Do You Hear the People Sing? (Reflections on the Texas Filibuster)

I suppose it is old news now that this past Tuesday a bill that would effectively shut down almost every abortion clinic in the state of Texas was prevented from passing by the efforts of State Senator Wendy Davis and a particularly raucous crowd of women’s rights activists. The nature of my job is such that I did not have time to really read about all that happened until this weekend, but now that I have – I am amazed and inspired.

Wendy Davis filibustered for nearly 11 hours and not only managed to stay on topic—per Texas filibuster rules—but continued to show emotional conviction throughout the long ordeal. Davis is undoubtedly fierce—a singular individual to be respected and admired. Proof that sometimes, one strong, sure, committed voice can hold back the tide.

But the most inspiring lessons I learned from last Tuesday night in Texas, came not from Davis herself, but from the people who followed her lead and took up her cry when she had been silenced. From them I learned:

1) Solidarity means showing up. I’m currently over a thousand miles away from Austin, TX. I want to tell you that had I been in town, I would have been one of the many incessant voices causing courageous cacophony in that Capitol building during the waning moments of June 25th. But I don’t really know. I might have been tired. I might have had other plans. I can’t promise that I would have been one of those brave voices last Tuesday, but having seen it happen, I hope that next time I will be.

All of those people standing in the room and in the atrium, crouching down against walls and tweeting updates and chowing down on donated pizza undoubtedly had other plans. Other priorities. They came to the Capital to fight for justice. To watch the voices in the room battle it out and stand in support. They were there to be a presence, and then the room shifted. And they became the voice. I can’t help but wonder: what if they had been too busy? Too tired? Too afraid? What if each of them had believed that their voice was too insignificant to matter? Would one less voice have been enough to quell the outrage and bring about deadly silence? Maybe.

2) Sometimes anger helps. These women and men were angry. That’s what drove them to cry out. I doubt that the great cry began as a political strategy to hold off a vote by perpetuating disorder. I think they were just too angry to keep quiet anymore. This is important because I think we’re often taught that anger is never a good thing. But sometimes hope is born at the meeting of anger and action. Sometimes letting yourself be angry is what allows you to believe that things could be different.

So often change and justice are about dialogue, patience, planning, collaboration, and strategy. But Texas taught me that we need a reserve tank of courage for the moments when change and justice stand on the shoulders of the ones who show up, and let their anger fuel their hope, who believe that their participation matters—that they matter.

Sometimes it comes down to the ones who yell like hell.


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