It was late, around midnight, and a fixed video camera showed a legislative chamber recessing in chaos. In the gallery, protesters were shouting, "Hell no, we won't go." Outside in the rotunda, and from the floors above, thousands joined in the cry, sending it swirling into the dome and reverberating on the chamber floor. It was their declaration of independence from an oppressive government unrepresentative of the people.
At a glance, you might've thought you were looking at the North Carolina General Assembly building on a Moral Monday in Raleigh. But this was the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, last Tuesday night. That's when the New Revolution of the American South—which history will record as having started in North Carolina in the spring of 2013—spread to the Lone Star State.
Texas and North Carolina, about to secede from the Republican South and rejoin the Union? That would be the end of the Grand Old Party.
If Reconstruction after the Civil War was the Second American Revolution, this will be our Third: the Revolution that finally liberates the South from the deadening grip of property-owning white males.
It's something to think about on the Fourth of July.
What happened in Austin may one day be recalled as our Bunker Hill, where a state senator named Wendy Davis, a teenage mom-turned-Harvard law school grad, stood as tall in her pink Mizuno running shoes as Gen. Washington—and fired the shot heard 'round the political world.
As with the first American Revolution, however, the fate of the cause rests not with a general or a politician, though strong leadership is needed. It rests with the people.
The purpose of government, according to the Declaration of Independence, is to guard the people's "Safety and Happiness"—our inalienable rights.
It seems that in Texas, like North Carolina, a great many people are very unhappy.
The battle in Austin was over women's reproductive rights and who should determine them, the women themselves or a state government controlled, as in North Carolina, by white male Republicans.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, so bumbling as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was behind Senate Bill 5, a regulatory hot mess designed to close most of the abortion clinics in his state, thwarting the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that a woman has the right to safely terminate her pregnancy.
SB 5 was a late addition to a special legislative session due to end at midnight Tuesday. When it came to a final vote Tuesday morning, Sen. Davis, a Democrat, was ready with her comfortable shoes and—it's since been revealed—a catheter. She proceeded to filibuster the bill for the next 12 hours, in accord with Texas requirements that she remain standing without assistance, without bathroom breaks and without straying from the subject of the bill.
Finally, with midnight approaching, the Republicans shut her down, ruling her remarks "not germane." But it was too late. Davis's filibuster was already the stuff of cyberspace legend due to some 730,000 tweets, including one from the White House (@BarackObama: "Something special is happening in Austin tonight"), which linked to a video feed from the Texas Tribune; it was retweeted 9,000 times.
That's how I stumbled on Davis, and I was immediately transfixed watching white men in the Texas Senate debate whether a ruling by the chair that a member's remarks weren't germane should itself be subject to debate. Back and forth they went, Republican men and Democratic men, until at 11:45 p.m. Central Time, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte rose with a different parliamentary inquiry.
"At what point," she demanded, "does a female senator have to raise her hand in order to be recognized over a male senator?"
From the gallery, loud stirring became an angry chant, "Let her speak! Let her speak!" At that point, those of us watching (the online audience peaked at an estimated 180,000) realized that word of Davis' filibuster had drawn thousands of Texans to the Capitol, where they jammed the halls outside the chamber. Hearing the chant, the crowd commenced to yell so loudly that the senators literally couldn't hear themselves talk. There was a vote, but the tally wasn't recorded until 12:02 a.m.
SB 5 failed because the vote came after midnight. What Davis' filibuster started, the people finished.
The Republicans have called another special session, determined to pass their law. But the damage to them is done. They've made Davis a folk heroine. And they've shown the people of Texas that they are a government of, by and for white men—inept white men at that.
Now there's talk that Davis will run for governor next year, against Perry if he runs again. But Texas, the nation's second largest state, is a red state—the bulwark of the Republican South. Isn't it?
No, it isn't. It's a state where the Republicans win by suppressing (and gerrymandering) the votes of a fast-growing Hispanic population that eventually will overwhelm them and turn Texas blue—especially if a lot of angry women work their Mizunos off getting Democrats to the polls.
Back in Raleigh, meanwhile, the Moral Monday crowds continue to swell while Republican legislators—white men and a few white women—ignore or insult them. ("Moron Mondays," Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-Wilmington, called them.)
The Moral Monday crowd thinks their government should protect the safety and happiness of women as well as men, gays as well as straights, blacks and Hispanics as well as whites. And, of course, the working poor as well as the supposedly job-creating rich who've done so poorly creating jobs.
It's like the Boston Tea Party—they object to what the Republicans are doing, but fundamentally they object to the fact that the Republicans are as unrepresentative of the state's population now as England's Parliament and King George were of the American colonies.
Unfair laws by an unrepresentative government: It didn't last then, and it won't last now.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Third American Revolution."