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What Texas can teach us. By Bridget Hunter PhD.
'We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government, and stronger democracies.'
At no time was the truth of the above statement (by WikiLeaks) more evident than on 26 June 2013 in Austin, Texas, in the wee hours of the morning when the Texas state senate, under the cover of darkness, tried to pull a fast one on the people they represent.
It started the day before, on 25 June. The anti-abortion Texas senate bill 'Five' (SB5) was brought before the senate. Texas state senator Wendy Davis called it 'the most anti-woman, anti-family legislation that Texas has ever seen', and in her iconic orange tennis shoes she filibustered the bill for 13 hours until the extra session ran out.
Her filibuster, receiving help from supporters in the gallery, was successful: the senate was unable to take a vote before midnight.
SB5 should have died then and there, but it didn't. Instead, the Texas senate, in flagrant violation of its own rules, and despite the fact that the clock had run out and the bill was legally extinct, went ahead with their vote. SB5 passed 17-12, AP reported the result, and normally that would have been the end of it.
Normally. For this time it wasn't. Welcome to the age of transparency.
A spotlight was shown on the inner workings of the Texas senate that night. And it wasn't just the supporters in the gallery who were privy to the goings-on. More than 180,000 people were watching the official Texas legislature livestream on YouTube, and when the the official livestream ended at midnight, citizen-journalist Christopher Dido's USTREAM channel kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.
People weren't just watching either: they were talking too. #StandWithWendy became Twitter's top trending topic in the US. Perhaps the most telling images of the night were posted by journalist Anthony DeRosa, who first tweeted a screenshot of the official Texas legislative record showing that the vote had taken place on 26 June, a day late:
And then a little bit later posted a second screenshot showing that the official date had been changed.
As the Wikipedia article on SB5 points out:
'According to Texas Penal Code, Section 37.10, it is a crime to make an alteration that is false in a government document or record.'
The Texas legislature had been caught in its own lie, and the senate was forced to concede the bill they had tried to sneak past the people of Texas.
But the issue here isn't how anyone could have proposed, let alone illegally voted on, a bill that would have essentially taken the reproductive rights of Texans back to where they were 40 years ago, to the bad old days when a coat hanger was not just for hanging clothes. Nor is it about the amazing heroism of Wendy Davis, who stood and spoke for 13 hours straight, without a bathroom break, without even a drink of water, or even being allowed to sit down, or even to lean against a podium.
This is about the people watching. The people watching in the gallery, people tweeting, people live-streaming, so that others could see just what was going on, and where, in the words of Roxane Gay, the senate 'cheated, flagrantly, in plain sight, because they thought they could'.
One wonders how many times the Texas senate, or any senate for that matter, pulled a stunt like this when they thought no one was watching. Certainly the MSM weren't watching - read Rachel Sklar's article for her account of what the major networks were doing while all this was happening. (They were doing nothing.)
No, this time it was the citizens themselves who kept watch and kept the Texas legislature honest.
For transparency helps keep dishonest people honest. And with transparency, government is just government.
Dr Bridget Hunter is the London-based editor responsible for the 'Assange in Sweden' series. Her first book in the series is now available.
Heroes Banquet: Wendy Davis