No one, certainly not the Senate Republican majority, expected the spontaneous upsurge of popular energy that derailed their shockingly repressive SB5. This bill, if passed, will shut down 37 of the 42 women’s health clinics that provide abortion services, leaving only 5 clinics to serve the entire state of Texas. The geographic location of the remaining clinics would serve to place the most vulnerable women of the South and West, largely working class and rural, under such duress as to functionally send them back to the 1950’s.
Thousands of people showed up to the capitol building filled with the passion and determination to support and eventually carry through Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Through parliamentary tricks and manipulations, Republicans managed to shut down Sen. Davis’ determined stand. It was literally only through the mass “People’s Filibuster” that the bill was ultimately killed, even though Republicans, desperate to crush one of the most critical rights women have won, sunk as low as attempting to digitally alter the official timestamp of the vote.
The capitol crackled with the electricity of history, filling those present with a sense of triumph and elation. This victory was, however, no triumph. It was much closer to being thrown off a cliff and managing to hang on by just your fingernails. This is where we now find ourselves, dangling over a precipitous drop.
The very following day Gov. Perry announce that he was calling another second session for the express purpose of passing SB5. With the second session lasting 30 days and only three bills remaining – SB5 being the first piece of legislation to be handled – a filibuster has been rendered impossible. Republicans stand with their boots poised to stamp our faces off the cliff to which we so desperately cling.
And where are the Democrats? What course do they offer? Sen. Davis’ filibuster was both commendable and critical to defeating the bill and drawing in the massive crowd that carried the day. Yet however commendable that action may be, it cannot be separated from the overall strategy and program of the Democratic Party itself.
What was it these warriors of the Democratic Party urged the galvanized crowd to do to carry the struggle forward? The only thing they could, of course: vote! Have not these same people watched the vicious onslaught of the Republican Party on the Texas electoral system? Weren’t these the same people that were unable to stop the massive partisan redistricting except through now fruitless court action? Sen. Davis herself was only able to cling to her seat by challenging the redistricting map under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the very same section that was gutted by the Supreme Court just as Sen. Davis was preparing to launch her filibuster. Attorney General Greg Abbot has already made very clear that the moment the redistricting plan is legally able to be implemented, it will be.
So the call to “Vote! Vote!” must ring hollow on the ears of any honest Texan. The Democratic Party, being fundamentally bound to the ballot box – and only the ballot box – is unable to face the awful truth: the vote has now been thoroughly and completely robbed from the regular Texan and our State Government has now functionally become a One Party System. Our only hope to maintain even a semblance of impact at the ballot box now is to go beyond the ballot. What began in that rose rotunda must be carried into our workplaces, our schools, and the streets. Robbed of formal democracy, our hope lies now only in an insurgent democracy of civil disobedience, work stoppages, and school walkouts.
Of course, there will certainly be many legal challenges to the new provisions of SB5, and these should certainly be supported, but while lawyers and judges are wrangling over women’s lives, where does that leave women themselves, as well as those who love and support them? Should everyone sit politely with hands folded, hoping for the best while preparing for nothing, after our system has failed us so many times and in so many different ways? We must work alongside any legal challenges to both support them while they unfold as well as to prepare to escalate our struggle should those challenges fail, and those who fight those legal battles should support our efforts outside the courtrooms just as we support theirs inside it. While legal challenges shouldn’t be condemned out of hand as “irrelevant” or “reformist,” just as critically should those same legal challenges not be used as an excuse to demobilize the popular sentiment that is clearly developing an impulse to stand up and fight back.
As practical measures, we offer here Four Points of Action to carry this struggle forward in the face of a defeat at the second session:
- Work to agitate and persuade clinic workers and doctors to occupy their clinics upon orders of closure and refuse to close their clinics.
- Organize groups ready to move and defend clinic buildings, workers, and doctors with whatever tactics are deemed the most effective, regardless of legality. This could run from sit-ins and lock-downs to actively building and defending barricades as we have seen all over the world now. It must be remembered that in addition to police violence, clinics may face terrorist violence as well.
- Organize in our schools and workplaces with the intention of developing the organizational capacity and infrastructure to mobilize coordinated, political work stoppages and school walkouts regardless of legal constraints.
- Organize city-wide and ultimately state-wide action committees to coordinate and carry out the first three points of activity on an open and transparent democratic basis. Differences over strategy and tactics around our single issue of agreement – these closures must be stopped – must be made public and debated openly so all participants can decide the methods of struggle democratically. The political independence of the Action Committees is paramount for strictly practical, if not ideological reasons. They must not be called on to endorse or actively support any electoral candidates.
Developing these broad organizational roots in schools and workplaces is critical in the long-term not only to defeat SB5 now, but to be able to mobilize in the future as well. If Perry had to face down not just a peaceful occupation of the capitol building, but coordinated work stoppages and school walk-outs, the pressure on him to choose not to call the second session would have been much more intense.
Democrats can now and forever only throw us so much thread and call it rope. Legal challenges are a gamble and exclude the vast majority from any level of serious participation. Our only hope to defend Texas women lies in our own strength to disrupt business as usual. The time to hope for change has passed and the time to fight for change has arrived.