The story of the South has been written through the coverage of its seemingly larger-than-life politicians, and Texas is no exception to that. There’s James “Pa” Ferguson, a “wet” (anti-temperance) Governor who was impeached from office in 1917, only to have his wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, sent by popular vote to the Governor’s Mansion on the slogan, ”Me for Ma, and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa.” There’s W. Lee O’Daniel, the flour magnate known as “Pappy” who turned his popularity from both business and music into a term as Governor and a term as a U.S. Senator (and serving as the inspiration for Charles Durning’s character in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, also named Pappy O’Daniel). In that 1941 special election for the U.S. Senate, he would become the only person to ever hand an electoral defeat to a then-little-known Hill Country Congressman by the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who would go on to do some great things in his own right. And who can forget about Ann Richards, the quick-witted State Treasurer who once told us about the silver foot that was firmly lodged in Vice President George H.W. Bush’s mouth? She would also be elected Texas’ 45th Governor in 1990, defeating a colorful politician who will forever be known for comments that were, well, off-color, to put it mildly.
Into this political tradition steps Wendy Davis, a State Senator who seized the hearts, minds, and computer screens of liberals and progressives across the country with a 11-hour filibuster against SB5, a bill that would have shuttered many of the state’s abortion clinics by placing onerous and expensive regulations on them and their doctors with the hope that they would be forced out of business. While the law was eventually passed and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, he had to call a second special session to do so, as Davis, her fellow Senate Democrats, and thousands of activists in the Texas State Capitol ran out the clock and killed the bill at midnight on June 26, 2013. It was an energizing synergy of grassroots activism and steely legislative determination of the likes unseen in Texas, or rest of the South, in more than a generation.
And it was not even her first time filibustering bad policy: two years prior, Davis forced Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) to call a special session of the Texas Legislature as she filibustered draconian funding cuts to the state’s education system.
But while all of that was amazing to have witnessed, that is not why Wendy Davis gives me hope. This is:
“U.S. Sen. John McCain won 52.1 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential race, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 53.3 percent in the 2012 presidential race in that district, and Gov. Rick Perry won with 52.7 percent in 2010.”
Wendy Davis represents a solidly Republican district. And yet, she has shown progressive leadership on two issues that are under constant attack from conservatives all across the South: education and reproductive rights. She has won against all odds time and time again, for us. And now she needs our help once again.
A Wendy Davis victory will provide the blueprint for progressive victories across the rest of the South, and will show that our issues and votes matter just as much as the conservatives that Democrats always prioritize over us. That is why this fight does not belong to just the people in Austin, or El Paso, or the colonias along the Rio Grande Valley, or the thick pine woods of East Texas. This fight belongs to all of us as Southern progressives. Period.
As such, we must #GiveToWendy anything we can over the next thirteen months. Phone calls, door knocks, time for data entry, blog space, tweets, Facebook statuses, anything that we can muster.
Also, we must give our money. Think of it as an investment in a new South that will see all of its citizens as equals. Think of it as paying it forward for your progeny; they will appreciate a South that believes in healthcare, education, and socioeconomic security as rights for all, and not privileges for a few. I will be thinking of my grandmother when I donate, who did not battle the forces of oppression through her lifetime in order to see hard-won freedoms for communities of color and women rolled back by politicians whose odious policies always fall on the backs of “the least of these”.
Please join The South Lawn in supporting Wendy Davis as she leads the charge for a new South. Our future depends on it.