If you’re going to break the rules, don’t do it with thousands of people watching.
This past week, the Texas Senate saw an attempt by Sen. Wendy Davis at a 13-hour filibuster to block an abortion bill that analysts said would likely close a large portion of Texas’ abortion clinics due to strict regulations. Although the filibuster ended at the 10-hour mark when the senator was called off for going off topic, her fellow Democrats bridged the three-hour gap to midnight, when the bill would expire, with other delaying tactics.
Then the Republican-majority Senate voted anyway and pretended it had happened before midnight.
Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice doesn’t necessarily matter as much as the underhanded political proceedings that Texas and thousands of people around the country watched live that day through social media updates and livestream.
The rules of the filibuster Sen. Davis embarked on included the following: no sitting, no leaning, no bathroom breaks and no getting off topic. The senator stood on the Senate floor in tennis shoes and a list of personal stories supporting the need for legal, safe abortion access that she’d gathered using social media. We have to hand it to her — while it wasn’t the longest talking filibuster in our government’s history (the record is 24 hours and 18 minutes against the 1957 Civil Rights Bill), she certainly had a good deal of commitment in defending what she believed in.
While keeping track of the live coverage, many pro-Davis supporters were outraged when the Senate called her out on going off topic, eventually to the point that the filibuster was forced to end. Many watchers, both in the building itself and on their computers at home, believed that those against Davis were looking for excuses to get her off the floor regardless of if they were founded, and with what happened later that night, it doesn’t seem difficult to believe.
The Senate was so intent on having Sen. Davis follow the rules that they couldn’t really be bothered to do so themselves. Numerous screenshots of the Senate website showed that the vote on the bill was definitely after midnight. But minutes later, someone had edited the website to show it was before midnight (it was later changed back), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared that the bill had passed (about an hour later, he reversed the decision).
There’s a reverse side of the story, though. The galley in the Senate chambers was packed with Davis supporters. Near midnight, the noise and chanting coming from them made it difficult to hear anything on the floor, let alone hold a vote. Some might claim that the public unnecessarily and unfairly interrupted political proceedings and delayed the vote to past midnight.
Some others might say, though, that the people were speaking their opinion, and the Senate, the ones they’d elected to represent them, should listen.
In either case, that’s no excuse for editing the public records on the website. It makes it look like the Republican majority in support of passing the bill were so desperate to get their way that they had to bend the rules to do it. Some might point out that Sen. Davis’ attempt at a filibuster at the Democrats’ supporting stalling tactics was also unfair gameplay, but with the Republican party’s record levels of filibustering on a national level and a gridlocked Congress at every turn, it’s almost a double standard to shame the Democratic senator for trying to use the same tools her party opponents flaunt.
The whole issue might not have even been that big of a deal if the entire session hadn’t been livestreamed. If reporters and attendees hadn’t swarmed Twitter and other social networking sites, keeping track of everything from the time of events on the Senate website to key quotes and groups of supporters at the building.
With the widespread access to immediate social media, the public is placing themselves both in the role of media reporters and political proponents. And if the website changes and outspoken galley crowd is any indication, they rightly should. With politicians being watched more closely than ever by the people who elected them, maybe they’ll be more likely to think twice before engaging in any questionable behaviors.
Or maybe they’ll continue believing that they know better than the rest of the population. After all, they were elected.
As of writing this, a special second session called by Perry’s to resolve the issue (read: force the vote for the abortion bill through, he promises) is in session and probably won’t do much with the bill over the next week, what with the holiday. We’ll have to see how it turns out and how this entire affair will set the example for future political wars in a country that seems to get more broken with every passing bill.