Whose choice? Our choice.
These are the words that keep resounding. Standing outside the doors of the Senate chamber at 12:01 last night, I learned the true definition of “din” - the sound seemed to ring and echo within my ears. And, as it turned out, in the ears of all the Senate members… to the point of blocking a vote.
And one senator called Senator Wendy Davis or protestors like myself “terrorists.” Lt. Gov. Dewhurst claimed the vote was blocked by an “unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics,” as if that automatically insinuates something negative and terrible. I won’t deny Dewhurst the unruly part (c’mon, it was pure excitement!) but of course, I don’t agree that the comparison suddenly translates to something that is wrong.
Instead, it is democracy in action. Which, certainly, at no point means consensus. With all movements and protests, particularly those that grow up fast, there will be aberrations or flaws. Someone will lean towards or enact violence; they may choose the wrong sorts of words for a statement or chant; they may do any list of things that are increasingly disturbing. Sometimes there will also be - like one man I met in the rotunda last night - individuals that seem to have almost no specific alignment within the debate at all, but rather insist on being simply uncooperative with every person whatsoever.
But where my true revelation lies from the moving experiences of last night is in the fact that despite these aberrations… there is a clear and overwhelming majority of people that are aiming for similar goals, working for justice, and hoping to work out any of the possible kinks along the way.
See, I’m one of those people that loathed the way the Internet lit up in response to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012. After spending my previous summer studying abroad and living with the most loving homestay families in Gulu, Uganda & Kigali, Rwanda, I couldn’t even fully express my rage at the types of oversimplifications being made on the part of the Invisible Children, the media, and the people reacting… that is to say, not just the supporters, but the opposition as well.
And with all “viral” flashes across the web since, I’ve found myself on the fence. In some cases I’m glad a certain topic is getting the attention, but wish it could be tweaked. In others, I’m saddened by the events that inspire the flash, but also disturbed by the way that grief can be manipulated and led to support certain misguided and destructive narratives. Because, at the base of all the arguments around technology and social movements today, what really disturbs me is the way in which it can foster the kind of simplicity of thought that Stephen Carter recently tugged at in this article.
“Simplicity is the enemy of serious thought, and serious though is what this world desperately needs. And if we Americans find ourselves unable or unwilling to take the time to think deeply, then some wise, more serious, more reflective culture will supersede ours. And our defeat will be entirely deserved.”
And this whole sentiment is what Edward Said reiterates in Orientalism, or is found in the arguments presented by any of his predecessors, contemporaries, and followers. (My brainjuice, by the way).
But more recently, with a number of irony-laden Facebook posts either directly stating or circling around the belief that “slacktivism” is worthless, I started to question the place of tech in movements more and more. I started to think – what if people really do feel that this is the only option – the only way to feel truly heard in our increasingly partisan political system? With this question in mind, I got to a point where I was more annoyed with the ironic blanket criticisms than I was with any repetitious posts themselves.
And throughout the day yesterday – but particularly in the last hour at the capitol – I and hundreds of other relied on social media to find out what was happening on the other sides of the senate doors… because the news couldn’t get it to us fast enough. In the morning, news tickers and friends got me up to speed on the SB05 issue through my smart phone. I used it to search for information and contact Kirk Watson, my Texas Senate Representative (who, by the way, totally did his part on the floor last night). Social media revealed different links to drop lines and stories to Senator Davis, and I contributed these items online. Once home from work, I watched the live feed as the second point of order was debated… and when I finally made it to the capitol around 10:30 p.m., tweets were read aloud and relayed across the crowd and around the rotunda. People gathered together to listen to the tablets or i-phones, if they could even connect to the live feed amidst the amassed data waves colliding above the capitol. So many little screens lit up to record the historic moments.
And I loved it. With the risks and disadvantages of the aforementioned simplicity in mind, the benefits of disseminating knowledge quickly were clear… such a viral movement enabled by technology was essential to bringing me and hundreds of others through the capitol doors.
And just like Kony, some people woke up to Facebook timelines that read more like a morning news clip on repeat. The whole night could be summed up in (or reduced to) a few photos, headlines, or anecdotes. But… instead of determining whether military action was taken in a part of the world that the majority of Americans undoubtedly know very little about (if they could even point it out on a map before)… I consider this context different. Because it was specific, local, and our decisions were affecting our lives in a way that could be boiled down, rather than those of South Sudanese or Northern Ugandans caught in a very violent and complex international conflict (this is not to say, of course, that I promote the belief that our lives are not interconnected… I am very much a proponent of recognizing how our choices - especially in America - effect our society and humanity as a whole).
In other words, we had more foresight on this one. More media attention didn’t pull Kony out of hiding – it just dug him further in (though there are some int’l law debates to be had there as well). But in this case… the word is out. Over 100,000 people tuned in for the live feed near midnight. The Eyes of Texas are still upon the Senate… and so many other eyes around the world. And that media attention doesn’t allow them to get away with thin veneers.
“It was a f***ing sham”
Which leads me to the other portion of my revelation. And if you’ll forgive me for the language, but… SO MUCH SHIT WAS PULLED. And you’ll know it if you were watching, or have read up on some summaries. Most tangibly horrific (though certainly topped by numerous other moments): the Senate actually tried to change the timestamp of the vote on their website. But, sorrryyyyyy – technology bites ya!
A number of articles express the confusion in the last 2-4 hours of the whole scene, but it seems so perfectly summed up in what was happening just outside the doors last night. As one woman read from her laptop or cell phone, she passed the message on to 4-5 individuals closest to her. My friend Kevin turned into a human megaphone for the entire room. But as the updates regarding motions and appeals and points of orders got more and more confusing, people just started to laugh. We were all there for such a serious issue, and the politics running it all just became a joke… something well-discussed by Amy Gentry on her Tumblr yesterday.
Like Amy said – “it was a f***ing sham.” But this time, everyone was watching. Not only has my knowledge of Texas politics increased significantly in the past 24 hours – pulling on the somewhat distant lessons of the multiple courses I was required to take in both Texas history and government – but my desire to grapple with, rather than write off for comfort’s sake, the “sham-ful” moments, has been strengthened.
Most people call that kind of feeling passion. Used off-hand, it can be a pretty lightweight word. But yesterday, I had a new way to describe it… As this heavy, nebulous ball that forms in my chest, rises through my throat, and becomes tears dripping onto my broken words. This tingling sensation above my ears like a burning rage. This freeing feeling that emulates joy, but quickens your thoughts.
And when your surrounded by hundreds of people feeling this, screaming at the top of the lungs and stomping their feet, it becomes inspiration. The worms that take those quick thoughts and make your actions follow just as fast. This sense of boiling over, bursting open, and swinging like a pendulum.
And I’d felt these things before. But not quite in such historic ways as so many of us witnessed last night. The thin veneers couldn’t stop it.
Feminism is for everybody
But most of all last night, I was inspired to see feminism at work. Not the stereotyped and oversimplified understanding of it, but the one that bell hooks so concisely described as for everybody.
When the chant “Whose Choice? Our Choice!” began last night, it was shouted as a crowd. But somehow, within just two minutes, it naturally broke into male/female question/response – with the males calling “Whose Choice?” and the females responding “Our Choice!” Both genders were well represented, and both voices were LOUD.
And everything that I hold as my core feminist beliefs were being shared. And we were DOING something about it.
Feminism is FOR everybody.
But… that’s not to say we shouldn’t recognize that it doesn’t always INCLUDE everybody. With DOMA being struck down today, it only contributes further to this discussion. Even in my statements two paragraphs above I find discomfort in possibly making it seem like humans are polar opposites, without any recognition of individuals that may be transsexual or identify in any way they choose. Even in the ensuing responses from last night, you see recognition of the overwhelming “whiteness” of the crowd, while the populations most affected by the bill may be otherwise. And these are just a cherry picking of the numerous, underlying problems that still exist.
We took one big step to avoid denial of access to women’s healthcare across my beautiful state, but there are many more to go if we are actually to address the roots of the problems.
So we’re all fired up, and I love it. I just hope – most especially for myself – that this fire keeps burning. That the passion and inspiration underlying all of these actions will sustain us for those next steps. That we keep questioning, always recognizing that it is OUR CHOICE.