Wednesday, July 3, 2013

SB5: Some Thoughts from a Male Texan

Curmie doesn’t cry much. Wednesday, a little over a week ago, was an exception.

There was the goodbye scene towards the end of Godspell, which had its first dress rehearsal in the morning and its second in the evening: these were tears of emotion, and of pride that the cast and crew had done such excellent work.

There was the devastating news that a friend and student—and the fiancé of a Godspell cast member—had been killed in a car crash. Those tears were all about pain… I struggled, reasonably successfully, to keep them from hitting my cheeks: I needed to be the strong one for a couple of hours. I blubbered like an infant the next morning, but no one saw me.

Early Wednesday, there were the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. They brought a tear to my eye, too, especially that this court would align itself on the right (as in “correct”) side of history instead of (as I feared) the right (as opposed to “left”) side.

But the story that made me sob with pride was what transpired in Austin, Texas on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Most readers of this blog will know the basics already, but I suspect this made fewer headlines nationally than it did here in Texas, so…

Like all the other GOP politicos who pretend to favor small government but are all about intrusion into the lives of anyone who isn’t rich, white, heterosexual, Christian, and male, Texas Governor Rick Perry sure does love to impose his ideological and theocratic will on the populace. Obviously, in the state that has the worst record in the country for job creation relative to changes in the workforce, that has the lowest voter turnout in the nation, that places last in healthcare and in percentage of the population with a high school diploma… surely in such a Utopia, there can be no issue more urgent an issue than regulating the state’s uteruses. After all, if contraception were to be readily available and abortion services within the financial and geographical reach of the state’s women, how could we remain #1 in teen births, let alone let them fillies know who’s boss? And who cares if the bill’s sponsor in the Texas House doesn’t know what a rape kit is? Right? ‘Murica.

And so it was that when Governor Goodhair’s minions couldn’t get their act together to pass the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in the country (at the time… Ohio may have since lurched even more emphatically into a previous century), there needed to be a special session, right? After all, the fact that there is nothing wrong with the status quo except the under-funding of women’s health services shouldn’t be taken to mean that there isn’t an emergency to be solved only by paternalistic intervention, right? Indeed, a bipartisan poll suggests that the majority of the Texas citizenry doesn’t want the bill passed, at least under these circumstances (in much the same way, one suspects, that the attempts to recall hugely unpopular Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker failed: people might not like the status quo, but they don’t like to feel like they’re parties to the manipulation of the system, either).

And let’s be real: there was no real purpose to the special session other than to pass this one bill, outlawing abortions after the 20th week and imposing a series of restrictions on abortion centers and the medical staff who work there. The first part of the bill may have merit, but it is patently unconstitutional (at least in the opinions of SCOTUS, who collectively represent the only opinions that matter); the second half of the bill, like so many causes championed by 21st century Republicans, creates an utterly fictitious problem and solves that phantom dilemma through the most repressive means imaginable, in this case de facto shutting down over 88% of the state’s abortion facilities. But the GOP, for all their gerrymandered supermajority, couldn’t get it done. Oh, sure, the bill sailed through the House, but it got stalled just long enough in the Senate for a Hail Mary pass by a 50-year-old pink-sneaker-clad Senator named Wendy Davis.

Davis announced her intention to filibuster the bill, and then made good on her promise. And off she went. Now, the thing is, Texas filibuster rules are different than those at the national level. You aren’t allowed any breaks at all—not even to pee. You aren’t allowed to as much as lean on your desk for support (one wonders about how someone with a certifiable disability would be treated). You’re not allowed to take even a sip of water. And you have to stay on topic. Jimmy Stewart was a wimp by comparison.

Naturally, there was a cat and mouse quality to the exercise. Davis, needless to say, was searching for anything vaguely on-topic to talk about; the GOP establishment eagerly pounced on anything that might constitute a violation of the rules. The most impressive thing about Davis’s performance wasn’t that she held the floor for nearly 11 hours (she used a catheter to prevent the need to leave her post to obey the proverbial call of nature): it’s that she went that long without straying from the topic even a little. Both of the “violations” cited by Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, who is trying very hard to be as stupid and corrupt as his boss, were marginal at best: discussions of required sonograms and of Planned Parenthood funding would strike me as germane… but then, I’m not an ideological jackass (a jackass, yes, but not an ideological one). The other “violation” in the three-strikes-you’re-out policy was when a colleague helped her adjust a back brace. It’s a technicality, but at least it’s real.

So Davis’s filibuster didn’t work. The goal was to talk through midnight, when the special session would be officially over. She got shut down at 10:03 pm, after an impressive but nonetheless insufficient 10 hours and 45 minutes. What Davis did, however, was to bring the finish line within sight.

The Guardian (time to ask once again why the best reporting on American politics comes from British newspapers) reports the ensuing events as follows:
A rush of procedural motions and inquiries by Democrat senators delayed the final vote on the bill. [Letitia] Van de Putte asked for a summary of previous points of order, saying she had been away from the senate attending her father's funeral.

The leader of the Democrats in the senate, Kirk Watson, began what amounted to his own filibuster.

With less than 15 minutes to go until midnight Van de Putte asked what a female member of the senate had to do to be heard over her male colleagues. She believed she had raised a motion earlier but was not heard.

It was at this point the crowded public gallery began chanting and cheering. A vote was called on the SB5 bill but the noise was at such a level that voting was suspended until order was restored.

The gallery appeared to take this as an invitation to ramp up their noise for the remaining 15 minutes, with encouragement from Democrats on the floor. The session ended in chaos and confusion, and without the vote being completed by midnight.
Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst promptly declared that the vote had indeed been taken and that the motion had passed. Then he claimed that there was some sort of special time-out—similar to the ones employed by 8-year-olds on the playground, one presumes—that meant that the fact that although the vote wasn’t really taken until after midnight, it should count, anyway. There is considerable evidence that the GOP honchos doctored the official record, which was originally (and accurately) timestamped shortly after midnight, to pretend the vote was taken just before instead of just after the witching hour. When I went to bed that night, it looked like they were going to get away with it. But when I awoke on Wednesday, it was to the news that Dewhurst, confronted with incontrovertible proof that his assertions were… erm… bovine feces, had conceded defeat in the wee hours of the morning.

It didn’t take long, of course, for the GOP to re-group. Governor Goodhair called yet another special session to begin this Monday. The bill will almost certainly pass this time, because the idea that a Texas Republican might actually exercise a little intellect, discretion, or restraint is roughly equivalent to suggesting that a hungry piranha might save a little food for later. And Davis has already said she won’t filibuster this time, acknowledging that “you can’t have a 30-day filibuster.”

My response on the Curmudgeon Central Facebook page follows:
To the surprise of absolutely no one who has paid the slightest bit of attention to his ultra-partisan, ideologically-driven agenda, his complete lack of basic human decency, his serial corruption, and his often illegal and almost always unethical political maneuverings, Texas Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special legislative session to ram through the restrictive and patently unconstitutional abortion bill that was derailed last night.

He'll probably get away with it in the short term, too, but even a quick read of Texas history leads inevitably to the realization that the greatest rallying cries are often born of defeat. Or perhaps, given his dim-wittedness, Governor Goodhair thinks the Alamo was a victory for Texas.

There will be repercussions. The attempts to tamper with official records will get publicity. Wendy Davis is already a household name in this state. And the GOP's obeisance to their religio-corporate masters will indeed be chronicled for all to see.

Yes, he'll probably “win” in the short term, but that “victory” won't be out of the public view. We will indeed see the fraud that is the man behind the curtain, and we will be the better for it.

As Curmie's cast sings “Save the People” in dress rehearsal of Godspell tonight, he'll be paying attention to the words:

“Will crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father
That men shall toil for wrong?

“‘No’ say thy mountains
‘No’ say thy skies
Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise
And songs be heard instead of sighs...”

We'll be fine, everyone. Some fights take longer than others. We shall overcome someday.
Indeed, whereas the bill will probably pass this time around, it will not do so to the deafening yawns of the corporate media, which studiously avoided coverage of… you know… actual news.

And that is really the most important element of this contretemps: the entrenched establishments of both parties really aren’t fans of allowing citizens to have any real influence over political decision-making. Want to find out if a politician is honest? Ask about the events in Austin last week. Then ask about similar events with Tea Partiers in the roles of the orange-clad (mostly) women. See if one of those events is “what democracy looks like” and the other an “unruly, screaming mob.” Conversely, are we just trying to conduct the “people’s business” or to “suppress actual citizens”? Are our tactics fine until (gasp!) the other guys try them?

All that said, this was an impressive display by opponents of the bill, and I am very proud of the level of civic engagement evidenced by at least four of my former students, who were in the crowd that night. The fact that I agree with them on this issue helps. But part of my job as an educator is to inspire students to engage with the world, whether I agree with their perspectives or not. If I can turn out a theatre person or two, that’s nice. But Job 1 is to help create independent-minded, skeptical, informed, citizens. Spring, Kelli, Meghan, and Mercedes (there may be others who were there, but I’m sure of these) can represent me and my work any time. Even Especially if they’re a little less than polite.

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