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Blue The Nation | April 18, 2014

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The Five Impacts of the Wendy Davis Filibuster

The Five Impacts of the Wendy Davis Filibuster
Jonathan Nathan

“Wendy Davis just showed up.”

So said one of my friends on Facebook the other night, as the Texas state Senator’s famous filibuster, staged in successful opposition to a draconian anti-abortion law, ticked down toward its final moments. I don’t know exactly what he meant, but I know what it means. Or rather, I know what Wendy Davis’ filibuster means. This was a watershed moment for the state of Texas, for the American politicosphere, for the abortion rights debate, for American women, and for the Democratic Party’s liberal base. In the end, it hardly matters that the bill itself will be passed in the second emergency session called by Governor Rick Perry for the month of July. Just as it didn’t matter whether the Komen Foundation reinstated its funding to Planned Parenthood last year. These are symbolic moments heavy with meaning, and what they represent is far more important than what they are.

1. Wendy Davis might be the Governor of Texas in 2015.

Progressive leading lights like Daily Kos have already started a campaign to draft Davis into the 2014 gubernatorial race in Texas, and they have a point. Davis’ show-stopping performance has been a lightning rod for Texas progressives and Democrats. The slumbering giant of Texas liberalism may finally be waking up. Keep in mind that Cecile Richards, the head honcho at Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is the daughter of a former Texas Governor. There’s a very strong blue streak in the state which has largely been rendered helpless, impotent, and ineffective due to its own faltering fortitude and strongarm Republican tactics.

2. The “Turn Texas Blue” movement just got a lot stronger.

It depends on who you ask, but there are a lot of folks–and not just on the left–who believe that the future of Texas is blue or purple, not red. Hell, even Ted Cruz has acknowledged as much. Some folks say it’ll happen in 2020, some in 2018, some even say in 2016. But Wendy Davis may have just provided Democrats with an opportunity to turn the state blue or purple as early as 2014. She’s brought the aforementioned blue streak back to life. And so has Governor Rick Perry. In calling a second emergency session to get the anti-abortion bill passed, Perry is hoping to galvanize his own base against Davis’ inevitable challenge, but the Republican electorate in Texas is bloated and apathetic. All he’s doing is getting Democrats charged up. Says Terri Burke, head of the Texas ACLU, “In Texas, this right-wing extremism has dominated our politics, and finally those in the middle, and those who are left-leaning, have found their voice. They really finally realized there were more of them than they thought there were.”

And there’s plenty to get charged up about. There isn’t much low-hanging fruit in the grove of Texas legislative seats currently held by the GOP, but there are three or four state Senate seats and 17 or 18 state House seats that could be picked off with effective campaigns. The Dems would need net pickups of four in the state Senate and 26 in the state House to claim majorities, so it’s probably not likely that they’ll take control of the levers of state power, but they can absolutely make the state much more purple than it currently is. If Davis sits in the Governor’s chair and the Democrats are only down 16-15 in the Senate and 80-70 in the House, that’s not going to be a raging red state anymore. Plus, never underestimate the power of the party-switcher. There are bound to be some moderate Texas Republicans itching to switch caucuses to give the Democrats control of one or both chambers.

3. This could and should be the Komen/Planned Parenthood-style momentum-shift of the 2014 election cycle.

In 2012, the single biggest difference-maker that delivered a solid victory to the Democratic slate was the abortion issue. When the Komen Foundation pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, the pro-choice lobby instantly went to war. The public relations backlash was immense. Komen reinstated the funding, but the organization still hasn’t recovered from the black eye it suffered. More importantly, listless, disillusioned liberals were galvanized into vigorous, proactive progressive activists. When Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (to name a few of the various Republicans who screwed up) made their dumb remarks about abortion and rape, the progressive pro-choice movement was already organized and ready to pounce. This Texas thing can–and should–become the driving force behind yet another galvanization of progressives in the 2014 election cycle.

4. Women in politics, already gaining steam after historic gains in the 2012 elections, are poised to become serious players on a national level.

We’re increasingly seeing progressive Democratic women taking leading roles in the national political conversation. Hillary Clinton is no longer referred to as “shrill” and unlikable; she’s a Presidential frontrunner, possibly the Presidential frontrunner. Claire McCaskill used to be a vulnerable, lame-duck Democrat who’d lost her re-election bid almost as soon as she won her seat in the first place; today she’s a political trendsetter. And Wendy Davis just commanded a nation’s attention with a parliamentary procedural move, a filibuster, a word which has come to mean everything we don’t like about politics. And yet we fell in love with–or at least paid attention to–this passionate, dedicated woman and her defiant, thirteen-hour-long tirade against patriarchal restrictions on women’s rights.

5. The movers and shakers of the American left may finally be figuring out how to get their base involved more than once every four years.

I’ve written before about the need to keep the progressive left active, excited, and involved even when there’s not a Presidential election on. It seems obvious, but the Democrats–or rather progressives–have utterly failed to do it in my lifetime. The Davis filibuster presents an object lesson in how to make it happen. As has been reported elsewhere, the #StandWithWendy social media campaign that made a viral sensation of Davis’ procedural move was not unplanned. And this is the lesson: every time something big comes up, make it a massive viral media campaign. How are we able to organize like this around a state law in Texas–a state law that will almost certainly pass eventually anyway–but we can’t make it happen at the national level? The answer is that all too often, we simply do not try.