Remember the Filibuster: Find Your Voice

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Last June, I had just finished up my first session as a staffer in the Texas Legislature. I was supposed to be on a two week vacation before I started a new job. Then, I got an email asking me if I could come back to Austin to testify in front of the House Committee on State Affairs.

Shelby Alexander, former staff writer for Burnt Orange Report, was working with organizations and representatives to try and wrangle enough pro-choice people to come to the capitol and draw out the committee hearing. Together, they were trying to use the voices and stories of people to kill the omnibus abortion bill.

I had no idea that what would happen next would change my life, and this state, forever.  When I got the email, I knew I had to go. I assumed that I would see the same familiar faces from reproductive justice protests in the past, and hoped that they could get at least one hundred people to the capitol for the meeting. Instead, over 700 people showed up in the middle of the summer to speak to a group of representatives about choice.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who came out that night and in the days that followed. When the food started showing up, sponsored by people across the country who wanted to show their support for our grassroots pro-choice movement, is when I realized how big this really was.

It wasn't just about what was happening to us here in Texas. Because Texas is bigger than just our state itself. In so many ways, what happens here impacts people around the country – and I don't just mean our textbooks. It is easy for folks to write Texas off as a lost cause, or at least it was before last summer. But if hundreds – thousands – of people in Texas can come together against a seemingly immovable legislature in a supposedly red state, then there is no limit to what people can do.

In the end, I testified twice: before the House committee during the first special session, and then before the Senate committee in the second. As a staffer, I had seen hours of testimony on everything from raw milk to Medicaid expansion, but I never imagined that I would find myself in front of a committee talking about abortion.

I was nervous about finding the right words to say, and by the time it came to the second special session I felt that I was out of steam. But in both cases, I was inspired by the people around me – both those in orange and those in blue – to speak up for myself and for everyone who couldn't be there.

At the people's filibuster, I found my voice. I stood up proudly for my right to choose, and the importance of access to abortion services for all Texans. I found solidarity with people from across the state as orange shirts made fast friends out of strangers.

I watched the members I had worked for only days before fight tooth and nail to draw out the process in the House, and I was brimming with pride to have had the opportunity to know them and the staffers who were tirelessly finding points of order in back rooms of the capitol. I felt like it was truly the people's House.

And when it finally came time for the filibuster, I was in back in Houston at a bar with my friends. I crowded around an iPhone with people who had never watched CSPAN, let alone the Texas Legislature livestream, and we cringed with every strike against Senator Davis. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Republicans in the legislature to find the final dirty trick that would end it all.

In truth, I never thought that we could succeed. I showed up in the same way that all progressive Texan activists have shown up for the last two decades: because it is right, because someone has to, and because some causes are worth fighting for even if you know the outcome before the battle starts. And for the first time in my adult life, I was proven wrong. Not just once – but over and over again.

And this is the real source of the filibuster's power. It took a tired, burnt out group of people and ignited a fire. It showed us how wrong we had been to be cynical, and that none of us were alone. So many of us bought into the lie that progressives in Texas are few and far between. Even I believed it to be true. I thought we could be blue – in twenty years. I was in it for the long haul.

But the filibuster showed us that our time is not in two decades, it is now. We have the passion and the dedication to wait for hours for the chance to speak, to sit quietly in a balcony when your whole soul feels like it is on fire, and then to scream with all of our might when it is the only tool we have left.

I cried that night when it became clear that we would win. I looked at my friends, who have supported my “outlandish” feminist politics for years, and said, “We won!” I was stunned, overjoyed, and overwhelmed. And I was also more motivated than ever before. Because once you find your voice, they cannot stop you from speaking out.

About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for State Rep. Mary Gonzalez under the pink dome, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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