WASHINGTON -- While thousands of orange-clad demonstrators showed up at the south steps of the Texas state capitol in Austin Monday to renew their fight against a controversial anti-abortion bill supported by Gov. Rick Perry (R), a coalition of progressives was organizing for a more distant fight -- 2014.
As the crowds cheered state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), whose 11-hour filibuster helped defeat the controversial bill that would severely cut access to abortions in the state, Democratic organizers set about signing up demonstrators to email lists, adding them to future grassroots projects, and, perhaps most importantly, registering them to vote.
Organizers collected names and contact information until they ran out of paper and had to start using the backs of old sheets, said Tanene Allison, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. They collected more than 5,000 names and contacts. "Yesterday was incredible," Allison said, adding that the organizers "see this as a battle in a larger movement."
After the rally, demonstrators were funneled to civic engagement workshops in meeting spaces just off the capitol grounds. Allison said they registered 230 residents to vote. In Texas, in order to register voters, you have to go through a training process. After the rally, 74 demonstrators went through a training session and were deputized to register new voters, Allison said.
Alex Steele, field director with Battleground Texas, an organizing effort led by veterans of President Barack Obama's campaigns, said the group either registered to vote or signed up to volunteer about 2,000 residents during the weekend before the rally. "What we've seen over the last few weeks with what's been going on the capitol, folks are engaged," Steele said. "It's about bringing folks into the process. .... It's been a tremendous two weeks."
Despite the surprising, and likely temporary, victory in the abortion fight, Davis and Texas Democrats face long odds. A new Public Policy Polling survey shows that Texans hold a favorable opinion of Davis and her filibuster, and they oppose a new special session as well as the abortion bill. But Davis trails Perry in a hypothetical contest by 14 percentage points. Even though more Texans disapprove of the governor than approve of his job performance, a majority would vote for him over any of the notable Democrats in the state. Perry's lead has grown since January.
Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, said she knows those numbers are not going to reverse because of Davis' historic filibuster, or Monday's massive rally. "The focus is on building a grassroots movement," she said. "Turning the excitement into new voters."
Glen Maxey, who was the first openly gay Texas state representative and now is training director for the Texas Democratic Party, said Davis' moment may have stirred casual voters -- those who long ago gave up thinking they could change the leadership in Texas.
"Once you get people to understand that their vote does matter, everything is possible in political organizing," Maxey said. "That's the thing that these special sessions -- this overreach on women's health has put out there -- that you can take the leadership of this state on."