When I was a little girl living in Austin, Texas, I watched Ann Richards' keynote address to the 1988 National Democratic Convention. I sat entranced as Richards said,
Twelve years ago, (former Rep.) Barbara (C.) Jordan, another Texas woman, made the keynote address to this convention -- and two women in 160 years is about par for the course.
But, if you give us a chance, we can perform.
After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
As enthralled as I was by the sight of the woman with big white hair that was identical to my Grandma Tootie's Texas 'do, it wasn't until later that I fully understood what Richards' was saying: that in politics (as in many other arenas), women are both underrepresented and extremely capable, and that in order to excel and inspire, women have to do what men do, only better.
I was lucky enough to have Richards in the Governor's Mansion during my high school and early college years. As a student at Austin High School I was taught Sex Education in Health class, and I was relieved to know that Texas women had access to safe abortions. (The year before Richard's speech at the DNC, I had learned of the horrors that women had endured in the dark ages before abortion was legal by watching Dirty Dancing). When Richards' lost her bid for re-election to George W. Bush in 1994 I- along with many other Texas women-felt like I'd lost my political rudder.
That was until two weeks ago, when Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D) stormed to national prominence as she heroically filibustered the Texas State Senate for over 10 hours, blocking Senate Bill 5, which threatened to close nearly all the abortion clinics in the State. Though no major television stations covered the event live, the filibuster was live streamed on the Internet, and over 182,000 people watched as Davis addressed the Texas Senate. Davis followed the stringent rules for filibustering: no chair, no food, no water, no bathroom breaks, no leaning on a support.
Davis acted as the voice for women from all over the Lone Star State, reading letters from Texas women who eloquently and passionately spoke for the need for women to have both the right to choose and access to safe abortions. And despite Republican objections that Davis went off-topic, her filibuster-coupled with rowdy cheers from women's health supporters filling the Senate chambers-allowed the clock to run out on the special session.
After the special session ended at midnight and Senate Bill 5 was declared dead, Governor Rick Perry called a second special session to allow for passage of Senate Bill 5. Stand with Texas Women countered with a rally on the capitol steps attended by 10,000 people. My sister found a babysitter and drove down from Fort Worth to attend with my mother, who was outraged that one of her 70-year old friends had been arrested at the capitol the day of the filibuster. "You don't want to make a bunch of women mad," my mother drawled.
But on Wednesday, the Texas House passed the bill and the Texas Senate could pass the bill into law as early as this Friday.
As a result, Texas, the largest state in the lower 48, will have only five abortion clinics and will be one of the most difficult states in the nation to get an abortion. To make matters worse, thanks to conservative policy makers, only 25 percent of school districts in the State report using abstinence-plus sex education programs, with the remainder focusing on abstinence-only education. The result is a recipe for skyrocketing teen pregnancy in a State where a single mother with three kids can expect to receive a whopping $223 a month from welfare. (To quote the television show Portlandia, "the dream of the 90s" sure as heck ain't alive in Texas).
The silver lining to this dark cloud is State Senator Wendy Davis herself. A single mother who went from living in a trailer to graduating from Harvard Law School, Davis understands the struggles of working class women. And her skyrocket to national attention came just in time for Governor Rick Perry's announcement on Monday that he will not seek reelection for Texas Governor in 2014.
Whether or not Wendy Davis decides to use her newfound prominence to make a difficult run for Governor in 2014 -- a seat not occupied by a Democrat since Ann Richards left it in 1995 -- or stays in her pivotal Senate seat, she has singlehandedly revived a Democratic sense of enthusiasm and possibility. Iconic photos of her filibuster are plastered all over the web and above the desks of feminists across the country. With a filibuster of Senate Bill 5 impossible in this extended special session, Wendy Davis is traveling the State on a Stand with Texas Women tour organized by Cecile Richards, who is both the daughter of Texas' last female Democratic supernova and the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Senate Bill 5 will likely be passed into law, and will have dire consequences for many women, especially young women who have received no Sex Education in Texas schools. And across the nation Republicans will continue to chip away at women's access to abortions at the state level. And yet, despite the darkness of the situation, the sense that women (and men who care about women's health) have a new and galvanizing leader in Wendy Davis gives me a sense of excitement and hope.