All Over But the Screaming

It had been sweltering and miserable in Austin for a few days, but then a cool front edged its way into town and the temperature plunged into the nineties. The front coincided with last Monday’s march on the state Capitol for women’s rights, which convinced me that God must be a pro-choice woman.

Speaking of which, I was with my daughter. She was in town to hunt for wedding venues, but it isn’t every day you get to storm the capitol with a member of your immediate family.

So, we wore identical orange T-shirts marking us as part of what the Republicans had called an “unruly mob,” with definitions of the term on the shirt back. I.e., “unruly” refers to women who aren’t docile, and “mob” is a group of two or more women who don’t know their place. So many people took photos of those definitions that I’m pretty sure my back is now famous.



At the capitol, the crowd was large and loud and dressed in orange. Wendy Davis spoke, along with other prochoice politicians, and Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks powerhouse, sang. “I feel sorry for the Republicans,” one young woman in orange commented. “They don’t have any decent entertainers to haul out — have you noticed?”

The crowd screamed and raised placards telling Texas Governor Rick Perry to keep his mits off their bodies and state government out of their uteruses.

I sat under a tree, where the view was bad, but who cared? I wasn’t one of the young people who could walk and scream and text and tweet at the same time. My idea of multitasking is writing and breathing at the same time.

The rally went on and we finally staggered home. The next day, we showed up again at the capitol, this time for testimony in the House on the anti-choice bill. The testimony had been rescheduled at the last minute, then thoughtfully confined to a small hearing room. For a bunch of guys who so deeply care about women’s health, the Texas Republicans don’t seem to show much interest in seeing women in the flesh.

I waited in line for hours to get into the hearing room. Around me, the pro-choicers in orange and forced-birth advocates in blue eyed one another warily. For the most part, no words were exchanged. When people from the two sides bumped into each other or approached a closed door, they were almost elaborately polite to one another. Most Southerners would rather drop their pants than their manners; we simply can’t help ourselves, except at football games.

Finally, at 8 pm or so, I was allowed into the packed room. Person after person testified about the proposed bill — male, female, young, old, conservative, liberal, you name it. They whispered, they spoke loudly, they were furious, they were weary. They’d been wronged by abortions, they’d been butchered by illegal abortions, they all wanted to protect women, they all cared — every last one of them.

You go numb after awhile, being around so much passion and heat and certitude. More than numb, you also grow weary and wonder where this will all lead. How much fury and money and decades and energy will be spent to continue this impasse and sheer insanity? Both sides, at this point, are implacable.

I should know. I’m implacable myself. Sick and tired of it all, but implacable.

Tell me you’re pro-life. Fine. I believe it. I can feel your sincerity, your concern.

But tell me you’re also doing everything you can to make abortion unnecessary — such as insisting on sex education and available contraceptives. Tell me you not only weep for the little fingers and toes of the pre-born — but you support single mothers and their children with health care and education and employment training and daycare.

Do that, please. I’d love to hear it. Until then, your fevered words and sentiments and tears are empty and cheap political theater — and there’s nothing for any of us to talk about. We’ll continue to meet like this and scream and shout and never hear one another.

We have so many other problems we should be addressing now, such as poverty and education and health care. But we’ll never get there, will we? We’ll continue to play our parts and scream our lines, I often think, while the whole world falls around us. It’s politics, it’s democracy, it’s ugly, it’s noble, and I just hope we can put the whole shebang back together one day.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

18 comments… add one
  • Dena Smith Link

    I’ve always wondered what they suggest we do with the children that are born to mothers and fathers who either don’t want them or can’t take care of them. Adoption? Please don’t tell me they’ll be adopted! If that were the case, there would be no foster children. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care today. Pay for Planned Parenthood with tax dollars? No, they cry! Well, you can bet your bottom dollar, we will pay for those children one way or another.

  • Kathy Checkley Link


  • Thank you for being there, Ruth.

  • Thank you for standing up for all women.

  • msue Link

    I am deeply grateful that you’ve shared your experiences throughout this shebang. Thank you, thank you, for standing up when it counts. I wish I could have been there. And I can’t believe we’re still fighting this fight.

    I’m going to quote those t-shirts!

  • Glad you could be there for all of us.

  • Jenny Link

    Thank you, Ruth … again! Please post on FB, or let me post it to my friends.

  • Patricia N Link

    Thanks for representing Texas women like me who now live in another state

  • Thank you for saying what’s on my heart every time I hear the pro-life /pro-choice “discussion”.

    There’s so much more to be considered than that. What happens to those babies born? I’ve been in family court and been a CASA volunteer and I know what happens.

  • Suburbohemian Link

    Thank you. Great post.

  • Christine Link

    Thank you – what a great post! I agree completely.

  • Love your orange shirts and bold advocacy!

  • You are quite a force. Glad you were there and able to let us in on what it was like.

  • You make so many good points. Yesterday I saw Mike Huckabee spouting why abortion was evil and thought, really. This man has the nerve to promote his backward ideas about a woman’s body and say it is God’s will or some such phrase? How dare he?

  • Thanks for taking us along with the unruly mob. Love the pic of you and your daughter.

  • merr Link

    You are part of history. What an honor. Just an incredible, incredible time.

  • bonehead Link

    Amen again. Thanks for being there Ruth and writing about it.

  • Chris Link

    I was out of town but sure would have liked to have been there with my orange shirt. The vote isn’t going to be the way we want, but at least people saw that there are lots of citizens in Texas who do not approve of the way things are being handled. Thanks to you who took your valuable time to make a showing.

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