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Remember the Filibuster: The People's House

by: Katherine Haenschen

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM CDT

Earlier in the 2013 session I was sitting in a friend's office at the Legislature. She said, "this is your house. This is the people's house." I rolled my eyes. Very little that gets done in that building is for "the people."

Last summer's filibuster made good on that promise. The Texas Capitol became the people's house.

When I entered the rotunda one year ago tonight, I was overwhelmed and amazed by what I saw: people I knew outside of politics standing and chanting next to organizers I work with every day. And I knew that's what was and is going to change Texas.

More below the jump.

Ironically, I didn't make it to the Capitol until the last hour of the filibuster. I went to San Diego for Netroots Nation a week prior and then on to San Francisco. My plane ticket didn't bring me back to Austin until 10:55 p.m. on June 25.

When I woke up one year ago today San Francisco, the Legislature was already in session. As I shoved my things in my backpack, Wendy was just standing up. As I finished my breakfast at a coffee shop, Wendy was telling stories of Texas women who had needed abortions for the many reasons women seek them. As I boarded my train to San Jose she was talking. As I missed my stop because I was glued to my phone she was talking. As I cleared security and sat down to eat a sandwich she was still standing. I couldn't make it four hours without food or sitting down, and she was going to last all eleven.

I crossed time zones while her words filled the hours to keep this bill from being passed, a bill that would have directly harmed the women who lacked the ability to travel so freely to places like California to exercise their SCOTUS-granted rights.

My plane landed and I took a cab directly to the Capitol. Thankfully I'd packed an orange shirt. As I came in through the extension I heard the roar, the shaking of granite and screaming of voices that embodied the rage and fury Texans felt at an intrusion on our bodily rights that was, indeed, too much to bear.

I ran up the stairs to the rotunda after the final count-down. Had we out-lasted the clock? While confusion reigned I looked around. There was a fellow graduate student I'd worked with at UT. There were so many former voter registrars I hadn't seen since 2008. There were the organizers I'd worked with every day standing next to the guy who sold me coffee and the friend-of-a-friend I'd met at a party.

People I'd never seen at a rally in six years all chanting in unison next to people I work with every day.

Wow, I thought. This is big. This is what could change our state. And the best part was that people refused to leave until it was clear if the bill was dead.

The verdict came in: the bill had not passed. The elation was palpable as progressives celebrated an all-too-rare victory. I knew Rick Perry could call another special session to try to finish the job on Texas women's' reproductive rights, and I knew that we'd likely lose then. But I savored the victory -- and I knew that we were just getting started.

And that subsequent loss was arguably as important as that first victory one year ago: when the bill came back and we eventually lost on a legislative level, it taught a generation of activists that as long as Republican governor is in charge of Texas, women will never be truly free.

I grieve every day for the women of Texas who suffer as a result of the Republicans' -- and, it pains me to say, a few shameful Democrats who voted to pass this bill.

But I know that this fight has galvanized a new generation of activists and awakened many Texans who until now had not realized what the Republican legislature is really doing to the people of our state -- particularly those who lack the financial or political means to circumvent them.

A lot has changed since then. The energy here is different. The commitment to doing the work to change our state is greater. The investment we need in terms of money, time, talent, and energy is coming our way, and most importantly I now see Texans who believe that we can do the work to turn our state blue.

And now when I walk by the Capitol, I no longer roll my eyes over the people who run our state. I remember that this is the people's house, and the people are going to take it back.

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