What does Wendy Davis tell us about America?

In the last couple of days, America has shown us some of its quirkiest sides. Wendy Davis has recently finished an 11 hour filibuster in Texas, where she spoke continuously to hold up voting. She blocked the proposed SB5 law, an abortion bill which would have shut many of the abortion clinics in Texas. As well as this, we have seen the Supreme Court emasculate a cornerstone of US racial anti-discrimination legislation in the Voting Rights Act. These two cases illustrate the intricacies and eccentricities of American politics. In this post, I would like to focus on the issues beyond politicians like Davis.

Indeed, there is a sense in which Wendy Davis became more than just a politician. A browse of twitter shows her off as a hero. She has been proclaimed a new feminist icon and a rising star in the Democrats. The filibuster ended early as she strayed off topic but the crowd in the public gallery made a raucous noise to obstruct the voting and see off the bill. This is a typical scene of people versus politicians, which the media will lap up. But remember that for all of her heroic status, Wendy Davis is a politician as well. The spectacle of a filibuster, like something drawn from the classic movie 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington' dramatises and glamorises the politics behind her protest. This goes beyond a one-off Texan law to the heart of modern America. Its main cleavages come from the diversity of opinion and identities in the country. Its vast physical space mean that it is really 50 countries bundled into one awkward package. Many of the major domestic issues revolve around its diversity and the attempts to impose a set of values onto the country. Gender is a particularly important issue, with the pro-life and pro-choice divide highlighting a gaping liberal and conservative battlefield. The memories of anti-abortion violence, terrorism and arson are still fresh and are a dramatic reminder of the polar extremes of US political conviction. In April of this year, Benjamin Curell vandalised a Planned Parenthood clinic because of his religious beliefs.

It is not just gender and the Wendy Davis case that shows the American divide. Religion plays a major part with a vocal Christian right trying to impose a set of values through federal government. Issues like school prayer and gay marriage all rear their head repeatedly. However, this is not just about right-wing Americans trying to impose a set of beliefs. The US left is also responsible for creating the divide by promoting their values, be it healthcare reform or secular policies. What unites both sides is their inability to reconcile the diverse identities of their country. The last couple of days has seen this come to attention dramatically with this anti-abortion legislation. It may have slipped under the radar now but the Supreme Court has also ruled on another dividing line in the US in the form of race.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was a landmark moment for African-Americans. They had been denied the legal opportunities to vote for most of their history. As slaves, they had been treated as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of deciding how many representatives each state would get. The bill outlawed some of the discriminatory practices by states that prevented African-Americans from voting such as property requirements. However, now the Supreme Court has impaired the enforcement mechanism of the bill. The ruling requires Congress to come up with a new formula for deciding which states need to be checked by the federal government to make sure their voter registration rules are above board. But a divided America has voted for a divided Congress, which will struggle to come to a satisfying compromise. This means that Republican strongholds could manipulate voting restrictions to prevent ethnic minorities, women and the young from voting Democrat, which these groups do disproportionately. A requirement for voter IDs and a ban on same-day registrations is the new version of property and literacy qualifications. This ruling will strike a chord in America. There are a whole host of struggles that ethnic minorities still suffer. Hispanics are the force to watch out for, but immigration from the Mexican border continues to divide the country. Racial profiling by the police affects minorities unfairly. Indeed, whilst the Voting Rights Act harks back to an older era and the dark days of violence and a mass movement for change, the poverty trap for African-Americans endures to this day.

These two cases have exposed the broken heart of modern America in the short space of a couple of days. It is a country torn apart by its own diversity. There are so many sticking points based on the identities of its people - gender, race, sexuality, wealth, social beliefs and attitude towards big and small government. The Supreme Court is unelected and yet can transform the ground that politicians have to tread. It has just done this for race and will soon decide on marriage equality as well. Sometimes it takes a politician such as Wendy Davis to capture the hearts of one part of the population and become a hero. But for the politics beyond the politicians, there is a vast divide lurking behind one woman's filibuster.
What does Wendy Davis tell us about America? What does Wendy Davis tell us about America? Reviewed by Ciaran McCormick on 14:13 Rating: 5
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