On Bold Action: A Conversation with Wendy Davis
At #bossbabesATX, we believe in the power of community. United, we believe that women can and will be heard. Thankfully, we've got some inspiration proving this true.
You may have first heard of politician and activist Wendy Davis during the summer of 2013. In (now famed) pink Mizuno running shoes, she led a filibuster at the Texas Capitol to derail what has become known as the "abortion bill," a set of laws created to regulate/restrict abortions in Texas. Surrounded by hundreds of protestors chanting "hell no, we won't go," Davis maintained her filibuster for 13 hours. The bill was not passed that night, but ultimately became law during a second special legislation session that year.
Davis' filibuster garnered a lot of media attention, but her career extends far beyond one act of boldness. She ran for Texas Governor in 2014, has been practicing law for the last two decades and recently launched her own nonprofit, Deeds Not Words, a community for action-oriented women. Read more about Davis and her career in our Q&A below:
Q: You've had quite the journey in your political career, long before your famed filibuster. How have you managed the rising fame? How has your identity changed or stayed the same?
A: I’ve fought a number of battles during my time in public office. So I was surprised when one of those days resulted in the kind of attention that it did. But I recognize that it wasn’t something that happened because of anything I did. Rather, it was because of the thousands of people who showed up at the Texas Capitol and who watched online and talked about what was happening on social media. My identity as a fighter for women’s equal justice was sealed that day, along with many others who joined in the fight. It’s an identity that I am proud to hold.
Q: For women venturing into politics, do you have any pointers? Any advice on overcoming feelings of discouragement?
A: For any woman who is thinking about entering the political arena, I say—please do! We need you. We need your voice to represent us, as only your voice can. Gandhi once said: “If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” When I feel discouraged, I work to center myself on the work—to consider the value of the end goal. Doing that helps me to put concerns about myself—whether they are from fear or discouragement—aside. If we aren’t there to wrestle that snake, who will?
Q: Now, you're launching Deeds Not Words. What has your experience been in starting a non-profit? What led you to take that path?
A: This is a new adventure for me. I’ve long admired the work of many non-profits, but never thought I would venture into that challenge myself. Deeds Not Words was born from a question that I’ve been repeatedly asked by young women around the country: “What do we do?” This question comes from passionate, thoughtful, motivated young women who aren’t sure how to convert their passion into concrete action. The objective of Deeds Not Words is to connect young women to their ability to be the future change-makers of the world.
Q: Speak to the power of community among women. Why is it important?
A: Women, uniquely, understand the challenges of what it means to be female in this country. We have each encountered experiences in which our gender held us back or meant that we were judged differently. We can be a force for change if we join together and decide to do so. No one else is going to fight this fight for us. And no one is going to give us equality unless we step up and demand it. It’s up to us. And we are more than capable of meeting the challenge.
Q: What are some actionable ways to stir change in our day-to-day lives? Any suggestions?
A: Every action we take to advance the cause of gender equality matters, no matter how big or small. It all adds up to a collective and monumental whole. First and most important—always, always, always vote. Vote for people who reflect your values. Otherwise we wind up with a bunch of yahoos, who aren’t as smart or as informed as we are, making decisions that are going to have dramatic impact on our lives. Second, find a cause that you believe in and plug in. Plugging in might mean making a $5 a month contribution to something you believe in. It might mean showing up at a Planned Parenthood clinic and spending the day as a clinic escort. It might mean writing a letter to your state representative about an issue that drives you. It might mean showing up at a capitol and screaming at the top of your lungs in order to get a filibuster past the midnight deadline …. Hey, wait … that last one sounds awfully familiar….
Q: How do you relax?
A: I am a master of compartmentalization. It’s a survival skill I’ve learned over time. I purposefully and completely unplug—even if only for a day a week—and I spend time with people that I love. Usually cooking, which I love. I also try to find time several times a week to break a sweat (and not because I’m mad or nervous!) but because I’m exercising. Releasing stress through exercise is like a magic tonic.
Q: Coffee or tea? Or neither?
A: I love coffee!!! Especially espresso. My favorite is a latte from Jo’s on 2nd. They are like family to me, and I can always taste a little bit of TLC in every cup.
Q: Who did you look up to as a kid? Who do you look up to now?
A: I worshiped my dad when I was growing up. He made me feel like I was extraordinary and he was fearless in everything he did. Today, I have many shero’s and hero’s—too many to mention. The people I admire most are those who put personal fear aside and push themselves to do hard things. Shonda Rhimes, who has created phenomenally powerful female characters for us to aspire to. Hillary Clinton, who has never shied away from her belief that supporting women’s equality is a central tenant of what America ought to stand for. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who has been an intelligent and passionate fighter for justice and equality and who isn’t afraid to take on anyone who disagrees. The US Women’s Soccer team for challenging the status quo and pushing for equal pay. Many, many more.
Q: Taking up the fight for women's reproductive rights is not an easy challenge and requires a lot of help. How can we work together to make a positive difference around "women's issues?"
Editor's Note: "Women's issues" is quoted because we believe these issues are general civil rights issues, but the commonality of the term "women's issues" makes it clear which issues we're referring to.
A: The most important thing we can do is to decide that we’ll each play our part. That doesn’t require that we do any one grand thing. But it does require that we weigh in. That we pay attention and speak up when we disagree. And we have to decide that we aren’t going to back down in the face of intimidation and fear tactics. We’ve got to be brave in all that we do (even if we have to fake it!), understanding the consequences if we don’t.
Q: What kind of world do you envision when it comes to gender constructions in politics?
A: Issues impacting women will never be addressed unless we have women representing us at every level of government. That means actively supporting women who run for office whose values align with our own. It means running for office ourselves. And it means shutting down the misogynists who try to silence us through harassment and intimidation. Unless and until women are provided with the opportunity to contribute equally to this economy—through adequate and equal pay, through fair family leave policies, through access to affordable education and childcare, and, yes, through reproductive autonomy—our country will not reach its full potential. We all have a shared stake in women’s advancement. And we all have a part to play in realizing a vision that includes it.