Read of the Day: “Bodies That Mattered”
6:00 pm, July 30th | by Colette McIntyre
Today’s Read of the Day is Amy Gentry’s incredible Rumpus essay about how the recent fights in Texas, North Dakota, and North Carolina over reproductive healthcare have demonstrated women’s struggle to maintain the right to their own presences and bodies — not just “individual bodies, but the metaphorical ones that theoretically represent us by proxy: the House, the Senate, the body politic.”
According to the rules of decorum enforced in the House and Senate chambers, spectators in the gallery are not allowed to clap, cheer, hold signs, or make hand gestures of support or censure. So our only weapon was to be a mass of bodies wearing orange—the University of Texas’s color, chosen because there are always enough on hand in Austin print-shops to get a thousand t-shirts made in a couple of hours. Silent apart from hushed golf-tournament whispers, we leaned forward in our seats to watch the proceedings, cramped and anxious, hands flying across keyboards and iPhones as we collectively posted our cheers and snark and rage to Twitter in hundreds of thousands of 140-character tweets that all said essentially the same thing: We are here, we are here, we are here.
On Sunday night, during the hearing in the House of Representatives, spectators in the gallery had been allowed to enter and exit freely for snacks, water, and bathroom breaks; on Tuesday, leaving the Senate gallery for even a moment meant losing your place. Hence my fasting and, uh, holding it. (Sen. Davis, we are informed in the latest peek beneath a Texas woman’s skirt, had a catheter. Next time I’ll bring one, too.)
After some internal debate, I finally left. In the conference room, devouring the pizza a friend had sent and gulping down three bottles of water in a row, I revived enough to start regretting my decision. With the line to get back in wrapping around three stories of the central Capitol rotunda, I would have to spend hours waiting, with no view of the proceedings and no likelihood I would make it back in by the end of the night. I headed to the packed overflow auditorium instead.
It was only after watching the Jumbotron live-feed for a few minutes that I understood the chief advantage of the overflow auditorium. Unlike the tense, silent gallery, here we could clap and pump our fists and yell as loud as we wanted. Every time Sen. Judith Zaffirini raised an eyebrow, every time Sen. Kirk Watson waved the rule book in the air, every time Sen. Rodney Ellis made a parliamentary inquiry sound like an inside joke, and above all, every time Sen. Wendy Davis said, “I do not yield the floor,” we screamed, we cried, we stamped our feet. “Wendy! Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!” we chanted for the camera that swept over the room, footage we were promised would somehow be made available to her, like the tweets she was supposedly able to see on her electronic device.
Our bodies moved as if on their own. Tears prickled in our eyes. We raised our hands and we raised our voices.
For one horrifying moment in the auditorium, a shout rang out for someone with medical training. An elderly woman in the center aisle lay motionless on the floor. People in the crowd rushed over to look and had to be shouted and shooed away, and for a moment it seemed like chaos was going to erupt in the auditorium. Paramedics came, blocking the exit, and the crowd’s attention was now split between the tense point of order unfolding silently on the screen and the life of a white-haired woman who had been in the crowded Capitol all morning, perhaps foregoing food and water for long stretches of time, as I did. Her friends in the auditorium testified that she had been fighting for women’s rights her whole life. “She gave her body for Wendy Davis!” someone yelled as the paramedics took her away, and a few in the crowd cheered, because at that point no one knew what else to do.
To read “Bodies That Mattered” in its entirety, click here.