In May, Texas Governor Rick Perry added sweeping anti-abortion
legislation to the agenda of a special session. The bills had been
blocked during the regular session; in the special session,
Republicans suspended the rules that facilitated the block. All bets
were on successful passage.
Matters came to a head in the state House on Thursday, June 20, when
at least 700 people signed up to testify on HB60. This unprecedented
response caused the hearing to run well into the wee hours of the next
day. It also succeeded in delaying a vote in the House until Monday
morning. On Sunday there was even more citizen participation; the
Capitol building was overflowing with bodies, with some estimates at
Each delay made it more likely that the Democrats in the Senate could
successfully filibuster the bill. On Monday, Senate Democrats blocked
an effort to begin early discussion on the bill after GOP leaders
unsuccessfully attempted to suspend a rule that requires a 24-hour
wait period after a bill is delivered from the House.
And State Senator Wendy Davis (D) vowed to filibuster the bill. To succeed, she would need to speak on the topic for about 13 hours. During this time Senate rules required that she remain standing at her desk, unassisted; have no food or drink; and not leave the her desk
for any reason. No bathroom time-out. No passing the floor to a peer. No reading off-topic material.
About 11 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, I checked the Texas Tribune live feed and saw
that Davis was no longer speaking -- her filibuster had been broken although she was still standing. Instead, procedural volleys were flying.
And then the clock-strikes-midnight drama. A vote taken after the witching hour, watched by almost 200,000 but denied by the party in power. A change in the website record of the vote, from Wednesday June26 (after the session officially ended) to Tuesday June 25. Two hours of suspense.
And no national news organization was covering the event live.
The media behavior is in stark contrast with the focus on Senator Rand Paul's filibuster back in March. That filibuster began at the end of the day, about 5 p.m. and yet "Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC."
This attention occurred despite the fact that Paul"s rationale for the filibuster had evaporated before he spoke word one.
In Texas, the filibuster was needed to prevent the closure of 37 of 42
abortion clinics. A real, not imaginary, consequence.
Digital provided the news.
Today's increasingly connected and mobile-device saturated world
provided the reporting, via YouTube streaming, Twitter and Vine,
Facebook and Instagram. Riffing off of the Rand filibuster, supporters
used the #StandWithWendy hashtag.
The momentum that began on Thursday came to a crescendo on Tuesday.
Some estimate that there were 2,000 people at the Capitol in support
of the filibuster, an absolutely unheard of level of citizen
engagement. There were about 180,000 people glued to the live video
stream as though this were the "Who Shot JR?" episode of Dallas.
A made-for-cable drama, but total TV indifference; not even a shrug.
The media postmortems have questionable moments as well.
Salon led with "When Twitter does what journalism can't."
Not can't; wouldn't.
Twitter did what media organizations would not to do, not what they
could not do.
RT @GlennF: This is the moment cable news died. Mark it on the calendar. It's 11.55 pm. 12.05 am. It's Tuesday. It's Wednesday.
-- Kathy E Gill (@kegill) June 26, 2013
Twitter and other digital tools can also connect the likeminded across space and time. Those barriers of physics fade away with asynchronous
tweets delivered to your own device, regardless of where you're sitting or standing. Short bursts of video shared on Vine and Instagram provided the vicarious experience of "being there."
RT @kegill: RT @AntDeRosa: There's zero chance I would have been following this vote live without Twitter. Probably true for most of us.
-- Craig Newman (@craignewman) June 26, 2013
I got goosebumps.
In addition, these tools can help organize. Can help create a sense of community.
Something intangible (magic?) happened in Texas over the course of the past week, and it reached far beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. Fred Clark of southeast Pennsylvania writes about "[getting] caught up in the drama unfolding in Austin."
#HB60 is the #1 trend in the United States right now. #HB60 is now the #2 trend WORLDWIDE.
-- Heather Ross (@heatheross) June 21, 2013
At different points Tuesday various hashtags were trending: #standwithwendy, #SB5, #texlege "Wendy Davis," "Texas," "Robert's Rules of Order" and "Midnight in Texas." According to Twitter, the #standwithwendy hashtag was mentioned 400,000 times on Tuesday.
There was no comparison between the filibuster and the Supreme Court decision on the voting rights act; Austin trumped the Beltway. With the gallery in an uproar, tweets peaked at 11.58 pm at 5,776 tweets per minute.
What is it about this set of bills at this point in time that seems to
have galvanized public sentiment? Because this chipping away at Roe v
Wade is nothing new.
Something changed this week in Texas for certain and perhaps across the country.
History is being made in #Texas, while @CNN talks about blueberry muffins. LITERALLY. @cleveil1 @ElizSimins pic.twitter.com/sau3IizgLl #sb5
-- Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) June 26, 2013
We bypassed the cable news companies that pushed network news out of
the way 30 years ago. This is the cusp of a disruption of television
news like newspapers have already experienced.
Hang on. The ride is getting exciting!