North Texas Daily

Photo Story: Austin’s quiet riot

Photo Story: Austin’s quiet riot

Photo Story: Austin’s quiet riot
July 01
21:23 2013
Story and photos by James Rambin / Executive Editor
I stepped onto the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building at 9 a.m., just as organizers cranked a massive Texas flag into position behind the stage near the building’s pink granite steps.

Stand with Texas Women, the pro-abortion rights group that organized a rally on the Capitol grounds after State Sen. Wendy Davis’ successful filibuster against restrictive abortion state legislation, planned to gather here at noon, two hours before the Texas Legislature’s second special session was scheduled to begin.

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But being three hours early didn’t stop a few hundred protesters from arriving ahead of schedule. The pro-abortion rights faction wore orange, while their opposition appeared dressed in blue.

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This is Natalie Atwater, who simply calls herself a “human being.” A search for her name reveals an association with the Occupy Austin movement, but today, she’s handing out free muffins, bagels and other goodies to hungry activists.

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By 10:30 a.m., the scattered groups of anti-abortion demonstrators had gained enough traction to create a thin blue band around the eastern side of the lawn. A large portion of them began to march into the Capitol building 30 minutes later, choosing to mostly gather inside the dome and await the beginning of the special session. Consequently, you’ll see less blue in these photos of the outside, but from what I’ve heard about the turnout this afternoon, the anti-abortion factions also boasted substantial numbers.

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Remarkably, I witnessed no direct confrontation between the ranks during the seven hours I spent on the Capitol grounds. Certainly the dueling chants of protesters packing the inner walls of the rotunda weren’t exactly harmonious, but outside, the two groups operated like each was invisible to the other.

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Opposing signs, and the opposing activists who held them, often silently occupied the same square footage. Many let their signs do the talking.

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Despite the heavy presence of Texas State Troopers and other law enforcement, the only times I saw police address the demonstrators was to ask them to move out of high-traffic areas and allow legislative personnel and other non-protesters to pass through the crowd. For the most part, the officers seemed either bored, busy taking photos of the action with their cell phones or both.

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As the drama on the ground continued, a plane circled overhead towing a banner in support of Senator Davis.

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This is Peace Washington. She’s dressed as the Statue of Liberty in a costume fashioned from an American flag and a banner covered with the names of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001. When I found her on the Capitol steps, she was posing with a legislative intern, letting him hold her torch.

“I’m here because this concern is a human concern, and it’s important for us to understand that it involves every single one of us because we are all alive,” Washington said. “It’s not a political issue, it’s not a socioeconomic issue, it’s not a race or sexual issue. It’s life.”

After the announcement came through that the hearing regarding the abortion legislation had been pushed back until at least July 9, the crowd began to thin. By 4 p.m., the remaining ranks of both sides who were not still lingering inside the rotunda returned to their small groups, the anti-abortion activists forming a circle and praying in the shade.

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Walking away from the Capitol, I passed the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building, a downtown landmark named for the 19th-century Mexican politician who served as interim Vice President of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Inscribed on one side of the building, the side facing the activists still milling on the Capitol grounds, is Article One, Section Two of the Texas Constitution:

“All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit.”

I paused to shoot a photo, the shutter clicked and I walked on. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t actually taken it. My memory card was full.

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