I’m thinking about going to Austin to testify to a committee, I told my Dad that Wednesday, who is staying with me on and off while he finishes lightly restoring / remodeling a home we lived in for over 20 years. He questioned me, made a few valid arguments, and even though the trip is just a bit under 3 hours from my door to the Capitol, I shrugged it off because I had an amazingly busy Thursday and Friday. Things I could do, but didn’t want to put off.
With three hours sleep the night before, I was desperate to get to sleep. Something, I’m not quite sure what, stopped me. Check in with Twitter? Just see what, if anything is going on? …and boom, I was reading quoted testimony after quoted testimony. Heartbreaking stories that had me in tears. I found what the Texas Legislature shamefully calls a live feed as brave women and a few men told a group of legislators that were judging them about personal and emotional decisions they had made for a variety of reasons. I watched as these women were called “reptitive” by a dismissive group, intent on passing a law that most Texans do not want. I watched as Chairman Cook left the room. Came back. Testimony cut off, officially.
I could not stop watching.
I also could not stop feeling like I should have been there. In my gut I knew I was supposed to go, but I let my Dad talk me out of it, not out of his own maliciousness, just out of his own wonder.
When I heard the call that the House would reconvene on HB60 and HB16 on Sunday, I knew instinctively I wanted to be there. I am, however, navigationally challenged, and so, I wanted to either ride with someone or drive a group. I ended up doing the latter. I was sure we’d be home in a few hours. Maybe by 1 a.m.
I was not expecting to leave the Capitol at 4 a.m. But, I sat, in the gallery, watching a number of wonderful Texas Representatives argue passionately, using parliamentary procedure after parliamentary procedure. Amendment discussion after amendment discussion. I watched men and women, a good deal of them from Houston, who had already had my support for years, fight, realizing they would have my support for life, and I would always be available to them for how hard they were working.
I did not elect to stay in the Capitol, because I had a Monday monthly commitment to the Ironworkers. I have to address the members every 4th Monday, and though I got some sleep, I was running on B12, caffeine and whatever I could. As is the custom, I take questions after I report on the necessary items: things that directly affect this group. I talk about voting rights (the Shelby County v Holder decision was handed down the next day, though I’d been telling them for months that I was waiting on that decision), screening committees, and do what I can to get issues facing these mostly men and a handful of women addressed.
I knew how big a thing this was, when I got the question. I apologized for not being that sharp, explaining after I was fumbling on a few words of my prepared outline that it had been a long night, that I was at the Capitol and one of my favourite members, asked: “What’s going on with that bill…?”
…and as I spoke, I had rapt attention. Even my trouble makers who hate hearing about politics and voting were giving me their total attention.
Words cannot express that moment. I just knew. I just knew that Tuesday was going to be important.
I tried like anything to get out of the office of the other union I work with as quickly as possible. I was anticipating a 10 a.m. meeting, begging, pleading. I would definitely be back at 10 a.m. Wednesday. I’d work Thursday - Friday, because I’m only in that office three days a week. But, my boss was having herself, a day. So, finally, at 3:30, I finished what I could, left a note on her desk and took off.
We got back to the capitol about 7. Almost immediately got into line. When I got there, it was just starting to fill out the second floor. By the time Wendy’s third strike was sustained by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, I was in a little alcove, close to the Rotunda on the third floor. I was rapidly running out of battery power, and hoping the line would move as quickly as it had been. I was, honestly, on track to be in the gallery at midnight. We had made perfect timing, but I should have known.
There was an immediate uproar from the crowd. The chants of “Shame!” started immediately as thousands - now THOUSANDS was a word we could use in place of hundreds - were shocked and angered. The unfairness of the situation just really, ridiculously, getting to be too much. (No matter what anyone else says, the sonogram bill was absolutely germaine to SB5, if nothing else, as an example of the current indignities a woman must go through in this state and the laws a doctor must follow, no matter how cruel they are to a mother who is losing a child that she most desperately wants to keep but can’t, through no one’s fault or insufferable to a woman that knows she just can’t have another child, or how intolerable it feels to make a decision, only to have a doctor be forced to place an intrusive and unnecessary medical device into your body and explain verbally and in detail the current state of the embryo or fetus.
I was outside the Senate Chamber doors, where people were rushing, when my phone was dying. I went downstairs to the Legislative Conference Center (FOOD, because food hadn’t been a huge concern, either and now was) and, I’d already witnessed the immediate aftermath, knowing we were going to be here for some time and my phone was dead.
As I sat, recharging, both body, spirit, and phone, I watched drama unfold all around us. Lines to get into the Capitol stretched to 11th street, according to reports. Troopers were called in. We were told the Capitol was on lock down. At first, we were told we couldn’t leave and no one could enter. Then we realized you could leave, but probably not enter.
I watched as brave men and women who had been told to be respectful of the chamber, who had been silent for fear of being thrown out of OUR house, by men that should be afraid of us because they are directly in power as a result of the people and who had also disrespected the testimony of women and men facing the most emotional and personal decisions of their lives, stayed on a phone call and laughed. I watched Leticia ask, “at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
I watched the bonfire that Wendy had spent all day building and the match that Leticia lit, just explode into the gallery. And, we all screamed. The capitol erupted into chants and we just needed to hold it for 10 more minutes, as Lt. Governor David Dewhurt said something like “roll call will not be called until there is order in the chamber!”
….and my immediate reaction, out loud was, “Did he honestly say that? What a dumb ass… because if that’s all it takes… scream away…” And, I was hoping, upon hope that the men and women in the chamber would do just that. I was ready to figure out bail money for them, contribute $100 at a minimum to a group fund if they were arrested en masse. I was sad that I wasn’t inside the Chamber, frustrated by my place in line… but so grateful to be witnessing these events unfold.
And the swell of pride that I felt from Thursday night has not let up. I am so incredibly proud of the women of Texas: Wendy, Leticia, (Sylvia), Jessica, Alma, Senfronia, Dawnna, et al. So grateful for their male colleagues: Kirk, Rodney, Royce, John, Gene, etc…
But more than that, I am SO grateful to have met and learned about so many wonderful women that are fighting. When you work in politics in this state, the sheer apathy sometimes can get to you. It was a sight to see our state Capitol filled with THOUSANDS of Texas incensed at this entire debacle. We filled it like we were attending a concert or a football game. We filled it and raised the roof. We proved that this state is not under a one party control, that there is hope.
The whole world learned that Texas is not full of just Republicans… and, words cannot describe the emotional toll the entire week took on me.
I am so incredibly damn proud of the women in this state. So damn proud.
….and I’m looking forward to the next battle in this ridiculous War on Women.