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Grits was especially interested to see Lt. Governor David Dewhurst accuse the opposition of "Occupy Wall Street tactics" for shouting down senators during the final moments of the special session so they couldn't finish voting on the bill before the clock struck midnight. He's referring to the last-minute intervention by the crowd, or the "mob," if you will, that undoubtedly disrupted the business of the senate, if only for a moment. As it turned out, though, for that day, a moment was all that was required.
Grits is no great fan of the Occupy movement and considers that an inapt analogy. To me, what happened at the end of the first special session was as far removed from "Occupy Wall Street tactics" as Vulcan chess is from checkers.
Let me explain, beginning with some context: For at least three decades before Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but certainly culminating in that unhappy and fruitless effort, the American left had adopted an increasingly jaded view of the US political system. Many self-avowed leftists in 21st century America seem to assume, without having ever tested the hypothesis, that the political system is so corrupt that it's impossible to effect change by participating in it. At that point, all that's left are symbolic "protests" over whatever it is one dislikes. It's a tactic totally fitting with our narcissistic, Facebook-infatuated 21st century culture, which explains its popularity among disenchanted youth.
The American left's romanticized fascination with civil disobedience - where getting arrested has for some became a political badge of honor - harks back to the civil-rights movement and the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s. But in truth, the tactic has rarely been effective since then. Government at all levels, of necessity, has learned to minimize the effects of civil disobedience and sideline its adherents. (E.g., national political conventions now set up free-speech zones for protesters away from the actual event.) Today, those arrested at protests are processed in a routine fashion that does little but generate legal defense costs for the individuals or, worse, the movement.
Except in extremely narrow circumstances, Grits considers disruptive direct-action tactics an example of irresponsible movement leadership, whatever the political stripe of the movement in question. However, the end of the Wendy Davis filibuster was one of those rare instances where, setting aside whatever one may think of the legal or philosophical implications, it was strategically justified. Indeed, state Sen. Craig Estes opined that the episode was especially "awful particularly because it worked. The 'gallery filibuster' tactic is now in the playbook of both political parties, as well as every special interest group with enough emotional supporters to pull it off."
He's right about that. The good news for those harboring such concerns: The circumstances allowing the senate to devolve into such a fiasco stemmed from the bill's late addition to the call and a grassroots wave that probably surprised even the organizers. That situation is unlikely to be replicated frequently. Indeed, without an active 2/3 rule in the senate (similar to cloture in the US Senate, for you non-Texans), the same bill will almost certainly pass in this new special session. With the 2/3 rule, of course, the bill goes nowhere.
The "gallery filibuster" only worked because pro-choice pols effectively delayed the bill until its passage came down quite literally to the eleventh hour. (The bill's late addition by the governor to the special session "call" also helped push back its timeline.) OWS tended to treat disruption - for example, the occupation of Zuccotti Park - as an end unto itself, ostensibly making some too-often ill-defined point they could never clarify or agree upon. The disruption in the Texas Senate was an adjunct to a broader, more results-oriented political strategy - a means to an end. Disruption was not the goal, it was a tactic, and a spontaneous, crowd-sourced one at that. To me, that's a significant difference.
As you can tell, Grits is not a great fan of protests as a primary political tactic. IMO they are overused across the political spectrum. But there are moments - and Texas' recent pro-choice demonstrations were among them - where a showing of mass support can play an effective role in shaping the perception of opinion leaders and the public. Demonstrations can also be an effective way to garner earned media when introducing a relatively new topic. Repeat the tactic too often, though, and your political clout declines along with the numbers in the crowds.
Like a carpenter, political tacticians must understand which tools to apply in which circumstances. From the perspective of a political operative, direct action and protests are just two of many tools in the tool box. In general, though, IMHO they should be used sparingly. Grits has been around Texas politics in some shape or form for a quarter century and the end of the Wendy Davis filibuster was only the second time I've ever personally witnessed direct action achieve a tangible political goal.
The other example from my own experience dates to the late 1980s when Austin environmentalists were engaged in a protracted legal and political fight over construction of a proposed "Outer Loop" west of Austin, a massive subsidy for development over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone that enviros sought to thwart. Though a hearings was scheduled in court, one of the developers moved heavy equipment onto the site ahead of schedule, hoping to mow down the habitat under dispute in order make its development a fait accompli. In response, members of Earth First! chained themselves to the equipment, halting construction long enough for environmental lawyer Bill Bunch (who later became legal director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, where he's still employed) to go to court and get an injunction. As in the Wendy Davis episode, the goal wasn't merely to "protest" but to buy time for a procedural strategy to kick in. And it worked.
Those are the types of circumstances where direct action - by which I mean civil disobedience or other disruptive actions that risk arrest - can be effective, at least if we define "effective" as achieving a tangible political goal. In my experience, such situations are incredibly few and far between. By contrast, over the years I've met dozens if not hundreds of people of all political stripes who intentionally got arrested at protests - from demonstrations outside Planned Parenthood clinics to protesting the latest war. Almost all of them were exercises in futility and, though it seems harsh to say so, narcissism. If those folks had pooled the money that inevitably must cover their bail, attorneys fees, lost wages, etc., and spent it to hire lobbyists and organizers, everyone would have been better off and some of the laws they were protesting might have changed.
Which brings us back to the question of what Lt. Gov. Dewhurst called "Occupy Wall Street tactics." In 99.99% of instances, disrupting the Texas Senate would be a loser's strategy. To get to the point where a few minutes of bedlam could effectively scuttle a bill required the sophisticated application of more traditional legislative tactics beginning long before those final, critical moments - most prominently by Wendy Davis but also by countless others working the process step-by-step. The effort had little in common with Occupy Wall Street tactics and here's how you can tell: They won.