In the days following Sen. Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster, I absorbed heady news indicating that I was part of an "unruly mob." I’m a 48-year-old mother of three — it’s not often that I’m hailed as a badass. But combing through news accounts, that headiness quickly faded. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had it wrong, Gov. Rick Perry had it wrong, and many in the press were getting it wrong. I know because I was there. And just as in the rest of my conventional life, I was a part of the “ruly mob” that day at the Texas Capitol.
When Tuesday’s Senate session opened, I was crammed into the historic-yet-tiny gallery seat where I would spend the next 14 hours. This was my third trip to the pink dome in a week, having also attended an earlier House hearing and floor debate. I’d made some friends along the way who, like most everyone there, were unaffiliated with any of the organizing groups. I felt fortunate to be a witness.
Each day I was informed of decorum, and Tuesday was no exception. Both Dewhurst and political organizers reminded us that there would be no clapping, cheering or demonstration of any kind, including silent “jazz hands.” If even one of us was caught breaking the rules, we could all be thrown out; we were to be a silent witness to the proceedings. There were times when people in the gallery would clap or call out, and the rest of us, intent on following the rules, quickly hushed them. The Democratic senators responded to any cheer by waving us silent. For hour upon hour, we listened to things that made us sad, happy, angry and proud, but we bottled our emotions. We respectfully watched Davis and fervently hoped our presence helped.
When the third point of order was sustained and Sen. Kirk Watson took the floor, it seemed as though he was going to carry the ball across the goal line. But procedural rules were broken, and Watson lost the floor. I watched as Sen. Leticia Van de Putte repeatedly asked for the recognition of the chair, only to be neglected and overlooked. She raised objections and was joined by other Democratic senators who were also attempting to be recognized. The chaos mounted and tension rose. With about 15 minutes left until the session's deadline, and as procedural rules were being ignored and broken repeatedly, Van de Putte slowly and carefully said these words:
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"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"
Her statement symbolized everything that we had witnessed and felt not just that day, but at each step of the process. We had been told what was best for us as our own words were suppressed or ignored. We had remained quiet during House debate through reminders of coat hangers and faulty descriptions of “rape kits.” We had kept silent during Wendy’s filibuster, and the repeated attempts by male senators to intimidate her. And most importantly, we had obeyed Senate rules to stay mute at the same time senators were clearly breaking their own procedural rules.
At that moment, hours and days of decorum did break, our voices could no longer be contained, and it became an act of civic duty to halt what should have been halted through the rules of the Texas Senate. We were the last wall, and all the anger and frustration and emotion poured out. Without prompting, we came together in response to what we saw. First, clapping for Van de Putte and then growing into a wall of sound. We saw our legislators looking up at us, smiling, and holding up two fingers, symbolizing a “no” vote. We joined in, holding up two fingers, yelling until our ears rang. The state troopers were leading people out quickly now, but even as the gallery became only two-thirds full, the sound got louder.
I have never been more proud to raise my voice, and I would have happily been arrested for that right. We were not an unruly mob in the gallery despite what Dewhurst and Perry have said. We were doing our jobs as citizens. The last stand wouldn’t be the work of Wendy Davis or Kirk Watson, the Democratic lawmakers, Occupy Austin, Planned Parenthood or NARAL. It would be the citizens, enraged by the process, who would stop the process.
Kathy Genet of Austin is a self-employed architect and married mother of three.
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