June 27, 2013

Wendy Davis and the Texas Abortion Filibuster – Lasting Images

Note: A brief apology up front. I’m in the process of relocating to NorCal from SoCal after all these years so I’ve been distracted this week and running a little behind. My final destination is Berkeley but I’ll be in the Watsonville and Santa Cruz area until late August. Because I spent a week or so in Corralitos every year, usually paired with a few days in Yosemite, I had a running joke with longtime Bag readers about the time I had to bootleg a signal in front of the Aptos fire department. Does anyone remember that? I guess major transitions bring out some nostalgia. I’m in that frame of mind, too, because BagNews will shortly be transitioning to a new design. We hope the changes will make the site easier to use and give more distinct identity, and impetus to Notes, Originals and Salon. As part of my geographical shift, I will also be upping my commitment to Bag as well as increasing my lecturing schedule and helping our team put on more online and live Salons. Bag is expanding, and we’re excited about offering you more original content as well as substantial pieces of analysis, with several major things in the works.


As for Wendy Davis and the filibuster of Senate Bill 537, the visuals from the drama in the Texas State Legislature the other night represents a wellspring. I’ll be drawing most of the pics from the Austin American-Statesman and I’m building this post in real time so I’ll be adding images as I go along this morning.

The image above might be little heavy-handed as there are others (1, 2)  that show a woman on the rostrum. Still, it’s easy to appreciate where photographer Ricardo B. Brazziell is going, Ms. Davis in the foreground facing not just Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, but the institutional trappings of the old boys club. (That the only other woman in this frame happens to be a stenographer is a nice touch also.)  Dewhurst, if you weren’t follow that closely, is now famous for his quote in the wee hours that: “An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.”

What we take for granted in our society is the distance between citizens and legislatures. Because of how rare it was perhaps, the Statesman spent many frames in its slideshow capturing the interaction between the vociferous gallery and the pro-choice lawmakers on the floor. I personally don’t remember a situation in which the two groups in this kind of setting became so symbiotically  connected, tapping into each other for such energy and support.

Notice Davis’ upward gaze in the middle shot, by the way. We see images of lawmakers everyday looking up to the flag, or to God like that. But how often do you see such a look to the public?

If the law hadn’t provided as much leeway, the outcome the other night would have likely been quite different. Still, how unnerving is this, not just from the standpoint of crowd control but for the larger symbolism? — the line of male cops, juxtaposed with the chain of all female abortion rights advocates, symbolizing the role of the state in the determination of women’s access to abortion services.

After seeing some of these photos…

I did a double take when I saw this one.

I had to do some searching to verify that Davis, with the help of her colleague, Rodney Ellis, was simply putting on a back support belt in the seventh hour of the filibuster. When your just looking at pictures, they aren’t captioned, and the point of the day had to do with women’s bodies, reproductive rights and what could happen without access to proper medical procedures, I couldn’t tell right off what kind of ritual or device the State Senator might have been demonstrating.

Finally, the Statesman gallery (not to mention, the newswire) is full of images of those red tennis shoes, the object the filibuster will likely be remembered by. If a little fuzzier and distant, I like this shot. More discrete as it is, it’s easier for us to relate to the pain of all those hours.

Austin American-Statesman slideshow.

(photo 1, 8 & 10: Ricardo B. Brazziell. photo 2-7, 9: Alberto Martinez)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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