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North and South

It’s raining here, softly but firmly, and Wendy Davis is filibustering in Texas.

She’s speaking in a low, quiet voice in the other tab, talking about admitting privileges, standing quietly as Senators raise points of order, resuming her flood of speech flawlessly when the floor is returned to her. Her voice is calm and clear, measured, thoughtful, as she explains a subsection of SB5. My Twitter is flooded with commentary on Davis, on SB5, on reproductive rights. The Texas Senate is filled with people in orange, most of them women, coming out in droves to support the right to choose; to refuse the restrictions on abortion services embedded in SB5, the attempt to deprive them of access to basic medical services.

The past few years have been particularly bad ones when it comes to reproductive autonomy.I am reminded of the scene in V for Vendetta with the dominoes, the one at the very end where everything has finally come together and flick they’re falling, slowly at first and then faster and faster, and then suddenly they’ve all fallen into V’s symbol, slashes of red and black, finished, pattern completed. Across the United States, the dominoes are falling, faster and faster, as state after state after state takes rights away in the guise of ‘protecting women.’

Wendy Davis is filibustering. She plans to stand for 13 hours without eating, drinking, or using the bathroom. She cannot lean on her podium, and she must stay on-topic, focusing on the bill and related subjects. She’s surrounded by a room of hostile people who want nothing more than to see her fail, because if she fails, SB5 can go to vote, the Senate can pass it, Texas women will have that much more trouble accessing abortions in a state where getting access to reproductive health services is already extremely difficult.

Restrictions on abortion cast are often cast as a uniquely Southern problem, like many other conservative policies in the US. But they aren’t, not with California’s parental notification laws, Ohio’s fetal heartbeat bill, Rhode Island’s TRAP laws. They are a national problem, a reflection of a consciousness that is shifting against choice, against bodily autonomy, against reproductive freedom. They are an indicator of a country that strongly believes that some people are not full human beings, and so not deserve equal access to basic medical care.

There are attitudes among many liberal corners of this country that ‘these things’ don’t happen in their states, and that ‘the South’ is a uniform monolith; ‘what’s the matter with [State Name]’ is a statement oft-heard on the lips of supposedly progressive types. In making statements like that, they write off all the hard work of people on the ground. Of heroines like Wendy Davis, standing on her feet for 13 hours defending the rights of people in her state to access abortions when they need them. Of grassroots organisers and abortion providers and activists and lobbyists across the US South fighting for reproductive rights and, in fact, human rights in general.

Not just for reproductive rights but for voting rights, for LGBQT rights, for equal access to education, for an end to abuses in the justice system, for an acknowledgement of the tremendous problems caused by class inequality, for an end to racial injustice.

We humans have a tendency to become insular. There is a sense of pleasure in the echo chamber, of being surrounded by those with similar ideas, of identifying those outside the inner circle to target. This manifests itself in the way many people outside the South seem to talk about it, as a place separate from the real world, inhabited by people who are not actually human beings. A land of backwards white racists, unlike us virtuous progressives in the post-racial North.

There is a lot of concerntrolling about ‘the South’ as a place of abject horrors and inhumane acts, but it never actually recognises the autonomy and humanity of the people who live there. Outsiders seem convinced that they know everything about the South, and that they alone hold the key to solving all the problems of the South; as though these problems do not exist in the North, and as though no one is working on them in the South.

When I see Wendy Davis filibustering, I think of women politicians across the US who have fought long and hard to protect their constituents, sometimes without success in the face of hostile conservative lawmakers. I think of women lawmakers who have spoken out about rape, abortion, incest, and other crimes, who at times have personalised their testimony and at others drawn upon the experiences of the people they represent to defend them on the floors of legislatures across the country. I think of all these women and all their hard work and how they’re found everywhere, East, West, South, Midwest.

I look up into the gallery and see speckles of orange, people who have turned out to bear witness to her testimony, cheering her on silently. And I think of the organisers working in the South to fight for human rights; to tackle racial imbalances, to defend bodily autonomy, to protect the environment, to do so many things to make the world a better place. And they do so not only against the opposition of conservative forces in society, but against the people in the North who look down their noses at them, saying that the South is populated with backwards people who need outside intervention.

It is rare to see actual solidarity when it comes to groups from outside the South working with people inside the South. There’s a great deal of dictating about how things should be done and who should do them, about how the South is filled with conservative hicks with outdated ideas, and a great deal of denial on the part of people outside the South when it comes to their own social problems. And the long, complex history of those social problems.

I see Wendy Davis on the floor defiantly holding her ground and I salute her not just because she is protecting her constituents, because she is doing a brave and great thing, but because she is doing so in a state that many progressives outside the South say is backwards, without hope, without redemption, filled with conservative, narrow-minded, horrible people. Because she is living evidence that stereotypes about the South need serious reevaluation, have needed it for a very long time, and that instead of riding its high horse, perhaps regions outside the South should consider working in solidarity, should join forces with those in the South who are fighting so hard for their rights.


  1. Moira wrote:

    Go Girl

    I am from the UKand have been an advicate for a wimens rught to choose since the 8o’s and my political enlightenment over the Miners Strike in great britain.
    While we have had to protect our abortion act a few times and it shockingly does not exist in the republic of Ireland .. The extent and influence of the pro life lobby has been kept at bay by many men and women from accross the political parties supporting a womans right to choose..
    I hope you are suuccessful but fear you need a national debate again … Which probably wont ever happen ….

    Good luck i will follow this with you and wear my orange pashmina today x

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 2:17 am | Permalink
  2. JLOsm wrote:

    With the latest news indicating that Davis succeeded, I can only stand in awe over here in the UK.

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink
  3. GGeek wrote:

    Thank you for this moving piece, s.e.

    I was watching the live stream and living and dying with every parliamentary inquiry, every heart-breaking story, every fact-filled letter from medical organizations, and it was truly an uplifting experience.

    Despite the attempted illegal vote at the end of the night, Davis’ efforts and the solidarity and enthusiasm of the crowd in the gallery prevailed.

    This was a great example of the power of social media to connect people. Connecting with real people, hearing their stories, seeing their struggles, is the only way we’ll ever be able to push past internal prejudices and casual dismissals of the Other and consolidate our power to overturn oppression.

    Thank you again.

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  4. Enjoyed your article but, as a native of the great state of Texas, I have to correct you on a not uncommon assumption: Texas is NOT a southern state, it’s a southwestern (heavy on the western) state.
    Just FYI and keep up the good work!

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink
  5. Brian Blackwell snr wrote:

    Great stuff! Congratulations on a superb article and for hailing the amazing Wendy Davis for her bravery. Maintain the rage!

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  6. Hayley B wrote:

    YES yes yes

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink