placed on the bill. It was particularly galling to have my safe harbor amendment defeated, since it was borne out of conversations with health providers. It was just one further example of the bill's authors ignoring the testimony of medical professionals.
Yvonne Gutierrez:We were camped out in Rep. Farrar’s office, food and people were everywhere and we were all watching the debate continue on the three television sets in her office. I was fielding texts and phone calls from House members and their staff with questions and updates. We were all on pins and needles. I will never forget the level of anxiousness that night.
Lize Burr:When it got to the amendments, it was incredible - but it was really hard to believe.
Heather Busby:Rep. Jodie Laubenberg made her comment about the rape kit and the representatives that were fighting for us basically shut her down.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson:I thought the bill’s opponents would understand that no person chooses to be raped, and that when a person is raped - or a victim of incest - it is a very traumatic experience. And then
to force that person to carry the fetus to full term is something that I think is onerous on the victim. It puts the person in several untenable positions.
You are making that person, everyday, remind themselves what happened to them. And then society is forcing them, whether it is incest or rape, to caryy that pregnancy. I think its really unfortunate that women are forced by society to not have those choices.
Brittany Yelverton:Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s really passionate and intelligent and well-researched speech on the floor was amazing to see.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson:When I was a young woman, I was pregnant with my first child, and I had a neighbor who was a mother of five kids, and her husband walked out on her. She was a maid at a local hospital there,
Jefferson Davis Hospital, and she had two older kids who were boys who were out working low-wage jobs to try and help their momma make ends meet.
After a few years, she met a guy that she started dating. At that period of time there was no contraceptives — it was unheard of, except the rhythm method. Sometimes it worked for them and sometimes it didn’t. Most times it didn’t work. And she got pregnant.
When she got pregnant with this man, she later learned her oldest daughter had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. The momma was about four months pregnant, and her daughter was just starting to show, so I’d say she was two, two-and-a-half months.
So the mother decided one night to have a back-alley abortion. The lady she went to used a coat hanger, and she never survived.
And I never forgot that. There she was, not trying to be pregnant when her first grandchild was going to make its entry into the world because she wanted to be available for her daughter’s child. And in the process of doing this she loses her life, through an illegal abortion with a coat hanger. She hemorrhaged to death.
That’s the reason why I used that coat hanger in my remarks. I always remember her — Mrs. Bell, that was her name. And I always think about her when abortion is talked about. I always think about that coat hanger. There’s probably many women who saw the end of their journey in life the same way. Women whose names remain nameless and faceless to this day.
Brittany Yelverton:And then when she took the coat hanger, left it on the mic, and walked away. It was like a very professional mic drop.
Ed Espinoza:Then DPS officers said a demonstration of any kind would result in citizens being ejected from the Capitol. They considered clapping a demonstration.
Lize Burr:That’s when we were also telling people you cannot yell, you cannot scream. That’s when we were doing the waving our hands - we were still doing jazz hands at that point. We weren’t getting tossed out for doing that.
Dan Solomon:That’s the biggest difference - how you carry yourself when you are pretty sure you’re going to win, versus how you carry yourself when you’re more likely to lose.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:What I set out to do was to make a public fight so that we never have to fight this anymore. My reasoning was that if Republicans are going to bring this up to win elections, that they feel the burn as a repercussion for bringing these issues up.
Jessica Luther:Kirk Watson came in to speak with all of us and I didn’t even know who Kirk Watson was! Which is so funny to think about now. The learning curve was so fast for someone like me who had no knowledge of how any of this worked, who our state legislators were, like nothing.
Lize Burr:Really the people who made it happen, were the Representatives who came out at 3 or 4 in the morning and spoke to us who were still there on the staircase. I can still picture all of them being there and being completely floored, and their words and encouragement. They were gracious at a time when it was an insane time to be gracious.
Jessica Luther:That night, that Sunday night before the filibuster, I remember Blake Rocap coming up to us and saying, “There’s a senator willing to filibuster.” He wouldn’t tell us who it was, and only said, “Whoever it is, they are prepared to do it for 36 hours.”
Lize Burr:The next morning [Monday], we were watching the clock. The longer until they came in, the longer the bill had to lay out. It was get it to 11, don’t vote until 11. Fortunately they went as long as they did, but at the same time, we knew the bill was going over to the Senate.
Ruth Gilgenbach (Activist):The Senate was contemplating changing the rules about how many people had to be there to vote so that they could exploit the fact that Sen. Van de Putte's father had died.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:I asked Governor Dewhurst if he would give me an hour and a half notice before any major vote was taken. And he did. On Monday, he gave me notice that they were going to start to take up the bill at 7:00pm on Monday night — which was the exact hour of my father’s rosary.
Lize Burr:It was a sign of what David Dewhurst was willing to do. We got on the phone with women in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties, and they started calls to Senator Lucio’s office immediately. There were calls going into his office by 11:00am that Monday, letting him know he can’t break with the Democrats and go against Senate tradition at a time when Sen. Van de Putte was going through a family loss. We didn’t know until he got out onto that floor what he was going to do — at least I didn’t.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:I was on the phone with the other Senators, and it was the other Senators — particularly Senator Lucio - who said, “I will not do this at the regular time, unless Senator Van de Putte is here.” It goes to show you the working relationships of the senators. Governor Dewhurst set it for 7:00pm. The Senators denied that vote, honoring another Senator who had lost her dad.
Forrest Wilder (Reporter, Texas Observer):This is one of those issues that, in the context of an explosive legislative fight like that, you kind of got to play ball with your team, even if you don’t agree with this particular issue.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:The filibuster started, as scheduled on the calendar, at 11:00am that Tuesday.
The Davis Filibuster
Tuesday, June 25. By day’s end, a livestream of the 13-hour filibuster would be seen by hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
Dan Solomon:That day is pretty hazy. That was a very long day.
Yvonne Gutierrez:Sen. Kirk Watson was willing to do it and there were a couple of days of back-and-forth, but in the end it needed to be a woman - and Sen. Wendy Davis was the clear choice. She had the most to lose and to gain.
Sen. Wendy Davis:A few days before the bill reached the Senate floor, the Senate Democratic Caucus held a meeting where we -- as a group -- decided to filibuster the bill. Several Senators were willing to do it, and I was selected by my colleagues. I was motivated by the fact that thousands of people were yearning to be heard on this issue and were turned away. The health care and reproductive rights of Texas women were at stake, and I decided that I was going to attempt a filibuster in order give voice to the people who felt that their voices weren’t being heard.
Brittany Yelverton:I was in Senator Davis’s office about 9:30 or 10:00am that morning printing out stories and on calls trying to get all this material together for senate staffers. I saw her walk out and I thought: “Oh wow, this is happening. Something huge and remarkable is about to take place.”
Yvonne Gutierrez:I took Cecile Richards to visit the members before they gaveled in. She got some time with Wendy - she was ready, but no one had any idea what that day was going to be like. Of course Dewhurst took it up right away.
Andrea Grimes:I remember when they were getting things rolling and around 11 o’clock in the morning. And I’m sitting there prepared to do my court reporter transcribing of the whole shebang. And Dewhurst asks if she’s going to talk and she says, “Yes, Lieutenant Governor, I intend to speak for an extended length of time.” And I remember transcribing that, tweeting it and the timestamp was 11:18am. I will remember that forever. I was like, “This is happening. There is a woman on the floor of the senate talking about abortion.”
Heather Busby:Wendy Davis was fearless. She stood up for us, literally and figuratively, in her iconic pink running shoes. She was under intense scrutiny the whole time, but she remained strong and poised until the very end.
Jessica Luther:That’s another great thing about last summer: HB2 and SB5 were about abortion. It was much narrower than reproductive health. She stood on that floor to make sure people had access to abortion the medical procedure.
Brittany Yelverton:A lot of the stories that were passed along were actually testimonies people had written and registered to share at prior house or committee hearings, but never had the opportunity to give voice to those stories.
Heather Busby:Carol Metcalf, who was the last person to testify in the 20 week ban regular session House hearing and also submitted her testimony during the People's Filibuster, couldn’t be at Wendy’s filibuster. Wendy started reading Carol’s story — about a fetal anomaly and having to say goodbye to her wanted pregnancy because her daughter wasn’t going to live — and she started to cry and paused, and I’m like, “Don’t pause too long, because that’s one of the ways they can ding you.” I texted Carol and said “Wendy’s reading your story and she’s crying.”
Brittany Yelverton:I remember seeing Julie Gilles, who had written a testimony but hadn’t gotten the chance to share it, crying when Wendy Davis started reading her words.
Lize Burr:I started to hear Sen. Davis read something, and I knew it was my friend. And I looked over at her, who - she wasn’t in my section, but was just one over - and she was just sitting there, silently weeping. We were sitting in silence, listening to these stories. And among us - in the gallery itself - were the women whose stories they were.
Sen. Wendy Davis:Before I took the floor that morning to begin the longest thirteen hours of my life, I worked to track down every single page of testimony that was submitted in committee, but not read. And during the next hours, I read every single one of their stories out loud. These were personal stories about an issue that mattered deeply to women fighting across the state. As word spread about what was happening in the Capitol, more than 16,000 letters poured in. I stopped worrying about running out of stories and started worrying about running out of time. I was honored to give voice to their stories.
Forrest Wilder:This was a long time coming. From a perspective of a lot of Texans, this kind of whittling away of abortion rights and anti-woman streak among some conservatives and Tea Party types, when you put all that together with Wendy Davis to put her body on the line literally and figuratively you had all the ingredients for a singular moment for all that I’ve seen in Texas politics.
Merritt Tierce (Executive Director, Texas Equal Access Fund):I went to the filibuster with my husband and our twelve year old daughter. We drove from Dallas - by the time we got there, there was a very long line to get into the gallery.
Heather Busby:Walking that line of people waiting to get into the gallery was incredible. It wrapped around the rotunda, up and down stairs, down hallways.
Lindsay Rodriguez (President - The Lilith Fund):The overflow room in particular was pretty intense because any time anybody said something — it was just like watching a movie--people were booing the villains and cheering the heroes. And it was very emotional.
Katie Naranjo (CEO, GNI Strategies):I was in the gallery and had been sitting there all day, since 10 AM that morning. We weren’t allowed to have food or anything to drink in the gallery. We also weren’t allowed to be loud or to talk.
Brittany Yelverton:When they closed the door to the capitol that night because it was “at capacity” — which I did not think was feasible for that building — it was like a red velvet rope club. That’s how many people wanted to get in and how many people wanted to participate in democracy.
Katie Naranjo:So we were sitting in very still positions for 12 hours not really able to do anything, because if you left you gave up your seat.
Dan Solomon:The thing about the filibuster, and the entire performance of the filibuster, is that it wasn’t politics and it wasn’t theater. It was sports. It was an endurance test. It was the best sporting event I’d ever been to, because it was a contest to see who could endure and who could come up with the right play at the right time.
Lize Burr:It was more like watching a fixed fight.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:The day of the filibuster, I really wasn’t prepared to engage in the debate. I hadn’t even planned on being there. It was a very sad day for our family, as we had just buried our dad. It was a very late funeral, at about 4:30 in the afternoon in San Antonio. But I did return to the Capitol. And what was absolutely incredible to witness was not just the strength of my sister, my colleague, Wendy Davis, but the presiding officers just throwing the rule book overboard.
Sen. Kirk Watson:That somehow a reference to Planned Parenthood funding was not germane — and another ruling that my questions to Sen. Davis about Roe v. Wade weren't germane — to a discussion about limiting abortion rights revealed how far the Lt. Governor was willing to stretch and how incredible this all was likely to be. We knew we were in a fight where the other side wouldn't be fair.
Lindsay Rodriguez:If you’d told me that that many people would be tuned in to parliamentary discussions at the Texas Legislature I would tell you that you were crazy.
Ed Espinoza:Something that is easy to forget — Sen. Davis didn’t sit down the entire time, even after they called the bogus third point of order.
Sen. Wendy Davis:If I had seated myself at that point it would have brought the filibuster to an end. Even though the 3rd point of order had been called, it had not yet been fully ruled on. I continued to stand to give voice to the thousands of people in the Capitol and across the state who have a stake in this issue.
Yvonne Gutierrez:I was standing in the middle of the rotunda with Cecile Richards and thousands of people were all around us – midnight was soon approaching and Sen. Davis had received her third point of order. I was texting back and forth with members of the Senate and their staff trying to get a sense of what was happening minute by minute as the Senators continued to make parliamentary inquiries.
Andrea Grimes:That third strike moment was the thing I had been holding my breath for. Going into the People's Filibuster I expected failure, and the next day I expected us to be overridden by some sort of procedural thing. Everyday I went, I would think, “Today is the day this thing ends.” Because it can’t be that we are doing this thing.
Sen. Kirk Watson:I spent a significant part of the day talking with the Parliamentarian and the Lt. Governor about being fair and pushing back on suggestions that they might reverse previous rulings. Of course, the final strike — saying that somehow discussion of a bill that impacted the rights of women by requiring a sonogram was not germane to the bill being filibustered — was the true proof of how far they'd go.
Andrea Grimes:And so when the third strike came down, I thought, “Well this is it. that’s how this ends.” I was so mad. And then Kirk Watson got up there like a baller and drug that thing out for two more hours.
Sen. Kirk Watson:The ultimate goal was to get to midnight. That meant I wanted a debatable motion that required discussion. I knew the Lt. Governor would have to give up the gavel. I actually was surprised he did it so fast. I also knew we'd have some debate and I intended for it to be as thorough as they'd allow. I was going to "filibuster the filibuster." The shifting rules and conditions required me to also be somewhat nimble.
Ruth Gilgenbach:The gallery had been so quiet, we had played by all of their stupid rules to be allowed to stay and be witness to the stories that Wendy Davis was telling on behalf of women who hadn't been allowed to speak for themselves, and it didn't matter. The Republicans were going to break all of the rules to get this done now.
Forrest Wilder:The conditions were there for an explosive and dramatic fight. If you take away some of the bungling by Dewhurst, if you take away some of the mean-spiritedness, aggressiveness and extremism on the part of Republicans, then it probably wouldn’t have been quite so explosive.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:When I said, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room,” it was out of pure anger and frustration. I raised my hand. I spoke out, and the gallery heard me. The press table heard me. But my mic was purposefully turned off — as I learned later, all the Democrats mics were turned off.
Ruth GilgenbachThat question encapsulated so much of what I had been feeling — all of my frustration at the system, at Republican lawmakers who were smugly ignoring the stories that Wendy Davis was reading, at lawmakers playing Candy Crush on their smartphones instead of paying attention.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:I knew that I was in order to be recognized. I know that process-wise, I should have been recognized. But I think that that signified the frustration that we had — is that they weren’t listening to to women. They weren’t listening. And that was pure anger and frustration. But it encapsulated what had been the whole process for this bill on women’s reproductive health.
Andrea Grimes:My best friend and I were watching the live feed of the last 20 minutes — right before Leticia Van de Putte stood up and asked her question. At first we thought something was wrong with the live feed, that the sound was gone or something, and we were like, “NO, we can’t hear! What’s happening?!” And then it turns out that we couldn’t hear, because you couldn’t hear in that room. I remember holding my friend Carrie’s hand, but we couldn’t look at each other because we were going to cry.
Katie Naranjo:We were so angry because we were sitting there the whole day just watching the Republicans completely mistreat the process. We were so frustrated that our voices weren’t being heard. That’s when we started screaming and kind of taking over the process.
Yvonne Gutierrez:I was texting Senator Van de Putte asking what we should do with the restless — but certainly orderly — people all around us who had come to witness the event and show their support for Sen. Davis. Sen. Van de Putte texted me to try to keep them quiet and minutes later she let me know that the gallery had erupted and it was go time.
Katie Naranjo:I remember looking down and all the senators were like, “No, don’t! Be quiet. You’re going to get arrested. Stop!” I worked for a number of the senators at the time and I was like, “Oh crap, all my bosses are telling me to be quiet and we’re not. We’re not going to be quiet.” But once they realized that it was getting closer and closer to midnight, they started saying, “No, keep this going. Keep this up.” They got it, they understood.
Jessica Luther:My initial reaction was like, “Oh no we’re going to get in trouble.” And then I looked over and Cecile Richards was screaming her face off. And I was like, “OK, this is on.”
Merritt Tierce:We were shouting so loudly by the end of the night that the building shook. I mean, it's a granite building.
Heather Busby:Everyone erupted. We all did that collectively as the people of Texas. We defeated legislation in the most grassroots way you can defeat legislation.
Dan Solomon:I was three stories down under some pretty thick limestone, and you could feel the building move from the sub-basement. It was incredible.
Ruth GilgenbachWe yelled. It was hours, weeks, years worth of frustration at being told to be quiet, being ignored, being patronized with claims that this bill was for "women's safety" when anyone who's been paying attention knows that the opposite is true--all coming out in one long, cathartic roar of frustration.
Lize Burr:The only thing that was unruly was when we stood up and yelled - and that wasn’t unruly, that was necessary.
Lindsay Rodriguez:The other side thinks that the yelling was a planned thing, but the outrage was so organic and just rippled through the crowd. We started getting word through Twitter and text messages, because we weren’t in the gallery, that they couldn’t hear what was going on because of the yelling.
Merritt Tierce:Twitter was the only way we knew what was going on inside the chamber. That was a really great example of democracy at work. Even if the Texas Tribune hadn't been there, there was no way that what was happening in that chamber could be hidden.
Ruth GilgenbachEveryone knows that they could win by playing by the rules, but that would be too hard, would take too long, would be too "boring," so instead, they cheated -- like, we're just going to do it this other way, where we don't have to listen to the stories of women who we'll be hurting, we don't have to listen to Wendy Davis tell their stories for them, and we don't have to acknowledge that the clock ran out before we could take the vote at midnight.
Andrea Grimes:As soon as Dewhurst, said, “Oh no, no, we’ve passed it.” I was like, "No you fucking didn’t, you did not.” I was looking at the clock on my computer and looking at the clock on the feed. And soon as I saw the screenshots, I was like, “Good luck, guys.”
Lize Burr:We had this major moment, in the rotunda, where we needed to have the right kind of lawyers on hand. Cecile Richards said she needed a jail buddy, so I volunteered, but we ended up not needing to get arrested.
JD Gins (Executive Director, Travis County Democratic Party):I heard they had arrested an elderly woman, and I went back to the Senate door to see what was happening with the arrest. That’s when they arrested me, too — took me to County Jail and processed me. When I got to jail, the elderly woman they had arrested, Martha Northington, was there. She had been sitting there quietly all day, doing her crossword puzzle, and she was actually following the rules, and not being unruly. She was just watching from the gallery, and when they came to clear out the gallery she was really offended. You know? “Why do I have to go, I haven’t done anything wrong.” And they man-handled her. The officer who arrested her gave her bruises all over her arms, and just really made a big mistake.
Lindsay Rodriguez:Everybody was there together. Being part of that crowd and the outrage flowing out into the halls and up and down the stairs, chanting, cheering, yelling, and then watching them try to change the timestamp when they couldn’t get the vote through. It was so surreal. It felt like it couldn’t be happening.
Lize Burr:Since the previous Saturday, I’d had a portable PA in Rep. Jessica Farrar’s office. I brought it into the center of the rotunda, and Bill Kelly, who was working for Planned Parenthood, held it for Cecile Richards to talk and tell us what was going on.
Dan Solomon:The fact that it worked that way - the fact that it did have that really neat cinematic feel to it, where it was a contest, there were ups and downs to the day, there was a narrative arc to the day - that doesn’t happen in real life. And that it came down to the thing that it started as, with people being the ones responsible for making the statements. You can’t script it that way.
Tina Hester:It’s 1:30am, I’m exhausted and tired and looking for a place to get gas. I’ve got my orange shirt on, I get out of the car, and this woman looks at me and says, "You were there, weren't you? I was there too. Wasn’t that the most exciting point in your life?”
Andrea Grimes:It was 3:00am when they finally confirmed it had been blocked. I went up to the second level just to watch Davis come through. She had all the TV cameras following her so they had the bright lights on her. And she was like this bright light moving through the crowd.
Merritt Tierce:We drove home that night and didn't get home until 4:00am. My daughter slept the whole trip and when we got there, she woke up and asked, “Did we win?”
JD Gins:We don’t win very often, but that night we won.
Jessica Luther:I’m still floored that it was in Texas that a senator stood on the floor of the senate and read abortion stories. That alone will forever be amazing. How brilliant she was from beginning to end in such an incredibly hostile space was just breathtaking. I believe in her. It could not have been better.
Sarah Schimmer (Activist):After we left the gallery, I took my daughter through the Capitol and showed her the picture of Ann Richards. She’s the only woman in the lower portion of the portrait gallery of the Capitol. So I caught that picture on my iPhone, of my daughter looking up at the Ann Richards portrait. I think that really captured the spirit of why we were there and why it was important.
Jessica Luther:Before I left that night, I went into Farrar’s office. And Rep. Farrar was in there. And she was so happy. And she came up to and just gave me the best hug of my whole life. One of best moments because she’s such a hero. By that point, I don’t even know if she had slept in a week.
Sen. Kirk Watson:I still get emotional thinking about how many people were there and were watching from all over the world. I've never felt that way in any other situation in politics or policy. I've never felt that strong of an emotional connection to people. It came from them being there and being will to stand against that abusive bill and the abuse of power used to try and pass it.
The July 1 Rally
On Monday, July 1, thousands rallied on the steps of the Texas Capitol.
JD Gins:After the filibuster, there was enormous amount of grassroots energy. Shortly after Gov. Perry announced the second special session, Facebook events began popping up all over the place, some attracting thousands of participants. The Stand With Texas Women coalition announced it would be doing a rally at noon on July 1st in order to give all that energy a place to go.
Yvonne Gutierrez:Our national office brought in staff and hired folks who knew how to organize rallies of this magnitude and Bill Kelly from our team was working with all of the amazing coalition partners who offered their staff and support. Thank the lord that I did not have to deal with logistics. I was point person on program and working with the elected officials.
JD Gins:Normally to do a rally like that you spend a month planning. With Scott Pollard coordinating logistics and Yvonne Gutierrez working with electeds, the Stand with Texas Women coalition coordinated the promotion and outreach for this event.
Scott Pollard (Organizer):We showed up at 5am on the day of, and the State Preservation Board was there and the Department of Public Safety. I walk up and, it was kind of like a gauging. “Was this guy going to come in and try to roll people?” So I pulled out my site diagram, which had all the components of our staging, our sound, our barricade. I was talking about egress. With my experience with working with Secret Service and fire marshals across the nation, I was able to speak the language to show him that, yes it’s going to be large, but it’s going to be safe.
Brittany Yelverton:I was a little heartbroken. I thought that doing what we did at the first special session, that the government would recognize that the will of the people had been expressed very vocally. After we had fought so hard and we had won.
JD Gins:I had been out of jail for about 36 hours, and we went back to the Capitol and started scouting out our rally. I think my picture was still on the wall of people that shouldn’t be here.
Scott Pollard:It was the largest event I’ve ever done in the state of Texas. My background is doing advance work for larger national campaigns. There really hasn’t been a whole lot of need for my services here in the state of Texas.
JD Gins:We had a Plan B in case the Preservation Board wouldn’t do it. We started working with folks in the City, and if we couldn’t do it on the steps of the Capitol we were going to shut down 11th and Congress and do a big rally there. Ultimately, the Preservation Board allowed us to do it.
Erik Vidor (Organizer):That morning, I had been staying at my parent’s house in Marble Falls. Yvonne Gutierrez called around, trying to figure out how to get Sen. Van de Putte from her kid’s house in Lake Travis to the Capitol. I ended up picking her up.
Heather Busby:That was the first day they closed us out of spaces. That was a big consideration: where are people going to go. We had workshops planned in the afternoon and we had to find alternate locations.
JD Gins: A local band warmed up the already energized crowd, Bright Lights Social Hour took the stage and played an instrumental riff called "Wendy Davis." It's not everyday a rock band plays a set to a crowd of thousands on the steps of Texas State Capitol. They made a video that went viral.
Scott Pollard:We were talking about doing some kind of live music component, and my best friend’s mother was able to provide me Lloyd Maine’s cell phone number. So I called him Friday night and left a message that we would be interested in having Natalie Maines come and do a little pre-program. A few days later I get this call, “I got your message. You’re just in luck!” She was in Austin, she really wanted to show her support, she ended up bringing her family and kids, and the rest is history. She played Not Ready to Be Nice and the National Anthem. It was a great way to start the rally.
JD Gins:Anytime you throw a big event, you worry that no one is going to come. Just out of nowhere, 10,000 people filled up the grounds. I still think it was more than that - we gave conservative estimates that day. We filled those grounds.
Ed Espinoza:That day was completely overwhelming. Our team was photographing everything we could and uploading it as quickly as possible to our public photostream. Then our digital director went to the fourth floor of the capitol and took an aerial crowd shot that showed the sheer strength of the crowd, just this tidal wave of orange-clad activists on the Capitol lawn. The photo was viewed by a quarter million people on Facebook, and MSNBC picked up the photostream.
Yvonne Gutierrez:I couldn’t even see how large the crowd was during the rally – I never saw it. I had to get the electeds to the press box afterward and they didn’t want to leave the stage. It was a cluster for me.
Rep. Donna Howard:The July 1st rally was everything that I could have hoped for and more, both to see so many citizens fired up about the mechanics of the legislative process and also there to support the efforts of my fellow Democratic caucus members. Special sessions typically go by without any notice, with the summer heat and the break from school directing attention away from the work at the Capitol. And here was the surest sign yet that this time people were most definitely paying attention.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:I couldn’t see the end of the crowd. The rally just proved to me, that the people are the ones that need to be heard. And much like my Dad stood for me - and that’s why I returned to the Senate that night, I remember him standing up for me - I knew that I needed to stand up for my constituents. For women, and the men who love the women in their lives. It was an incredible sight to see.
Scott Pollard:There’s one photo that a young man who was volunteering took over Wendy Davis’s shoulder, and it shows her silhouette and a sea of cameras.
Erik Vidor:I was trying to do crowd control in the front of the stage, then Scott Pollard, who was organizing, said I needed to move because I was blocking the shots. I managed to finally get behind her when she started speaking. I had to tap Sen. West on the shoulder and ask him to move over just a slight second. He looked a little annoyed, but he agreed. Then I just started snapping pictures. I took about 25 pictures, and that one ended up shared over 100,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. It went pretty viral really quickly.
Sen. Wendy Davis:When I stood up at my desk on June 25, I had no doubt that filibustering the legislation was the right thing to do. However, I had no idea it would trigger such an overwhelmingly response across the state and the country. That overwhelming support was so visible at the Capitol rally on July 1 and propelled a movement throughout the state to fight back on behalf of Texans. I was proud to have played a role in that momentum.
Brittany Yelverton:I think that rally was the largest rally the capitol had seen in a couple of decades. After all these people had gone through this exhausting first special session, they came back and they actually brought friends and family and colleagues with them. I just thought, “Well as frustrating and disheartening as this is, this fight is not over.”
Scott Pollard:At the end of the event, I went down to Quizno’s to get the production guys some drink. I was on adrenaline - it was a large event, pulled off successfully. Nobody unplugged our power. I saw a young lady in orange and I looked to her and said, “What did you think of the event?” Trying to get a pat on the back. And she said, “I wished I didn’t have to come out here today." And it hit me - it gave me a better perspective of what this really meant. Yes, it was a large event, but it was unfortunate that she had to come out there in the first place.
Terri Burke:The legacy of last summer is that it was the beginning of the Texas Spring. On July 1, when I walked out of the South doors of the Capitol and saw that ocean of humanity on the lawn, I knew we had turned a corner, we had found our voices again. This was and is much more than a fight for reproductive justice – it’s a fight for the soul of Texas, to reclaim who we are: a people “forged of a hotter fire,” a diverse and proud people, mavericks who believe in the Golden Rule but who couldn’t be more certain that “live and let live” is the best Texian philosophy.
Orange vs. Blue
After the end of the special session, Governor Rick Perry called a second special session to take up the bill once again. Though vastly outnumbered, anti-choice activists made an appearance during the second special session, identified by wearing blue shirts.
Heather Busby:One of the worries that we had was that because there was no endgame that was going to result in a win, that — barring some sort of miracle — the bill was going to pass, people would be frustrated and that would keep them away. But yet again, Texas restored my faith. People continued to show up by the thousands.
Brittany Yelverton:People were driving in from Dallas, Hidalgo, and El Paso. People were sleeping on stranger’s floors because they knew that they’d go to the capitol one day, get six hours of sleep, and go back to the Capitol the next day.
Lize Burr:There were so many people in the Capitol Annex. That’s when the buses arrived. That’s when the reinforcements of anti-choice activists came.
Brittany Yelverton:There was concern about whether there would be tension between people who were self-identifying and wearing orange and people who were wearing blue. But even though people were waiting in lines and it was a mix of blue and orange shirts, no one was rude to each other, no one was aggressive. As far as I could tell, people were very respectful.
Tina Hester:We tried to get there early if we could, so I would take the Jane’s Due Process help hotline with me and answer it. I would talk to pregnant teenagers while waiting in line to get into the gallery. Once, there was a group of evangelical ministers behind me, and we're stuck with each other for hours, waiting to get in.
Heather Busby:At that point, we just wanted people to show up. Social media really came in handy. We could point people in the right direction with the right information.
Lindsay Rodriguez:We saw our social media explode in a way we hadn’t seen before. Our volunteers are pretty plugged in. We were trying to rally information back and forth to them and from them and get a lot of people to turn out.
Katie Naranjo:We started a Tumblr for Stand with Texas Women encouraging people to take photos that said they stood with Texas women. All of a sudden we were like, “There aren’t any pictures. Something’s wrong. Something happened.” What happened was we actually exceeded the limit on the number of photos you could post on Tumblr for the day. We were freaking out, because we had hundreds of people sending us photos, but we couldn’t see them. We ended up having to contact Tumblr to ask them to give us special permission to increase the bandwidth. We had to do that four more times throughout the day.
Andrea Grimes:Being involved with people on social media was for some people the only way they could be engaged, because they’re stuck at work or in Dallas or in San Angelo. I would sit there court-reportering, trying to make everything fit in 140 characters.
Katie Naranjo:Folks from all across the country—and even other countries—were invested in what we were doing in Texas.
Brittany Yelverton:What we were hoping would happen with the second special session was for people to talk without shame and without stigma about abortion, reproductive health, and reproductive justice. So we tried to build a community and culture of acceptance and support by letting people share their stories.
Rocio Villalobos (Organizer, Rise Up):I heard lots of people say they didn’t consider themselves activists, but felt called to be there and to intervene at that particular moment in history and to make their voices heard so that they would be able to look back and think, “I did my part, I did what I could to try and stop this from happening.”
Yvonne Gutierrez:There was no working with the other side of the aisle, because they made their positions clear during the first special session. It was all strategy about the story we wanted to tell through debate.
Merritt Tierce:I was so surprised by how little I knew about the fantastic champions the Democrats already had elected to office in Texas. Legislator after legislator asked really smart questions and just represented us so well. Even when the cause was so completely lost, they didn't throw in the towel, they just kept going.
Brittany Yelverton:Sen. Sylvia Garcia would just walk down and thank people. And say, “What you’re doing matters and what you have to say matters.” The people who serve in our government were also really impressed and inspired by how many people were coming in.
Merritt Tierce:I had heard that the lines would be really long, so I got up at 5:00am in the morning to make sure I would get to testify in the House hearing. I was one of the first people at the Capitol while it was still dark, but didn't get to testify until noon.
Lize Burr:For a lot of women, it was a traumatic experience to hear people saying very hateful, prejudicial things about women who had had abortions. That was extremely difficult.
Merritt Tierce:Early in the day, Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, the opthalmologist, had said, "We have this scientific evidence for fetal pain in a notebook that's in my office. If anyone wants it, you can look at it." So someone who was waiting to testify, took her up on that, went to her office, got this "evidence," and reviewed the entire notebook throughout the day. By the time this person came up to testify, she actually scrapped what she was originally was going to say and just talked about the fact that there was nothing in the notebook to support fetal pain. In fact, there was even one article in there that said there was no scientific evidence for fetal pain. So she just called her on that in this public forum. And there was no response, there was nothing she could say.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:There are a lot of my colleagues who would rather not vote on these issues at all, but they have to vote a certain way because they have to survive a Republican primary.
Lize Burr:While vile testimony was being heard by Sen. Jane Nelson, the counter was this extraordinary community that had been developed within two weeks. It looked like a bazaar of people in orange. People signing up to become voter registrars. People signing up to work with Planned Parenthood. People bringing food. People talking to other people online. This incredible, connective community had taken over the Capitol.
JD Gins:We’d send out an e-mail, and half our list would open it within an hour and help immediately.
Jessica Luther:To this day it still blows my mind that Brittany Yelverton would say to me or text me, “You need to tweet this: can 8 volunteers show up at this door in the next 20 minutes?” And 18 volunteers would show up.
Erik Vidor:If somebody tweeted that we needed pizza, we’d have 250 pizzas in the next hour. We ended up giving them out to blue shirts, just because we couldn’t get rid of them all.
Andrea Grimes:Democracy is eating a freedom pizza at midnight in the capitol extension building waiting for your turn to testify. I think people weren’t aware that that is what it looks like. That is what it looks like.
Heather Busby:So many organizations and people put so much time, energy and resources into making sure it was the best experience possible for people. Which was difficult to do as we were getting locked out of more and more spaces.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:Our office ended up being kind of a sitting room, a hotel room for a lot of people who kept on coming.
Andrea Grimes:There was a sea of sandwiches in Rep. Jessica Farrar’s office. You could not walk on the floor.
Jessica Luther:They cut off our access to the extension room. They said they were cleaning the carpets.
Lize Burr:We lost the Legislative Conference Center. They wouldn’t allow us in there. They told us we had trashed the member’s lounge - we had not. We started getting these charges against us, and they were just not real.
Heather Busby:I was told I couldn’t bring in papers directing people where to go when it was over to help get people out of the building — which was actually something helpful for the state troopers. When I got inside, I realized it wasn’t just paper, it was also tampons.
Jessica Luther: I was sitting on the fourth floor with a bunch of people around a table and someone tweeted at me, “They took my tampons.” And I was like, “Oh, you’re funny.” So I tweeted to all the people, “Has anyone else experienced this?” I started tweeting trying to crowd source info, walked downstairs and found a DPS guy and asked, “Are you taking tampons?” And he said, “Yes, we are.”
Rocio Villalobos:Shortly after the state troopers confiscated tampons from people going into the gallery, we brought down a circular banner to the first floor of the rotunda, and it said, “My Body, My Choice, Mi Cuerpo, Mi Decisión.”
Andrea Grimes:I remember waiting in line to get in and the Planned Parenthood people were standing there with pillow cases and grocery bags, saying, “Give us your tampons and Cliffbars.”
Jessica Luther:And then someone tweeted at me, “They’re going to let guns in.” And I was like, “Shut up!?” And so I went to ask a different DPS guy and he clearly understood why I was asking. He knew I was trying to compare it to the tampon thing, but still he even called somebody to confirm.
Ed Espinoza:The tampon thing was ridiculous, so we made a graphic with a tampon and a gun and a headline that said, "One of these items isn't allowed in the Texas Senate Chamber today...can you guess which one?"
Andrea Grimes:That was a great example of the kind of grassroots reporting and activism that was happening there. By the time any news outlet got something up — me included — Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon had made the necessary calls to find out, “Can you take a gun inside? Are you really taking the tampons? Why are you doing this? Who told you to do this?” They had those questions answered in like 25 minutes. If they hadn’t done that, I don’t know if any news outlet would’ve taken it seriously.
Jessica Luther:I remember an older lady who could not take Kleenex in and she was so angry. She was like, “I’m not going in, I need my Kleenex.” Eye drops, they were taking people’s eye drops. The DPS was just throwing people’s stuff into the garbage.
Forrest Wilder:There was the assertion by the DPS, Dewhurst, and others that there were jars of feces. A lot of us in the media tried to run this story down to the ground. I think it’s safe to say that, as far as anyone can tell who looked into this, there was no concrete evidence of anyone bringing in jars of urine and feces, much less planning to throw them at legislators. Fundamentally this is an issue about truth-telling and about how you use the powerful apparatus of law enforcement and state government to your political end.
Andrea Grimes:Even today, we still haven’t seen any photos of those 18 jars of poop that supposedly came through.
Heather Busby:The only thing that kept me going through those very, very long days was watching our activists talking to each other, learning each other’s stories, bonding, laughing and crying together. The restrictions started on July 1 and continued to build until that last day. They kept throwing that at us, but they weren’t going to beat us.
Erik Vidor:At 10:00pm APD said if we don’t get off the Capitol grounds they were going to shut the march down, so at 9:59pm we were on Congress marching to the Republic Square Park.
Scott Pollard:It wasn’t a complete coincidence that we were right outside the new federal court there, because that was the next stage for where this fight goes.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:It was so energizing to see so many people just come out because of this issue. They showed up at night, when this was a night that they could have been a couple blocks over on 6th street.
Heather Busby:At the end of the night, we were still there. All the blue shirts had gone home, but we were still there and we were still fighting. And to this day, we continue to fight.
JD Gins:The march up and down Congress — led by Cecile Richards- the rally at Republic Square Park, and then the march back to the Capitol, having that much raw energy and emotion is something you can’t recreate. It was so real. But it was a fitting conclusion that we ended up back at the Capitol. That banner, “In for the long run,” perfectly summarized what I thought what we were doing.
Truth and Consequences
House Bill 2, as predicted, is harming Texas families across the state. For the community that came together last summer, the fight continues.
Editorial Note: This oral history was written and published in June 2014 — the one year anniversary of the filibuster. On June 27, 2016, in a massive victory for the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement in Texas and across the country, the US Supreme Court struck down two provisions of House Bill 2 as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, even as of the June 2018 — the fifth anniversary of the filibuster — many clinics across the state that were forced to shut down as a result of the law have been unable to reopen.
Heather Busby:Ultimately, the bill passed. And we’ve seen the number of abortion clinics in Texas dwindle from 44 to just 19. It was already difficult for many, many Texans to access abortions before HB2 passed. This made it much worse.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:Since 2000, I think with the exception of just one legislative session, the Texas legislature has passed an additional restriction limiting women's access to abortion every two years. The 2011 mandatory ultrasound bill was a real breaking point for the abortion service infrastructure. We saw a drop in our ability to serve patients, people who we had to help the most.
Heather Busby:You had what was essentially a broken reproductive healthcare system to begin with in a state with a broken healthcare system.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:All these new restrictions came into effect and really created the perfect storm. HB 2 has 4 different provisions that have restricted access to abortion: the admitting privileges piece, the ambulatory surgical center piece, the medication abortion restrictions, and the 20-week ban.
Merritt Tierce:We spend a lot of time talking to people who want to have an abortion, and we've always had to deal with widespread misinformation. We've had to deal with the occasional question, "Is it illegal? Am I going to go to jail?" That increased dramatically over the summer.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:HB2 is written specifically and perfectly to attack abortion providers; it's what we call a "targeted regulation of abortion provider" law, or a TRAP law. We're the only specialty that is required
to have admitting privileges in a hospital, and they require it because they know how difficult it is for an abortion provider to get admitting privileges.
The combination of the admitting privileges and the ambulatory surgical center requirements nearly closed down every clinic in the state. And it’s by design. None of this law has anything to do with patient safety, medical fact, or actual science.
Lindsay Rodriguez:HB2 is hitting people who have the least amount of resources – the people in east Texas, and south Texas, and west Texas.
Heather Busby:You don’t have the education in public schools to learn how to prevent pregnancies, you don’t have access to the contraceptives to prevent pregnancies, and then if you get pregnant and you don’t want to be, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:Prior to HB2, Whole Woman’s Health had 5 clinics throughout the state and 14 different physicians working in our clinics. Now we’re down to 3 clinics and 4 physicians with privileges. Even though we’re open at a few sites, it’s challenging for us to meet the demand of the women in these communities because we weren’t able to get privileges for all our physicians.
Tina Hester:I see the consequences of HB2 daily with my clients. I had a call from Midland yesterday, and I had to explain to her that she had a 5-hour drive in each direction to have the procedure. It’s been a nightmare to get transportation for our clients. To get out of school or your job and be gone for two days without your parents knowing is almost impossible.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:On September 1, we can only remain open if we’ve figured out how to lease, own, or build what is really a mini-hospital – an ambulatory surgical center. There’s nothing in the abortion procedure that is complex enough that would require the physical plans of an ambulatory surgical center. There's no incision, the procedure takes about five minutes, there’s no general anesthesia.
Lindsay Rodriguez:Anywhere outside the major cities is going to be lacking for access in September. Not to get hyperbolic, but the ground is just going to fall out on abortion access in Texas. We’re already seeing longer clinic waits and clinic closures.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:What the landscape is going to look like is: we're going from 44 clinics in 2012 that served the population of Texas, all over the state, down to 6 facilities in 2014 that are only located in the major metropolitan areas – Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. The rest of the state is going to have not one safe medical abortion provider in their community.
Heather Busby:Since last summer, there has been an outpouring of support from the community, with people who have taken it upon themselves to form organizations to assist in providing access to abortion. As fewer and fewer clinics are available, people across the state are working hard to help as much as they can, by providing funds, or rides, or other resources.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:A couple of different attempts to go at the law from different angles are coming down the pipeline in Austin. One was initiated last fall, primarily challenging the admitting privileges requirement and the crazy regiment required for medication abortion. The Austin bench trial already happened. It went to the 5th Circuit, got bounced back to Austin, and went up to the Supreme Court to ask for an emergency stay. They declined an emergency stay, so it went back to the 5th Circuit, and the 5th Circuit overruled the Austin judge’s decision. Now it's sitting in the 5th Circuit. We’ve got our eye on a couple of other cases that are all about privileges in Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Mississippi. We’re pretty sure one, or all, of these privileges cases will likely hit the Supreme Court at some point.
Merritt Tierce:I was at the bench trial for the first lawsuit. On the state's side there were eleven white men and one woman, and on the plaintiffs side it was the exact opposite, there were like eleven women and one man. That was striking. The plaintiffs focused on the harm HB2 would cause, and the witnesses they brought to testify were incredible. You could not have made a stronger case. Skipping forward to the 5th Circuit's ruling. I feel like they have just ignored not only the evidence and the testimony, but science and reason.
Amy Hagstrom Miller:This August, Whole Woman’s Health and a few other independent abortion providers are bringing suit against the State of Texas about the ambulatory surgical center requirement. That trial is set for August 4th. Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen is also part of another admitting privileges case that starts in August. It’s specifically on behalf of women in the Rio Grande Valley. The argument is that the law as applied, now that it's in effect, disproportionately affects a class of women in south Texas.
Merritt Tierce:I am hopeful, but it’s a pretty deliberate hope. I have had to do a significant reality check within the past couple of months. The clinics are going to close. There’s no way around it or out of it now. So we need to buckle down for the long haul. I think the fight is going to intensify and it is going to get uglier before anything changes. But I am confident that eventually we will manage to restore the rights that have been taken away.
Brittany Yelverton:After the bill passed people weren’t ready to stop fighting, and they’re still not ready to stop fighting. And that’s what’s remarkable after one year, people are just as fired up and just as committed to this cause and movement as they were the night of the filibuster.
Lindsay Rodriguez:I’m constantly told that abortion isn’t an issue that people in Texas want to talk about, it isn’t an issue that gets people angry. But abortion is the issue that brought thousands of people to the Capitol.
Yvonne Gutierrez:Texans made sure their voices were heard and came out in droves to the Capitol and via online efforts. We have never seen that level of activism let alone on reproductive health. The coalition partners working together in such close coordination and as a team was extraordinary.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:Even though it was passed and we knew that was going to happen, what we did was awaken women across Texas - all women and men who care about women and their ability to make decisions about their own bodies. We awakened folks as to how radical Republicans have been and to how political they are, versus what is good policy for Texas.
Andrea Grimes:To have thousands of people learn all at once the logistics and ins and outs of how to attend a committee meeting, how to testify, how to contact their legislators, how to send comment cards to DSHS. That knowledge. You can’t take that away from people. You cannot take that knowledge back.
Kathy Miller (Executive Director, Texas Freedom Network):I was keenly aware, even while standing in the Senate gallery cheering, that all this outpouring of energy would have to be channeled into deliberate, determined grassroots action, or nothing was going to change in Texas. And that’s the challenge we face going into the 2015 legislative session. It’s not just about repealing harmful legislation like HB 2 — though that is definitely an important goal. It’s also about changing the culture in this state, both among our state leaders and among our neighbors, to one that embraces the importance of reproductive healthcare. That means adopting policies that treat our teens with respect and give them the information they need in sex ed class to make good, safe choices. And policies that ensure those young people, as they grow into adulthood, have access to affordable birth control to plan their families. And yes, acknowledging that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and having policies to ensure access to safe abortion-care services no matter where you live or work.
Tina Hester:I think it's going to be bad for our issue in the next legislative session. They’re always thinking of new ways to screw young women.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson:I think it will get worse. I think people will try to make it more restrictive. I think they’ll try the personhood bill, where they say at the moment of conception there is a person.
Yvonne Gutierrez:We will continue to battle similar legislation until we have new representation in the Capitol. Don’t forget what we were able to accomplish last summer. We need to continue that level of engagement and keep it elevated through November. We have to be the change.
Rep. Donna Howard:When talking about the disparities in the numbers of male vs. female elected officials, it's often said that men take the initiative but women need to be asked. Following the events of the summer, we've been seeing women across the state signing up to run for office. If there's one way that I would love to characterize the legacy of last summer, it's the point at which women stopped needing to be asked, and started telling people to get out of their way.
Rep. Jessica Farrar:I think this was a life-changing experience for a lot of women, and out of it I think we’ve developed a lot of activists. I’ve talked to women who never voted, and they’re voting now based on these attacks on their health care. A lot of times people think members of the legislature have all sorts of power. We don’t unless we have people behind us.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte:The worst thing that could ever happen in a democracy is if you let your legislators work in a vacuum. No more. June 25, 2013 marks the end of the time that this Legislature can work in a vacuum. The people spoke up. It was the people’s filibuster.
Merritt Tierce:Me and a lot of other people had bought into this total bullshit that Texas is so red and nothing will ever change that. It took last summer for me to realize that isn't true. There is a really strong liberal progressive movement in Texas and we all just need to stick our heads up, look around, and see that we're all here.
Brittany Yelverton:There are so many new young people who are engaged in the democratic process now. Last summer was such a rare, once in a lifetime experience as an organizer, but hopefully not as a Texan.
Kathy Miller:I’m betting on the orange army to rally again next year at the Capitol.
Lindsay Rodriguez:Last summer showed that Texans are not apathetic. And that we fight back, we fight back hard.
Sen. Wendy Davis:Last summer Texans discovered the power of their voices. The people’s filibuster, not mine, took us over the midnight deadline and their voices cannot be silenced even now. The legacy of last
year’s filibuster is being seen today. We are continuing to speak up and fight back on behalf of Texas and I hope that Texans will continue to speak up against unjust legislation in our state. We are fighting to keep Austin politicians
like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick from getting between a woman and her doctor by eliminating crucial health services like life-saving cancer screenings and making abortion illegal.
I hope that people now have the understanding that when they engage and participate, they truly can make a difference.