Wendy Davis: The making of a star


Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas conservatives lost more than the passage of an anti-abortion bill overnight Tuesday. They also lost the spotlight.

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak may have said it best when he told the Texas Tribune, "I think the Republican leadership in both chambers of the legislature unwittingly helped create a national Texas Democratic star."

Mackowiak was speaking, of course, about Wendy Davis, filibustering Texas state senator, feminist superhero, pink-and-lime sneaker wearer and Twitter star. Davis's more than 10-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in Texas on Tuesday night lit the Internet on fire. It inspired a hashtag, generated viral memes and, of course, added to talk of higher office.

It was the filibuster, of course, that made Davis a star. The political theater of Davis's filibuster — which wasn't her first — made her name known on the national stage and turned her into an overnight Internet sensation. It was dramatic. It was a remarkable test of physical endurance. It was true grit, writ large.

But Davis did more than just filibuster a bill for hours. For many, she personified a willingness to stand up to power. As a woman who had a child at 19 and worked her way from a trailer park to Harvard Law School and the Texas Senate, Davis spoke with the kind of authenticity, authority and credibility that no man — and even few women in the state legislature — could ever have. As it's been said of her before, she acted as if she had nothing to lose.

Most of all, she inspired remarkable passion — a fundamental test for any leader. However red the state of Texas may be, any future opponent of Davis watching the frenzy her filibuster incited in the Texas Capitol building or around the nation online Tuesday night would be wise to take heed.

That's the thing about the sort of extreme results reproductive rights analysts say the bill would have prompted. (The legislation reportedly would have effectively cut the number of abortion clinics in Texas from 42 to just five.) They tend to incite the sort of enthusiasm and grass-roots movements from which new leaders naturally emerge. Republicans may ultimately win a battle — they may very well end up with another chance at passing their bill. But in unwittingly creating a Democratic star in Wendy Davis, they've made winning the war just a little bit harder.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Who is Wendy Davis?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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