Hey all – I’m Lainie. Single mama of two beautiful boys, homeschooler, rabble rouser, and member of Occupy Austin, Levanta/Rise UpTexas, and Unruly Mob media. I’ve spent pretty much every spare minute of my life this past month either at The Capitol or with my eyes riveted on the various streams and feeds. You can find a lot of my thoughts on my Twitterstream (@drublood), videos on my youtube channel and some on ustream, and photos on flickr. Thanks so much to the Rude Pundit for the opportunity to post here today. I’m pretty exhausted from all of the hubbub, but hopefully this post will provide some information about the organizing around these issues, and what it felt like to be on the ground during the various phases of bill passage. <3
What do for-profit prisons, stand your ground laws, and the forced birth bills proliferating through our nation’s state legislatures all have in common?
I’ll give you a hint. It’s a four letter word. Possibly the most obscene four-letter word.
A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.
It was because of ALEC that a large group of women and men from diverse backgrounds spent the last month at the Texas State Capitol building, trying desperately to get our legislators to listen to our varied personal stories of unplanned pregnancy, rape, fetal abnormalities, spousal abuse, poverty, and many other reasons why women need to have access to medically safe abortions, and the autonomy to make our own decisions about when it was necessary to access them. In return, we were ignored by senators and representatives alike, were called baby-killers, murderers, and a violent mob by those who disagreed with us, were herded around the capitol by DPS officers enforcing arbitrary rules and utilizing prison-guard tactics of divide and conquer, were denied access to food, water, and basic feminine hygiene products if we wanted to actually attempt to look those who were stripping our rights from us in the eye, and in the end, when we finally sat down peacefully to protest the passage of the bill, we were brutalized, tazed, beaten, and jailed.
Additionally, we were subjected to countless tales of forced abortions (sucks to not have a CHOICE, doesn’t it?), bad science, anecdotes about people who regretted CHOICES they made, and prayer after prayer after prayer after motherfucking prayer, and countless male senators salivating over the prospect of getting their dirty claws all over our ovaries. At one point, a representative whose name I can’t recall apologized for the graphic detail, but felt it was important that we should hear his version of what an abortion procedure looked and felt like. He included vivid descriptions of the process of inserting a needle into the cervix, and talked about “tiny hands and feet” flowing out of the vagina and washed down the sink. It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t completely sucked the air out of me and made me feel incredibly fucking violated. I remember I was at home listening to that testimony, trying to decide whether I should drive down to the capitol. In the end, I decided that I would feel less lonely and vulnerable in a crowd of my sisters, and drove down to be with my friends and allies.
And that is the shining star of this whole morbid tale. From the damp soil of our outrage and our shared disenfranchisement, our rage, our sorrow, our passion, there sprouted the roots of an amazing coalition. Groups of people who had never met came together to work on this issue. I met powerful sisters and realized the power of true male allies. It was as if we all just nodded at each other silently, rolled up our sleeves, and came together to form an Unruly Mob that our local and state government will have to be dealing with for a very long time.
Together we admitted that we had little to no chance of winning legislatively. We all knew this bill would have to see court battle to be overturned. But with that knowledge, we were empowered to think creatively and strategically about actions that would encourage and empower autonomy, diversity, and connection to the larger issues at hand. We formed sister coalitions: Levanta/Riseup Texas, to ensure our messaging was consistent, while our approaches to action were diverse. We formed media alliances, legal teams, and direct action affinity groups. We had a ground team talking to legislators, reminding them we were watching. Some of us organized marches, some of us facilitated trainings, some created songs and dances to keep people motivated. Media teams ensured livestream and live tweet coverage, amplifying the media being generated by independent individuals who were also at the Capitol, unorganized but no less willing to participate.
Community was created in those spaces, in a way that only public spaces being held by passionate individuals can create community. In line on Senate testimony day, I met a woman attempting to override the negativity of the forced-birth advocate standing in between us in line by having our own conversation and sharing our own stories. Her story was a powerful one. I immediately felt a kinship with her upon hearing it. It’s the same story that moved Victorian Prude to finally break and go off-the-cuff during her testimony:
I drove from Central Texas at 5:30 am and testified at little after 11pm. It was a long day but I and many others have been used to it since our first citizen's filibuster on June 20th. Hours of watching antichoicers insult and talk to women, watching awful pseudoscience continued to enrage me. Finally, after I saw a woman named Vanessa (@lochnessa) testify angrily about the heartbreaking medically necessary abortion she had to have after countless IVF attempts, I knew I had to rewrite. Their baby had rare form of spina bifida and a 20 week ban would have hurt them. After she spoke an antichoice next to her cruelly said "I know people who adopted two children with spina bifida". Not a word from the chair. I scrapped my speech and began a rewrite that would call out each member of committee for their lack of expertise or past bad record on women's health. Took about 5 more hours until I was finally called along with the rest of Group 6.
And I am told I nearly rose from my seat to go after the allegedly pro-life woman who smugly mentioned the sacrifices her friends had made in what she assumed was a similar situation. Such was the nature of the relationships that were formed in line and in the bowels of the Capitol building.
On Friday, the day of the final vote, our team had multiple plans for ensuring our voices were heard. None of which, by the way, included throwing feces, urine, or feminine hygiene products. Wanted Posters were displayed (DPS took them away because they claimed they were materials that "threatened the lives" of the representatives depicted) Banners were dropped, cheers were led, women in bloody skirts chained themselves to railings in the gallery, paper shoes representing women who will die from illegal abortions were thrown from the second floor rotunda, and protesters in all areas of the building made sure they held a visible and audible presence throughout the Capitol building for the duration of the proceedings.
My goal was to hold the rotunda all day with the People’s Library, and I managed to do so. Amidst swarming masses of blue-shirted, rosarie-clutching motherfuckers spitting religion at me in a never-ending litany of vengeful Hail Marys that I swear to god almost had me speaking in tongues/barfing up pea soup, and very definitely caused me to respond more than once with a “Hail Satan” or a “Hail my Ovaries” or “Hail flying spaghetti monster” just to cleanse my brain and distract myself from the angry energy emanating from the woman towering over me with a gigantic wooden cross (which was mysteriously allowed into the building…prompting me to create this emergency feminine hygiene product):
I held my sign that said “Anti-poverty=pro-life/anti-war=pro-life” and was unable to find anyone at all who would tell me what sorts of policies they supported that ensure the health and safety of poor mothers, single mothers, rural mothers, and/or immigrant mothers. Because, you know, pro-life doesn’t actually mean what you think it means. The term pro-life is just another way to blame the victim of white supremacist patriarchy. Because, as many people repeated throughout the duration of this extended debate, the best way to reduce abortion – the best way to be ACTUALLY pro-life - is to reduce poverty, increase access to healthcare, provide comprehensive sex education and access to birth control, and improve our educational system so fewer people are confronted with an unintended pregnancy and those who are don’t have to choose to terminate based on purely financial reasons.
To the contrary, ALEC, along with most of those who support these kinds of bills reject worker’s rights, undermine consumer rights, obstruct environmental protections, promote for-profit prisons, and interfere with expansion of Medicaid for the working poor…among many many other things.
You can't get much more anti-life than that.
In the end, of course, the state reared its ugly head and brutally tazed and beat peaceful protesters who ended up locking arms and sitting down in the hallway in front of the Senate floor. DPS officers gave no warning before descending on the crowd, snatching targeted individuals, sending one to the hospital and battering, humiliating, and traumatizing many more.
It is my hope that at the very least, the actions of the state have radicalized some of the more moderate participants in the crowd, and that we will continue to fight for the rights and dignity of all people, because all of our issues are related and connected. We must all rise up together.