It still resonates. And I believe it will continue to resonate for a lot longer.
The thousands of Texans whose screaming protest of anti-abortion legislation brought the Capitol to a standstill June 25 will mark the one-year anniversary much more quietly this week, yielding to the reality of abortion as a political issue in the most scarlet of red states.
The activists say they are as dedicated as ever to defending abortion rights, and Democrats certainly are working to raise money off of the “People’s Filibuster” of House Bill 2, with a commemorative website and an anniversary fundraiser in Austin featuring their nominees for governor and lieutenant governor – state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte – two players in last year’s nationally watched drama.
The strategy illustrates how the anniversary is a double-edged sword for Davis, the filibuster’s face, but also for Van de Putte and the rest of a Democratic Party eager to reignite the passion of last summer but unable to afford to alienate moderates in a state that still opposes abortion.
“At the end of the day, elections are about turning out your base and winning over swing voters,” said Mark Jones, chair of the political science department at Rice University. “The anniversary is going to mobilize the base, but it’s not going to persuade swing voters, and it’s not an issue on which a Democrat is going to win.”
“Effectively,” Jones said, “Davis (and other Democrats) need to walk a tightrope.”
With all due respect, now is not the time to worry about swing voters. Now, and all the way through November, is the time to ensure as many Democratic voters and would-be Democratic voters are fully engaged and involved. I fully agree that Dems will need some number of people to split their vote if we want to have a chance to win one or more statewide elections, but if the base level isn’t high enough it just won’t matter. I mention this to everyone I talk to – only about one half of the people that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 came out to vote for Democrats in 2010. This is a big part of the reason why Bill White is described today as “former Houston Mayor Bill White” and not “Governor Bill White” despite his greatly impressive crossover performance. We can worry about the people who find some or all of the Republican statewide slate scary on a variety of issues but just can’t get past the abortion thing, however many of those people there may be, at a later time. For right now, if we’re not talking to the Presidential-year-only Democratic voters and unregistered people who would vote Democratic if they were registered, we’re doing it wrong.
To be very clear, I’m not dismissing the importance of swing voters. We’re going to need all of them we can get. All I’m saying is let’s not put the cart before the horse. If Dems get the same 1.7 to 1.8 million base vote they’ve been getting for the past three non-Presidential elections, it’s just not going to matter how well Davis or Leticia Van de Putte does among swing voters. There won’t be enough of them to matter.
So the celebrations and commemorations this week are really important. The energy we had one year ago was real and it was incredible. You can’t sustain that level over that long a period of time without burning out, but there’s been a good simmer all along, and you can see it in the work that’s being done by the Davis and Van de Putte and other statewide campaigns and by Battleground Texas and many other grassroots organizations that were there that day and that night. For a fantastic oral history of what all went down at the Capitol that week, go visit Fight Back Texas and read the stories. Remember what happened, feel again what you felt one year ago, attend an event if you can, and then channel that into some kind of outreach. Go find a BGTx phonebank or block walk event and join in. That’s what we need, for the next five months and beyond. Let the pros worry about this demographic or that. Take the time now to talk to our people, and make sure they know what’s at stake.