Hundreds of activists convened at the Texas Capitol on Monday night to participate in a rally and march protesting the Texas Senate’s passage of legislation that will increase regulations and restrictions on abortions in Texas.
The Austin demonstration was the largest in a “day of action” that saw simultaneous protests occur in cities across Texas and the rest of the country. One of the organizers of this nationwide event was Snehal Shingavi, assistant professor of English at UT, who said this kind of collective action could have a strong effect on reproductive rights.
“We think the majority of Americans are clearly on our side,” Shingavi said. “Just in the same way as in the last several years you’ve seen the tide shift in terms of public opinion on the gay marriage question … we think similar things are possible with this issue as well.”
The bill that incited these protests requires clinics that administer abortions to meet the requirements of outpatient surgical centers and that the doctors at these clinics have admitting privileges in hospitals within 30 miles. Supporters of the bill claim it makes abortions safer, however opponents claim the bill will close 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. In addition, the bill also bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and places additional restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.
The demonstration began with a rally at 7 p.m. that initially had only a few dozen participants, but grew as additional orange-clad protestors filed in over time. The rally included protest chants, a chorus of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and speeches by guest speakers. The group was headlined by columnist and former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture Jim Hightower, who criticized the Texas state government.
“The Tea Party Republicans a couple of years ago said they wanted to take Texas back,” Hightower said. “Well, they have — about 150 years. We don’t want to take Texas back, we want to take Texas forward.”
By the time the rally ended at 8 p.m., the crowd had swollen to approximately 750 in anticipation of the police-escorted march around downtown Austin. The march took the chanting protestors down Congress Avenue, onto Cesar Chavez Street, then onto Lavaca Street back toward the Capitol, with a pause at the Governor’s Mansion, in front of which the protestors shouted “shame!” in unison for several minutes.
The march was the third headed by Kristian Caballero, an activist who gave testimony before the first special session of the Texas Senate and later began to use Facebook to organize marches in protest of the abortion bill. Caballero said social media is becoming a powerful tool for political activism.
“It’s making information absolutely more accessible,” Caballero said. “It’s allowing people to carry on a conversation that has a focal point and encourages them to seek and share further information.”
One rally-goer attracted by Caballero’s online campaign was special education sophomore Valeria Matamoros, who encouraged others to use social media to spread the word about social movements.
“Social networking has brought us a long way,” Matamoros said. “Just get on the Internet, tell your friends. Word of mouth is definitely the way to go these days.”