Commentary Media

The Grassroots Advocates Behind Wendy Davis’ Epic Filibuster

Melissa Mikesell

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis achieved an unexpected victory for the reproductive health movement last Wednesday, but she didn’t do it alone.

Cross-posted with permission from Bolder Advocacy.

Read more of Rewire‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis achieved an unexpected victory for the reproductive health movement last Wednesday, but she didn’t do it alone.

Davis' actions created a "seismic shift" in Texas politics.

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Davis’ actions created a “seismic shift” in Texas politics.

While we all know about that now-famous back brace, little attention has been paid to the nonprofits that helped shine the spotlight on this amazing moment, and helped gather the stories about why access to reproductive services is so essential to a woman’s health and freedom.

“Nonprofits and their supporters put the eyes of the world on Texas,” says Austin-based Jason Sabo, a consultant to progressive nonprofits. “From the outset Sen. Wendy Davis recognized the depth of support for her efforts. Nonprofits were a critical part of the infrastructure that spread the word about what was happening at the Texas Capitol.”

The Social Media Storm

As the Washington Post reported, Texas advocacy groups were behind the social media campaign that brought Sen. Davis to the attention of national leaders like President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, as well as actors and activists:

“In the days before the filibuster, the pro-choice organization NARAL Texas used Facebook to organize rides for supporters who wanted to witness Davis’ speech. Planned Parenthood Texas and a progressive women’s group called Annie’s List live-tweeted from the gallery…

The hashtag #standwithwendy, which racked up 547,000 tweets during the course of Davis’ speech, was actually coined — and promoted — by the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Empowering and Enabling the Community to Tell Their Stories

NARAL and other groups mobilized the amazing turnout at the 'People's Filibuster'

NARAL and other groups mobilized the amazing turnout at the ‘People’s Filibuster’

On deeply personal issues like access to reproductive health-care services, advocates must first help community members understand they have a story worth telling, that their voice will matter to legislators, and help them to tell a story that will resonate. As Andy Goodman notes about using stories for influencing public debate:

“[S]tories aren’t about quickly informing. They are about drawing an emotional response from your audience after they have taken the full ride.”

Those of you, who, like me, were glued to your computer screen during the most of her debate, will recall that most of Sen. Davis’ 12.5 hours were filled primarily with stories from constituents who would be affected by SB 5.

So, How Exactly Did Wendy Davis Have Enough Stories to Tell During the 12.5 Hours She Talked?

Many of these stories were collected on her website. But nonprofits contacted their networks to encourage people to come forward. Heather Busby of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas explains how pro-choice and progressive organizations helped:

“We solicited stories via social media and email and I forwarded them along to Wendy’s staff. The progressive nonprofits in the state pushed folks to Wendy’s website where they were doing story collection and Progress Texas actually set up a similar page to collect stories — Wendy’s site was actually her campaign site, so we wanted to have a nonpartisan alternative for 501(c)(3)s to use.”

Nonprofit organizations like Advocates for Youth have been training community members to tell their own stories as a proactive strategy to fight back against anti-abortion bills around the country for a number of years now. As Julia Reticker-Flynn, manager of Advocates for Youth’s Youth Activist Network explains in a blog post on their project, called the 1 in 3 Campaign:

“We wanted a new approach to activism on abortion issues that was pro-active and on our own terms…And we wanted to honor the complexity of people’s lives. Ultimately, we wanted a new conversation—one that didn’t focus on the politicized debate around abortion, but focused on people.”

Many studies have found that when a person is connect to the story of another person’s struggle, they are much more likely to want to help—either by taking action, donating money, or by telling a friend—than they would if they are just told how big a problem is to society as a whole.

Without the nonprofit community organizers who helped build the community leaders who could tell the types of powerful stories that at times made Sen. Davis break out in tears, I’m certain her filibuster would not have lasted as long as it did, and it would not have resonated with the hundreds of thousands of people who were glued to their computer monitors all night long!

Building Legislative Leaders

Sen. Davis’ bravery also reminded me of how essential it is for all nonprofit advocates to cultivate effective legislative leaders who are positioned to be a champion on the organization’s issue.

Clearly not every policymaker who is an ally of an organization needs to be a champion for the organization’s issues the way Sen. Davis is for women’s health, but it is critical for every organization to have at least a select few.

Arabella Advisors has described a champion policymaker as someone who “consistently, aggressively and effectively” advocates for an issue “among fellow policymakers, and they can both help the community be heard in deliberations among policymakers and demonstrate the strong support needed to move policy priorities forward.”

Planned Parenthood Action of Texas is helping to organize the July 1 rally.

Planned Parenthood Action of Texas helped organize the July 1 rally.

Clearly we could all use a few policymakers like Wendy Davis on our side!

What’s Next in Texas

This week, individual and nonprofit activists are back at the capitol, protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to call a special session during which it is more likely that SB 5 will pass. As the Facebook page of NARAL Pro Choice Texas illustrates, they and their supporters are not backing down. Monday they held a huge rally and they’re planning a series of activities, from house parties to phone banks.

As nonprofit consultant Sabo says, thanks to Davis, there’s been “a seismic shift” in Texas politics:

“The power of advocacy has been re-awakened under the pink dome.”

News Abortion

Texas Advocates Speak Out as Abortion Access Hangs in the Balance

Teddy Wilson

Reproductive rights advocates with the #FightBackTX Truth Tour have traveled around Texas this month to raise awareness about the negative effects anti-choice laws have had on abortion access.

Young women on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station Friday read personal narratives about having abortions as part of the #FightBackTX Truth Tour. The speakers gave life to the experiences of women who have had an abortion as part of an ongoing effort to end the stigma around the procedure.

The Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education, a student organization, sponsored the event on Texas A&M University’s campus.

Reproductive rights advocates with the #FightBackTX Truth Tour have traveled around Texas this month to raise awareness about the negative effects anti-choice laws have had on abortion access, and the further repercussions for reproductive health care that could come to pass in the coming months.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 2 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (formerly v. Cole), the case that will decide the constitutionality of the sweeping anti-choice restrictions passed by Texas Republicans in 2013.

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“It’s a challenge to the Texas law that has had such drastic impact on this state and could have even more detrimental impacts if the case doesn’t go our way,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, one of the sponsors of the tour, told Rewire.

Busby explained the importance of traveling around the state to raise awareness and ensure diverse voices from all women could be heard. “We really wanted to make sure that Texan voices were represented, and not just in Austin at a rally at the capitol, but across the state,” Busby said, referencing the battle waged at the tail end of the 2013 legislative session.

SB 5 was introduced during the first special legislative session called by then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2013. Republican lawmakers tried to push through the bill at the end of the session, and it was filibustered in an act of political defiance that would have a lasting effect on the politics of abortion in the state and throughout the nation.

Then-state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) spoke on the chamber floor for more than 11 hours, preventing a vote from being called before the midnight deadline on June 25, 2013. The filibuster was broadcast live, and people tuned in throughout the country to watch the stream online.

It was a galvanizing moment for Sidney Coker, a sophomore special education major at Texas A&M. She watched the filibuster and the protests from her home in Irving, Texas, the summer before her senior year in high school.

“It definitely made me realize that these are issues that I’m going to have to care about as a woman,” Coker told Rewire.

The political victory of Davis’ filibuster was short-lived. An identical bill, HB 2, was passed and signed into law during a second special legislative session. 

“What we have to realize is that moment was more of a catalyst,” Busby said. “What we’re seeing now and is that we’re really working hard to do is continue that work.”

After Davis’ filibuster, Busby saw people from all over the state who had come to Austin to protest at the capitol return to their communities and begin having conversations about abortion access.

“Sen. Davis’ filibuster and all of the people who came and testified at the capitol broke the silence around abortion access. Now people are talking about this issue, talking about their own abortion experiences and why they support access to abortion care,” Busby said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit challenging two provisions of HB 2: the admitting privileges requirement as applied to two clinics—Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso—as well as the requirement that every abortion clinic meet the same building requirements as mini-hospitals.

If the Supreme Court sides with Texas, there will be only nine or ten clinics, licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, that will provide abortion services in a state with more than 5.4 million women of reproductive age, according to CRR.

“We already seeing the impact of this,” Busby said. “There was a study that came out last year about how there are waiting periods of up to 20 days in some areas,” a statistic found by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) at the University of Texas at Austin. “Anecdotally, that’s what I’m hearing as well: people calling our office saying that they can’t get an appointment and where can they go.”  

The TxPEP study concluded that the longer waiting periods would increase the number of second-trimester abortions. The study’s authors noted that this is concerning from a public health perspective because “later abortions, although very safe, are associated with a higher risk of complications compared to early abortions.”

“When you’re cutting off timely access to safe care, some folks are resorting to other options if they can’t get an appointment at a clinic or if they can’t get an appointment anywhere close to where they live,” Busby said.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Bryan closed in 2014 because it would not meet the requirements of HB 2, leaving Texas A&M students with few options for affordable reproductive health care. The Women’s Clinic on the Texas A&M campus is one of the few places where students can access reproductive health care.

Coker said that she goes to the Women’s Clinic to get hormonal birth control, but that is one of the only services they offer. “If you want anything else you have to go to an actual doctor off campus,” Coker said.

The lack of access, either due to distance or cost, has reportedly pushed some women as far as attempting to self-induce abortions. Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women of reproductive age have attempted to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance, according to a study by TxPEP.

“Texas has a long and proud tradition of standing up for reproductive rights,” Rachel Jacobson, the Texas state director for Shift, an organization working to “shift the stigma around abortion” that also sponsored the#FightBackTX Truth Tour, told the students in the plaza. “We know that no matter what happens at the Supreme Court we’re going to have challenges and we’re going to have opportunities ahead.”

Investigations Abortion

Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

Sharona Coutts & Sofia Resnick

Rewire has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by Center for Medical Progress operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

When operatives from the Center for Medical Progress sat down for lunch with Planned Parenthood officials last February at the a/k/a Bistro in Pasadena, a city just outside of downtown Los Angeles, their hidden cameras caught over an hour of conversation between themselves and Dr. Mary Gatter, the medical director at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley.

Parts of that conversation have since become notorious. Gatter’s comments about how Planned Parenthood clinics are reimbursed for facilitating donations of various parts of fetal tissue have been edited to give the false impression that she was bartering over body parts. Her self-deprecating joke about a Lamborghini has been twisted to make it sound like she was serious about buying a luxury car. (In context, it appears she was making the opposite point—that there was no profit to be made in any of these transactions.)

Based on a careful review of the tape, as well as documents provided by sources with direct knowledge of the sham company used by the activists—BioMax Procurement Services—Rewire has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by these operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

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We can reveal that the full names used by three operatives were: Robert Daoud Sarkis, the alias used by Daleiden, according to multiple sources who met with him at events in California and other states; as well as Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen, both of which appear to be aliases of as-yet unidentified operatives.

Business Cards

Two of these names appear on business cards that were provided to attendees of private events that were infiltrated by Daleiden and his associates under false pretenses.

At some of the private events infiltrated by “Sarkis” and “Tennenbaum,” attendees were required to show photo identification, according to organizers who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

A third associate also attended these events. Calling herself Brianna Allen, this woman registered for the event on behalf of the company, according to multiple sources. She also furnished what appeared to be a bona fide photo identification. The photograph below shows the women who identified themselves as Susan Tennenbaum (left) and Brianna Allen (right).

Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen

News reports that BioMax operatives presented what appeared to be California driver’s licenses when they visited a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate lend further weight to the claims of event organizers that Daleiden and his group did indeed present forged ID cards.

To be sure, it’s possible that Robert Daoud Sarkis, Brianna Allen, and Susan Tennenbaum are real people who are in fact associated with BioMax, despite BioMax now being known to have been a front company.

However, Rewire has been unable to locate any such individuals, and neither the Center for Medical Progress nor BioMax itself produced any individuals by those names with ties to BioMax.

Rewire called all phone numbers listed on the business cards. The office number for BioMax goes directly to voicemail. The cell number listed for Susan Tennenbaum is disconnected. A voicemail left on Sarkis’ cell phone was not returned by deadline. We also left messages for other people named Susan Tennenbaum throughout the United States, and all Brianna Allens in California, listed in databases of public records. Emails to the addresses provided on the business cards did not receive a reply. We were unable to locate a single listing for “Robert Daoud Sarkis” in databases of public records.

This new evidence obviously raises the question of whether any of this conduct is illegal.

Already, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress. Her investigation seems to be geared toward whether the group violated any laws in connection with its registration with the state’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, but she also said her office would look at whether the group had committed “any violations of California law.”

According to a California criminal defense attorney, Michael Kraut, there is some reason to believe that Daleiden and his associates may have violated California and federal law on forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

If Daleiden and his accomplices did in fact provide fake government ID cards, they could have violated California laws that prohibit forgery, fraud, and perjury, said Kraut whose firm, Kraut Law Group, represents defendants in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It is illegal to forge the state government seal, as well as to obtain state driver’s licenses using false names, said Kraut, who worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and for the United States Attorney’s Office before starting his own practice. Both crimes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on a range of circumstances. They are both easy for the prosecution to prove, added Kraut.

“A false seal is an easy prosecution because it either is or isn’t,” Kraut said. “And if they went to the DMV and got licenses under a false name, they’ve committed perjury. … That is very easy to prove, because one of the things they have to do in California is you have to fill out a document when you’re doing that, saying ‘I don’t have a license in any other name, and the name I’m using is my true and correct name.’ Each one would be a felonious statement.”

Prosecutors would have more difficulty charging Daleiden and his associates under California’s false impersonation statute if all they did was misrepresent themselves using fake names and fake business cards, Kraut said. Under California law, prosecutors must prove that a defendant deliberately used the identity of another and either directly benefited as a result or directly harmed that person in order to successfully convict on false impersonation charges.

In other words, if both Sarkis and Tennenbaum are fictional personas, then Daleiden and his operatives are unlikely to face charges of false impersonation.

However, another detail from the a/k/a Bistro video suggests Daleiden’s group may have gone beyond simply concocting identities, and might have co-opted the identity of a real person—one who shares the name of a California woman who went to the same elementary and high schools as the leader of this attack campaign.

Toward the end of the film, the woman who identifies herself as Susan can be seen removing a Bank of America card from her wallet, and using it to pay the bill.

Yet the name on the credit card is not Susan Tennenbaum, but rather, appears to be Brianna Allen.

Brianna Allen

BioMax’s alleged employees refer to “Brianna” in the three videos that have been released so far. Rewire emailed the address provided by the BioMax operative who called herself Brianna Allen but received no response. BioMax has not connected Rewire with any real person who will publicly identify herself as Brianna Allen.

However, Rewire has obtained evidence that suggests the group’s leader, Daleiden, does know a woman named Brianna Allen.

After seeing her name referenced in our earlier reporting, Brianna M. Allen of Davis, California, contacted Rewire to let us know that she had no ties to Daleiden’s organization and has not been in contact with him for 15 years.

Allen was the president of the student feminist club at Davis Senior High School at the same time that Daleiden was a student there, she said.

“Even in high school I knew he was adamantly against it [abortion]. He was very outspoken about being Catholic and more conservative. And we were very open about being liberal and pro-choice,” she told Rewire. “Last night I just thought, ‘Oh God, what if that’s why he chose my name?’ But I kind of wrote it off as, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’”

If Daleiden’s group used Brianna M. Allen’s information to open a credit card account, they could have violated state or federal laws that prohibit credit card fraud, which carries a potential three-year prison sentence and would be easy to prove, Kraut said.

Allen stressed that she does not feel any ill will toward Daleiden personally, nor does she have definitive proof that Daleiden created a credit card in her name. Indeed, Brianna Allen is a fairly common name in the United States. Yet, Allen has been unable to access her credit reports online in the past few days, despite having been able to do so in the past.

“If it is just a weird coincidence, it would be a really, really weird coincidence,” Allen said.

Allen said her objection to Daleiden’s current campaign is not about her personal views on abortion rights.

“I definitely believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I understand it’s a very sensitive subject,” she said. “But I certainly don’t agree with him trying to expose lies by lying, and spying on people. It’s just wrong to me. The fact that he was basically just using media to heavily edit these videos for his own agenda, it’s just shady. I just don’t agree with it, personally.”

Planned Parenthood is also under investigation, with a congressional committee and at least eight states announcing inquiries to explore whether the nonprofit health-care network has engaged in the illegal practice of harvesting and profiting from the sale of fetal body parts, or any associated wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood has denied all allegations.

With more undercover videos expected for the remainder of the summer, pro-choice groups are bracing for additional fallout. However, as evidence of the Center for Medical Progress’ questionable tactics comes to light, it becomes more difficult to give their sensationalist claims much credence, Allen said.

“If he really felt this way, I think there are better ways to go about expressing your opinion than to basically scam people into saying whatever he wants them to say,” she said of Daleiden. “It’s just manipulative.”