A week ago today, along with a bazillion other people across Texas and the world, I watched the filibuster heard round the world. I knew I’d be angry about the content of the legislation being blocked (really, how do you protect women’s health by limiting care?) and inspired by Wendy Davis, who spoke for more than 11 hours and gave voice to the experiences of women across the state. What I didn’t expect was the level of disgust I felt watching sworn members of my state government flagrantly violating rules and procedures. And the level of disrespect they showed their female peers in the Senate was shocking.
Lawmaking is like sausage making. It makes many people (including me) want to turn away. But this time, instead of making me the equivalent of a political vegetarian, the meat grinder in the Texas Senate woke up my inner activist. I headed down to the Capitol yesterday with more than 6,000 other sisters and brothers clad in orange to make our voices heard.
I also didn’t expect that last week’s filibuster and this week’s rally would give me some new heroes. I guess I had become too cynical–politics is seeming less and less like a public service for so many politicians. I never tell a child that s/he can grow up to be president because I am not sure that is a compliment anymore. I felt different watching the filibuster and participating in the rally. The Representatives and Senators who spoke inspired me and woke me from my cynical political slumber. (I realize that anyone who knows me might think that slumber was awfully restless, given as I am to the occasional rant. But talking is not the same as acting.)
There was one last thing I didn’t expect. Among the ralliers and speakers, it was clear that the issues at hand went beyond abortion and women’s health–and also beyond political affiliation. It was clear to those of us there that what used to pass as pro-freedom is really an intrusive set of public policies that limit human flourishing (except for the most wealthy and politically connected). Those who claim the “moral high ground” are willing to lie, cheat, and insult to get their way. Oxymoron, anyone?
I am now in the fray and a little bit awed by the powerful emotions the political process elicits from people who are deeply engaged in divisive issues. When you face political and moral opposition, sometimes things get heated. Sometimes people on both sides start using words and tactics that get everyone angry and off-topic. It doesn’t help children, women, families, and the poor–those we are claiming to help. So I am committing to the following principles as I work for access to quality health care, reproductive choice, and voting rights:
- Respect. Just because I disagree with someone does not mean I will use derogatory language or name calling about them or their beliefs. Even if they don’t return the favor. Vigorous debate yes; insults, no.
This is a big one for me, based on a lesson I learned when I worked for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. I joined them as a volunteer before an anti-abortion activist went on a shooting spree, killing two and wounding five. I returned because they needed help in the aftermath and were too traumatized to bring in anyone they didn’t already know. For the next few years, our Executive Director and some of her colleagues met with representatives from the opposing side for a regular series of conversations. What it turned into was supportive relationships–friendships even–and some guidelines for how to hold your ground without being disrespectful. Their work was successful in bringing down the level of vitriol and violence.
So, based on what I learned from those brave women, I will respect my opponents. I will call them by the political moniker they prefer–pro-life is that is what they wish. I will listen and have a conversation with anyone who wants to discuss touchy issues. And, because respect includes self-respect, I expect the same in return. When I am called an anti-baby anti-woman murderer, that is disrespectful. I understand clearly that you do not want to talk to me and I will leave you alone. If you describe my beliefs in disrespectful terms, I will correct you.
- Truth. One thing about health care of which you can be sure, including reproductive health care, is that it involves science. Right? So my viewpoints and my advocacy are going to be based on scientific evidence that is widely accepted. In my opinion, if you cite scientific evidence to support your case, it should be subject to scrutiny–especially peer review. Science is a search for truth, not a tool for political gain.
Experience is also a way of knowing the truth. I will honor the experience of people whose lives have been and will be affected by my political actions and the proposals at hand. Where science and experience can’t inform us, we are left with opinion. And opinions, can witness to the truth, but they are not truth itself. Opinions can be philosophical, theological, moral, political, social, economic, or a zillion other kinds of opinions, but they are not facts. I have lots of opinions and share lots of opinions (I bet you do too) but it is really so much easier if we can admit that is what they are.
- Focus. There are plenty of people who can and will and need to delve into the minutia of getting a law passed or blocked. God bless them! Others of us are better at delivering care or getting out messages or raising money or registering voters. There are many ways to get involved, but for me, no matter what my task is, it is important to stay focused on the people who will pay the highest price as a consequence of public policy actions: the poor, the young, those who have no powerful allies, and women. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the work, so I will try my hardest to stay focused on the mission.
- Open heart. I am willing to learn and change and grow. It is the ONLY way to be in conversation with other people. If you show me respect and are willing to have a conversation, I am game! But it has to be mutual. Who knows, maybe we can find some common ground.
- Faith. I am a Christian who is pro-choice. I have lots of friends who are not Christians, who love their country, and are pro-choice. (I could mention a lot of other faiths here, but I am speaking for myself and how I intend to act with regard to my own faith tradition.) While I believe that there should be no establishment of religion in America (including Texas, y’all), my political motivations and decisions are informed by my faith. Did you catch that? It is possible to honor your faith and your God without dishonoring others. I won’t accept the use of religion to abuse or exclude people in the public square.
I have my orange protest shoes on and am ready to march! or email or sort mail or deliver bottled water. Whatever. My shoes are not exactly like Wendy’s, but then again my job is different from hers. I’ll see you at the altar, at the Capitol, and in the voting booth.