Nothing better illustrates the truth of Jay Rosen‘s pronouncement that “the watchdog press is dead” than the events on the evening of Tuesday, June 25th, in the Texas State Senate. The Republican majority planned to push though the anti-abortion Senate Bill No. 5. While CNN considered baked goods, the reportage from Texas was accomplished by citizen journalists, and global distribution was achieved various social media feeds.
This is a perfect example of why we need a free and open Internet.
Senator Wendy Davis vs. #SB5
Last night something very important happened down in Texas, something that if you weren’t following as it happened, you’re probably not going to hear the whole truth about. I was one of the people who was in the right place to watch, and so I’m now going to try to pass on the word as best I can.
The Texas senate voted yesterday on a bill that essentially would have closed nearly every abortion clinic in the state. To try to counter the bill (which was heavily supported by the Republican majority, senator Wendy Davis attempted a one-woman day-long filibuster, during which time she spoke on the subject while going without food, water, bathroom breaks or being allowed to sit down or even lean on her table for support. She lasted nearly eleven hours before being ruled off topic on a technicality. A second female senator then stepped up and tried to continue the filibuster by asking for salient points to be repeated to her, as she missed part of the session that day to attend her father’s funeral.
But here’s where things get interesting. With fifteen minutes before the midnight deadline, the lieutenant governor ordered the senate to proceed, and actually had the democrats’ microphones cut off. The spectators in the assembly responded by cheering, chanting and generally causing a ruckus, in order to drown out attempts at a vote. The midnight deadline passed without a vote being taken, but the chair held a vote after midnight, as the spectators were forced out of the assembly. During all of this, there was no coverage on MSNBC, CNN or any other major news network, with the only coverage coming from a livestream set up by the Teas Tribune.
At 12:15, the Associated Press ran a story saying the bill had passed, which CBS picked up. This was based on a sole source, which the AP later admitted was a republican senator. Meanwhile in the chambers, the senators stood around, both sides confused if the vote had even happened, if they had even voted on the correct issue. The chair had left with the lieutenant governor without ending the session. The Tribune’s feed was cut at 12:20 with 70,000 people watching. CNN at this point was talking about the deliciousness of muffins.
Outside in the halls of the senate building, thousands of people were packed wall to wall, chanting “shame, shame”, while thousands more were outside.
State police had formed a barricade around the entrance hall, and were making sporadic arrests (50 or so by night’s end) and confiscating cameras.
In the thick of it was a guy named Christopher Dido, who used his cell phone and a live stream to report on what was happening. He was the only journalist in America who was filming at the senate, with as many as 30,000 people watching the stream at one time, and over 200,000 viewers by night’s end.
He did this while the state police surrounded the protesters in the building, some of them with nightsticks drawn. The police at this time refused to let through food or water that people tried to send in, instead eating and drinking it themselves. They also barricaded access to vending machines and water fountains within the building, and were said to have blocked off access to the washrooms for at least a period of time.
Meanwhile, journalists still inside the chambers tweeted out news updates, which were disseminated and retweeted by people like Matt Fraction, Felicia Day and Will Wheaton, reaching an audience that would otherwise have probably not seen or heard what happened next.
The senate was recalled 90 minutes after its midnight end point, to determine whether or not the vote was valid- behind closed doors with no microphones, and only the Senate’s own muted camera. Then something disturbing happened. The senate website carries the official record of the caucus. It listed the vote as happening past midnight, on June 26th. Until suddenly it didn’t. The date was quietly manually changed to 6/25, the minutes altered to say the vote happened at 11:59, despite almost 200,000 people watching live who saw differently. Suddenly twitter and other social media sites blew up with before-and-after screen shots.
Inside the closed sessions, the democrats were made aware of the alterations and brought them up- without social media, almost no one would have known, and never in time. Ultimately, based on the fraudulent alterations, the GOP conceded defeat, admitting the vote had taken place at 12:03, and declaring the bill to be dead. When this happened, the AP and CBS said the vote was overturned, never admitting to shoddy journalism. CNN ignored the story until this morning, because muffins take priority.
Yesterday, I witnessed women’s rights under fire, a crippled legal system that didn’t represent its people, a corrupt government body attempting to commit a crime in front of hundreds of thousands of witnesses, and the complete failure of the main stream media. I also witnessed a woman performing a nearly superhuman act to do what was right, the power of the people making themselves heard both in person and online, and the extraordinary value of one young man with a cellphone making sure people saw and heard the truth about what was going on.
Anyone reading the papers or watching network news today won’t get the full story. Hopefully enough people saw it unfold live, that the lessons from last night won’t be forgotten.
“To make this clear, I was not in Texas yesterday, I’m on the far side of the continent. Wendy and her fellow senators made history yesterday. Christopher DiDo made history. The other protesters and supporters made history. I followed along from the comfort of my home.
“I wrote this because I wanted to get their message out to people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it. I didn’t want the truth of what happened to be list in a sea of more palatable lies and omissions. But I wasn’t a part of any of this. I did nothing but watch other people taking risks, speak to people who were making change, and type up a neat summary of history.”
This article was originally published on Facebook.
Karsten School Twitter Screen Capture used under Fair Dealing
Senator Wendy Davis by Equity Texas released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License