“The key to success is not how many people we put in, but how many we keep from coming back."
At 11:18 a.m. CDT on Tuesday, State Senator Wendy Davis began her now-historic filibuster of S.B. 5, a proposed law that would've severely restrict women's reproductive rights in Texas.
Davis's heroic test of endurance was derailed at 10:30 p.m. by presiding officer Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who claimed that her discussing a sonogram bill passed in 2011 wasn't relevant to the debate at hand.
Democrats naturally exploded.
For the next two hours, the Texas senate devolved into a debate over arcane points of parliamentary procedure, which topics were and were not "germane," and generally shameless Republican bullying, which finally pushed an exasperated Democratic Senator Leticia Van De Putte to quip: "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"
As the clock struck midnight, the scheduled expiration of the special legislative session, approximately 177,000 people watched S.B. 5 die on the Texas Tribune's live-streaming video, having never reached a vote -- due in no small part to a cacophonous senate gallery packed with howling citizens who effectively shut down the last ten minutes of the session, completely drowning out any desperate Republicans designs.
Amid the din, now past midnight, Republicans muddled through a vote, regardless of the rules. An unidentified legislator cried from the floor, "You can't take a vote after midnight!"
The mood in Austin and online was a euphoric, electric triumph -- a people's victory, set to the score of exalted democratic screams, happening live for anyone with an Internet connection to witness, and none of the three major cable news channels could be bothered. CNN was actually airing a segment about muffins.
AP's reporter on the scene, Chris Tomlinson, "confirmed, there has been no vote on #sb5 #txlege shut down by protests."
Those who took to Twitter throughout the day to #standwithWendy were elated. We'd all witnessed direct democracy in action. And it was awesome. Our eyes and ears had not deceived us; Republicans just didn't get the shot off before the buzzer.
But wait. The play was under review by the refs -- the establishment press.
BREAKING: Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.
-- The Associated Press (@AP) June 26, 2013
BREAKING NEWS: Texas Republicans pass strict new abortion curbs, overcoming long filibuster, and chaos in Senate chamber as deadline neared
-- CBS News (@CBSNews) June 26, 2013
Both the AP's official Twitter account and CBS News inexplicably had called the game for the wrong team. The senate gallery slowly emptied into the rotunda, lawmakers milled about on the mostly silent Tribune live-stream. What the hell was happening? Everyone wanted to know.
At that time, the real news junkies went for the caffeine and found another live-stream. I, and some 20,000 others, stumbled upon Ustream user Christopher Dido's shaky, yet appreciated, perspective inside the rotunda. The wired fiends of justice also gravitated toward the invaluable Twitter feed of the Texas Tribune's health care and data reporter Becca Aaronson.
-- Becca Aaronson (@becca_aa) June 26, 2013
Foul play! Were Republicans seriously attempting such brazen deceit? With a packed senate gallery? And over 170,000 people watching online? History was being rewritten in real time. Work-a-day Jane would likely wake up to Joe Scarborough saying it'll be next to impossible for her to access reproductive services in Texas because S.B. 5 passed 19 -10. And now every provider in the state will have to be a surgery-ready mini-hospital, a cost-prohibitive measure meant to shutter facilities under the transparent guise of women's "safety."
Surely, this thoroughly documented criminality won't stand. There will be court challenges. As I listened to Christopher Dido and company nervously talk about pizza and cops, it was Wisconsin all over again. Rules broken, democracy screwed. One could faintly hear hundreds outside the Capitol in Austin chanting the old familiar chants of hope and unrealized defeat.
But back in the senate chamber things were happening.
Finally, at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards was introduced to the still-sizable rotunda crowd, and proudly declared, "The Lt. Governor has agreed that S.B. 5 is dead!"
And the people went absolutely nuts: "Wendy! Wendy! Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!"
Within a few minutes, Davis had made her way to the rotunda, still standing and more energized than ever. Barely audible over the ecstatic crowd, she yelled, "The women of Texas won!"
It was an incredibly moving historical moment that was ultimately possible because a bunch of righteous, loudmouths hollered their heads off for a few minutes. And the so-called 24-hour cable news channels were still sleeping -- dreaming of Paula Deen's next racial gaffe, and all the twisted ways to torture Glenn Greenwald for not internalizing the ethics of those in corporate and political power.
The AP and others eventually updated their reports -- an obvious Republican lie they deferred to over a reality they watched unfold before their very eyes. But what kind of sickness is that? What sort of diseased brain takes the demonstrably false claim of a government official over what it has concretely perceived? Is that the "objective journalism" David Gregory would have us practice where the reporter's job is mere carnival regurgitator?
Regardless of our seriously ill press, the people scored a big victory last night, and one needn't be an activist to take note.