In our series Our Movement Monday, we talk with Texas Democrats across our state about their work and the challenges facing their communities.
We sat down with former Texas state senator and candidate for governor of Texas Wendy Davis. Wendy’s public service career spans 3 decades, serving as a Fort Worth city council person for 9 years prior to her election to the Texas State Senate. From very humble beginnings, Wendy worked as a single parent to forge a path to college, beginning at the community college, earning a scholarship to Texas Christian University where she graduated first in her class, and ultimately graduating with honors from Harvard Law School.
Widely recognized as a leader on women’s equality, Wendy is best known for her historic 13-hour filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate to kill a legislative effort aimed at dramatically reducing women’s access to abortion care in her state. Her efforts were vindicated by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt which overturned Texas’ anti-abortion law.
Thank you for taking time to chat with us. Women and girls around the world are inspired by you — Texas Democratic Party staff included. What motivates you?
Wendy Davis: Like so many people, I get motivated by injustice. Whether that is injustice toward women, people of color, the disenfranchised, immigrants, people in the LGBTQ community….You name it. It gets me fired up and inspired to try to make things better.
What inspired you to start Deeds Not Words?
Wendy Davis: There are so many women who feel, as I do, that we need to do something to make gender equity a reality. But so many of us struggle with where to begin. “What do I do?” is a frequent question I’ve been asked over the course of the last few years. Deeds Not Words, both through our digital engagement and on-the-ground advocacy training seeks to answer that question for women who want to move their passion for change into tangible, effective action.
Who are the changemakers and why do you think it’s important to highlight these women?
Wendy Davis: There are so many people working to create change, in ways both big and small. Each week at Deeds Not Words, we highlight a woman who inspires us — someone who is putting herself out there to make a difference. I believe that highlighting these women provides inspiration for others to consider what they might also do. Some past examples are Emma Gonzalez, who so appropriately called “BS” on lawmakers who profess to care about safety in our communities but who are instead owned by the NRA, our own Sadie Hernandez who staged a protest in front of the Governor’s mansion to protest cuts to women’s health-care funding and Amy Sherald, whose portrait of Michelle Obama, will be the first painting hung in the National Portrait Gallery painted by a black woman.
How can someone become a changemaker?
Wendy Davis: Each of us has a role to play in making a change. And that can take many forms. We try to help our young women advocates understand that every action they take contributes to advancing the movement. That might mean volunteering to help out a woman candidate who they admire, reaching out to a legislator to express an opinion on pending policy, testifying at a committee hearing at the local, state or federal level, volunteering for a progressive organization doing work that they believe in…there are countless ways to get involved in making a change.
How are Deeds Not Words helping women take action in their communities and towards equality?
On the digital side, we post a weekly newsletter “The Deeds Digest” that includes information to educate, inspire, engage and motivate our audience. And we always include a suggested “Do,” a simple action that our followers can take to help advance the issue we discuss in that week’s Digest.
On the ground, we encourage action in two important but distinct ways. (1) We have a peer-to-peer voter engagement and turn out program through which we train our young Changemakers about how to engage their friends around an issue and motivate them to vote in order to elect people who will align with their interests on that issue; (2) We have an advocacy training program in which we train high school and college-age young women about the legislative process and how to proactively use their voices there. Our training runs throughout the legislative session and we provide guidance at every step of the way – training our advocates in personal storytelling as a tool to persuade, encouraging their calls, letters, and emails to legislators as legislation is moving through the pipeline, and sitting with them as they testify before lawmakers in committee hearings. The last session, our Changemakers was an active part of passing 7 bills into law, each of which was focused on sexual assault and sex-trafficking reforms. And just recently, our Changemaker advocates were an important part of the successful passage of the City of Austin’s “Paid Sick Leave” ordinance.
You first ran for city council, then state senate, then governor, what are some helpful tips you would give to women running for office?
Wendy Davis: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who will have your back at every turn. Fortunately, there are organizations that exist to do just that. Groups like Annie’s List, Emerge and Emily’s List provides vital training and support for women candidates. Take advantage of all that they have to offer! And use the megaphone provided to you as a candidate to talk about issues of importance. No matter the outcome of your race, if you advance the conversation on issues that need change, you will have accomplished something. And, most importantly, have fun! Running for office provides you with a platform to speak from, to connect with people from and to grow as a person.
How can we, as a society, help and encourage more women to run for office?
Wendy Davis: When we have competent, qualified women who align with our values running for office, we should do everything we can to support them. Considering the sacrifice they are making in putting themselves on the line, we can afford to sacrifice a few dollars and/or hours of our time volunteering to support them. When they take unfair criticism aimed at encouraging voters to look at them through a gender-biased lens, we need to have their backs — calling out the bias, shaming it and correcting it. We can also support organizations like our own Annie’s List who are doing such tremendously good work in recruiting and training women to run for office.
If you could give young women any piece of advice, what would you tell them?
Wendy Davis: My favorite quote in the world is one of Teddy Roosevelt’s where he talks about the person in the arena — the person willing to fight for a cause they believe in, even at risk of failing. And he compares that risk-taker to the “cold and timid souls” who stand on the sideline only to criticize those who fail. From that quote, I often tell young women that I speak to Do not fear failure. Fear the paralyzing fear of failure instead. If you attempt to do something, make an attempt to do something that really matters to you — something big! And if you fail to meet your immediate goal, fail big! Fail with flair! And fail to know that you advanced the ball just a little bit more for the next time. And knowing that you are an extraordinary person, a risk-taker who had the courage to do something hard and who will, ultimately, change the world.