Point Austin: A Moment of Celebration

It's a long road, but we can walk it together

Point Austin

What a week.

You didn't need to be a politics junkie to be amazed at what's happened in Texas and the U.S. in the last few days – you just needed to stay awake. That was the unspoken basic task at the Capitol Tuesday night, where thousands of people responded to the heroic determination of Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, to fight yet another round in defense of Texas women's rights to basic health care (not simply the Consti­tutional right to reproductive autonomy, though that is obviously part of the bundle of rights defended by her filibuster).

Almost simultaneously, the Supreme Court issued a handful of major rulings that will change the political and cultural ground, for good and ill. First the bad: Striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act – because the Roberts court majority believes it discriminates against those states that have historically and persistently been the most ruthless in suppressing minority voting rights – is a terrible and foreboding decision. The negative effects were instantaneous; in Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately imposed enforcement of the notorious "voter ID" law, and the radically gerrymandered district maps are now de facto state law.

Each of these transparent attempts to dilute the effect of minority votes had been challenged under the VRA, which requires "preclearance" of election changes that might discriminate against African-Amer­ican or Hispanic citizens. Lack­ing that check against them, state GOP officials can pretty much do whatever they want in elections and shrug, "So sue us."

In fact, Sen. Davis was only able to retain her seat last Novem­ber because a VRA challenge prevented the Legislature from a more egregious gerrymander. After Tuesday night, Davis may well be invincible for an election or two, even if she doesn't (as the giddy buzz suggests) run for higher office. But the negative effects of the VRA decision – long targeted for dismantling by Republicans (including for decades by Chief Justice John Roberts, who should have recused himself) – are potentially disastrous, sufficient perhaps to guarantee GOP dominance in the South for another decade, even as "minority" voters become the actual "majority" in Texas and elsewhere.

But they can't suppress your vote if you won't let them.

The People Won

In the short term – which may be only until July 1, the date of Perry's just-called second special session – we've got plenty of cause for celebration. First, the sheer exhilaration of the Davis filibuster and the major demonstration at the Capitol will resonate among Texas progressives for a long time. The spectacle of Sen. Davis defying the tyranny of the majority, and that majority's ham-handed and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to suppress her defiance, is a moment of Texas political history we all can cherish, and it's certainly a stepping-stone for victories to come.

Just for the record, I've observed and reported on several filibusters over the years, and never have I seen a Senate filibuster policed so ruthlessly and dishonestly as this one. The rules were bent, and finally broken, to silence Davis. The Repub­licans now whining about "mob rule" and even "terrorists" (the shameless Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington) should ask themselves why they insist on simultaneously destroying women's health care and undermining constitutionally protected rights – and can't even be bothered to obey their own rules while doing so.

We're going to see all this again in the second special session, and this time the Republicans will not be such hapless bunglers. They'll pound the bill through, defy the courts to overturn it, and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of women (and many men) will find it much more difficult to access basic health care. Abortion, quite literally, ain't the half of it.

A Long Journey

But that argument is for another day.

I awoke groggy on Wednesday morning and checked to see if anything else had happened – indeed, somewhere around 2:15am Lt. Gov. David "D'Oh" Dewhurst and his allies conceded they had lost the SB 5 battle. But moments later, I learned that the same Supreme Court that had gutted the VRA had turned around and narrowly struck down the odious Defense of Mar­riage Act – thus removing one more burdensome discrimination from the lives of gay and lesbian citizens. That, too, remains a partial victory – it will take more time and effort to challenge discriminatory state laws, and, more importantly, embody the transformation in public and cultural life.

But it's a very real and important victory, nonetheless, and another occasion for celebration. "The arc of the moral universe is long," declared Martin Luther King, "but it bends toward justice." For more than a decade, the national and state Republican parties, and their elected officials, have maintained their hold on power through a combination of money, power, budgetary ruthlessness, and shameless and hypocritical cultural warfare. But the extremes to which they are willing to act to suppress opposition, undermine voting rights, and keep ordinary people down are sure signs of their desperation; they see the political and cultural future and can't find a place of comfort there.

This week, on balance, the future of equal rights in the U.S. and of the common good of Texans came a little bit closer. We can all be proud that many of us struck real blows for freedom along the way. Thanks to Sen. Davis and her Democratic allies, thanks to the thousands of people for whom she raised her voice, and many, many thanks to the thousands of voices who joined her, doing what they could to bend the arc toward justice.

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Read more of the Chronicle's decades of reproductive rights reporting here.

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News, Wendy Davis, 83rd Legislature, abortion rights, Voting Rights Act, Greg Abbott, voter ID laws, John Roberts, Rick Perry, Bill Zedler, David Dewhurst, Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Supreme Court, SCOTUS, Senate Bill 5, sb5

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