I Stand with Texas Women
It’s hot in Texas. As someone who has lived above the Mason-Dixon line almost her entire life, it’s easy to forget how hot it is in Texas. Especially in July.
When my plane landed Saturday night, the pilot’s voice boomed on the intercom, “howdy, y’all, welcome to Texas. Local time is 7:02pm. It’s 106 degrees outside.” I contemplated staying on board.
Last Wednesday I was part of the masses huddled around their computers watching Wendy Davis filibuster. I constantly refreshed twitter, trying to be as close to the action as I could be. I’ve always lived in a liberal mecca—from the blue state of Illinois to the blue state of Massachusetts—places were protests and rallies aren’t unusual. What was happening in Texas, however, was different. A state known for being as red as can be, with big belt buckles and laws dripping in sexism, was fighting back. Women (and men) weren’t going to allow the rules to be bent; they weren’t allowing their rights to be trampled upon. History was being made.
When the smoke cleared the following morning and it was clear that another special session was going to be called for Senate Bill 5, I knew what I had to do. I needed to experience it for myself. I needed to meet the people and hear the stories of those who were fighting back. I packed the sunscreen and booked a ticket to Texas.
The day before the bill was reintroduced into the Texas Senate and House, a friend took me to the Capitol so I could get a feel for where I would be spending the next 12 or so hours. Before heading over, she asked if we could make a quick stop at her mom’s house. I’m not sure if I even made it all the way in the door before her mom took the “come and take it” pin off of her own shirt and placed it on mine. “I’m doing my part by watching my granddaughter tomorrow so my daughter can go to the rally,” she exclaimed. “Isn’t it exciting?!” It was.
The three of us shook our heads at what was going on. My friend’s mom shared her worries that a bill that closed all but five abortion clinics in a 268,820-square-mile state would do nothing to stop abortions, only make them unsafe. She told me of a time during college, well before Roe v Wade, when three of her friends had illegal and incredibly dangerous abortions. All three were unregulated, dirty, and unsafe. One, which happened in the dead of winter, was so quick that the man who performed the abortion didn’t even bother to take off his coat. Were we really still protesting the idea of access to safe and legal medical care for women?
The 3,000 who showed up at the stairs of the Capitol the next morning shared our frustration.
I sat on the grass outside of the Capitol and watched as several women sat stoically, wrapping paper that read, “this is not a medical instrument” around wire coat hangers. I chatted with them until my lack of a drawl gave away my Yankee roots. Realizing I was from out of town, they shared a detailed history of recent bills passed in Texas. I was told over and over that this most recent affront against women was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
One woman showed me that the hat she wore was her mother’s—who had protested at the same steps in 1972 for access to abortion. The hat was covered in political pins, a timeline of activism. Another woman told me she had raised three feminist sons, and that all three were cheering her on. One woman pointed with pride to her wife, “She was in the senate gallery watching Wendy filibuster last week! And, today we are here because these issues affect the LGBTQ community as well.”
One woman told me that she believed her daughter to be a blessing—and that every child and every choice should also be a blessing. Her two year-old daughter giggled and stuck out her tongue at me as I crouched down to give her a high five. A woman told me her story, sharing that she experienced “what we now would probably call date rape. There was a little hash, spiked with a little something else, and the next thing I knew… I was only 14 years old. 15 when I had the abortion. It saved my life.” A very pregnant woman walked around with her belly exposed, the words “My Body. My choice.” painted on her stomach. When Wendy Davis took the stage at the rally, her screaming was so enthusiastic, I worried it might trigger her labor.
A man standing next to his girlfriend sheepishly told me that he wasn’t sure if he had a right to have a voice here—but he was there to support the rights of women. A woman with her three-year-old daughter drove five hours to join the rally. “I’m teaching my daughter about the freedom of speech,” she told me. “Also, to stand up for herself. And, well, patience…I’m teaching her patience.” She tracked me down later to make sure that I had seen that both she and her daughter had intricately painted portraits of Wendy Davis on their fingernails. A woman with two young daughters waved a sign that read, “Keep your laws off of my daughters.”
Someone with a sign that read “ask me about my abortion” told me her story with tears in her eyes. She was finally escaping a physically and emotionally abusive relationship when she discovered she was pregnant. She already had a child from a previous relationship, and she was scared for his life as well. An abortion saved her life, and allowed her to escape. After the procedure the doctors discovered a malignant tumor on her ovary, one that had been missed at her previous gynecological checkup. The abortion she received to escape her abuser not only saved her from her hell, it saved her from cancer as well. Those tears in her eyes? They were tears of joy, not sadness. “I can’t help but cry,” she shared, “when I see the entire community out to support women.”
It’s hot in Texas. A day out in the sun surrounded by 3,000 people might not sound like the ideal July day in Austin. But, I’d be back there in a flash if I were needed. These are the stories of strength that need to be told. I was honored to hear them.