When Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for more than 11 hours to fight against Texas Senate Bill 5 on June 25, the nation noticed. The bill, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required that abortion clinics have the standards of a surgical health care facility and required doctor supervision of abortion-inducing drugs. As a whole, the bill was met with national controversy.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the provision of the bill that restricts abortion was unconstitutional on the grounds that it “unconstitutionally restricted women’s access to abortion clinics and infringed on doctors’ rights to act in their patients’ best interests,” according to a USA Today article. Attorney General Greg Abbott filed the rest of the bill for appeal with the 5th Circuit Courtof Appeals in New Orleans.
With the majority of the bill gone, the process has proven to have lasting effects not only on the fate of abortion in Texas, but also on how social media is changing the way Americans share political information and interact with their governments.
“The fireworks were occurring late in the evening, and the mainstream press was not covering it. So if you wanted to find out about (the filibuster), the only place you could really go to find out about it was social media,” said Dwight Silverman, social media manager and tech blogger for the Houston Chronicle.
“If you look at CNN on a Saturday afternoon, they often have a lot of cam shows. If something happens, it takes a while for CNN to react to it and get a crew in and so forth, and oftentimes, social media passes it by.”
While Silverman said that news sources such as CNN are not bowing to social media any time soon, the overarching attention — both physical and online — was thunderous and turned what might have otherwise been an average Senate session into a lasting commentary on women’s rights and the impact of social media in politics and journalism.
Creating a community
Psychology senior Laila Khalili, president of the Student Feminist Organization at UH, was at the capitol during the filibuster and called the experience “incredible.”
“For the first time in my 22 years living in Texas, I felt like I belonged here. I felt like there was a community of Texans who cared about the things I cared about and who were willing to do whatever they could to help the women of Texas,” Khalili said.
“Suddenly, people were flooding to the capitol, setting up carpools — strangers who live in Austin offering a couch for other Texans to sleep on, so they could come testify and protest.”
At its peak, nearly 200,000 people watched the filibuster from online streams, and orange-clad Davis supporters at the capital live-blogged and uploaded videos of the filibuster through Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr and other social media. In accordance with Texas law, Davis was not allowed to stop speaking or divert from the subject, lean on her desk or sit down, inspiring the trending hashtag “#StandWithWendy.”
Davis ‘lit a fuse’
“These extreme and deeply unpopular attacks on women’s health have lit a fuse — they engaged many more people in the democratic process in Texas and started something big that can’t be undone,” said Alejandra Diaz, communications specialist with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
“The outpour of support through social media also translated into calls, rallies, testimonies; social media was an organizing tool for women’s health supporters. People are outraged by what’s happened here in Texas and they know that the answer is to get organized and get engaged to change this state’s approach to women’s health.”
But social media and the capitol itself were not dominated by Davis’ supporters.
“Social media makes it harder for young Americans to not be involved in some way, whether that’s voicing an opinion through social media or getting involved in a group out from behind the computer screen,” said economics junior and Chairman of College Republicans at UH Michael Salvo.
“Social media makes it easier to be more open about one’s political thoughts and serves as a way to develop those thoughts.”
Gov. Rick Perry encouraged Texans to wear blue at the capitol, contrasting the orange of those supporting Davis, and to tweet “#Stand4Life,” in support of the bill.
“Sen. Davis, who I do admire for standing on her principles, awoke a grassroots movement in our state and throughout the nation. I believe Americans do not see abortion as just a women’s issue, but a liberty issue,” Salvo said.
“The discussion is moving from a disagreement on the wording of legislation to whether or not the government should be involved at all in the personal lives of citizens and how far should that intrusion can and should go, if at all.”
A leader emerges
As the filibuster ended, rumors of Davis’ running for Texas governor swirled, but it wasn’t until Oct. 3 when Davis announced her candidacy. Texas has not had a Democratic governor since 1991, and though Davis has the supporters she gained during the filibuster, Texas still remains a red state, and her chances of winning remain uncertain.
“People are excited about the 2014 election. Those of us who are less than pleased with how Gov. Perry managed things are ready for new leadership, and we see that in Wendy,” Khalili said. “So many people have been waiting for this moment, including myself, and we are willing to put everything aside and campaign for Davis. The drive, passion and resources are all there to elect Wendy Davis.”
Only time will tell
The Texas gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 4, 2014. Davis’ online support has continued, with much of her funding coming from donations from private citizens, even those out of state. In the year to come, it will be fundamentally her online support that leads to either a win or a loss.