The hashtag filibuster

Virginia Heffernan on Wendy Davis' Twitter moment, seven days after her historic filibuster

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

Man, that was some good old politics last week! Senator Wendy Davis’s tumbling platinum coif, at a squint, could have been a powdered wig. The hot Davis, filibustering in white before the Texas state legislature, could have been, for all the world, the hot, bewigged Alexander Hamilton, delivering his own flights of semicolonic rhetoric almost exactly 225 years ago, before the New York Ratifying Convention in Poughkeepsie, New York.

But even Hamilton didn’t speak for nearly thirteen freaking hours—on topic, on foot, without so much as a lean, Stairmaster-style, on the table in front of her. She was ingeniously catheterized; the bathroom didn’t seem to cross her mind. Today, as #stand4life fights to trend on Twitter, we celebrate the one-week anniversary of the Wendy Davis triumph—for the (temporary) defeat of the onmibus anti-abortion bill she opposed; for advances in personal urological solutions; for stagecraft at the Texas Capitol; and of course for the blockbuster hashtag #standwithwendy.

Alexander Hamilton (left) and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.

Glory is the only word for it, no matter what you think of the bill in question. The story of this current phase of the Web—where our mobile devices are nodes in vast vascular social networks, traversed by epigrams, audio clips and images moving and still—has been the story of the sanctification of live events. An event like Wendy Davis’s filibuster comes, in a moment, to seem like the hot, lighted center of human existence.

The word gets out, as it did on Twitter on Tuesday night, that it’s happening it’s happening—like Hurricane Sandy, the Arab Spring, the victory of Barack Obama. Now it can be said: disenfranchised types—women and members of groups who historically have not had a voice on the dais—officially make really good, avid, tireless, loud Twitter users. And these days the tens of millions of Twitter users who know the drill during big live events tend to assume our positions: “watching” the event, objecting to it (“#stand4life”), opining on it, debunking it, egging it on. In this case, #standwithwendy surfaced first and it was a perfect fit: individuals poking at their far-flung phones palpably experiencing togetherness “with Wendy” in an anachronistic, almost fictional arena—a domed Capitol building in the middle of Texas.

If you don’t use Twitter, it’s hard to describe what this feels like. Just as it seems corny to send prayers to friends with antibiotic-resistant pneumonia, or “good vibes” to a person taking a test or having a baby, you do it anyway—and when you see others doing it, and then lots of others, uniting in a kind of prayerful, hopeful project, it can bring tears, and even action. It might be akin to the mix of private-public flooredness that 20th-century Americans experienced watching Nixon’s resignation, or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, on network television.

Lil B, a NoCal rapper on tour in the Netherlands, tweeted to his 700,000 Twitter followers: "SHOUT OUT TO WENDY DAVIS STAY #BASED AND POSITIVE! FIGHT FOR WOMENS RIGHT!" President Obama tweeted some good words to the Senator. The hashtag #standwithwendy rapidly topped Twitter’s worldwide charts. Wikipedia briefly called Davis “the Lebron James of filibustering.” Briefly vandalizing a Wikipedia entry, knowing a playful change will be reverted, is now another way to mark a showstopper event.

Tumblr artfully picked up the #standwithwendy tag, and soon high-profile types from Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks to Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, along with Senator Davis, began to organize at and broaden their hashtag to the durable #standwithtxwomen.

As of today, a survey by Public Policy Polling shows that Wendy Davis—that’s Wendy Davis—has doubled her name recognition in Texas, and is considering running for governor. It's not all rosy for Wendy Davis, though: The survey also shows that Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas, would handily beat her 53% to 39%.

Having started at 11:18am CST to pontificate on abortion rights Davis was obliged to hold the floor until midnight, closing time at the Senate’s special session, to preempt the vote on the bill. After ten hours, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst decided that Davis had ventured off on a tangent or two. He wanted a vote on whether she should be allowed to keep going. Republicans were good and ready to shut Davis up, but “parliamentary inquiries”—meaning countervailing pointy-headed proceduralism from the Democrats—as well as just a good old deafening shout-down by activists in the peanut gallery blared merrily through midnight, as at an 80s showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

There was some witching-hour haggling over whether a vote had taken place in the din before the deadline, but it hadn’t. Dewhurst, exhausted, declared the bill dead. Wendy Davis, Lone Star Scheherazade, had talked it to death.

Temporary death. On Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry kicked the can down the road—and added Senate Bill 5 to the a slate of three up for re-debate at the Senate’s next session. Today a spokesman for Davis said she won't filibuster the legislation a second time.

But as Alexander Hamilton, uncatheterized, once said: “All governments, even the most despotic, depend, in a great degree, on opinion. In free republics, it is most peculiarly the case: In these, the will of the people makes the essential principle of the government; and the laws which control the community, receive their tone and spirit from the public wishes.”

So Twitter, as usual, can do whatever it wants.

  • A firefighter’s plan to save lives and employ brothers
    A firefighter’s plan to save lives and employ brothers

    Being named Ohio’s “entrepreneur of the year” in April was enough to confirm for Zach Green that quitting his job as an Eli Lilly brand manager to start his own business was the right move. But seeing the announcement of his award in the paper alongside the news that his former employer would lay off 30 percent of its sales force “was the ultimate validation,” he says.

  • Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split
    Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split

    By Edwin Chan SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc has approved another $30 billion in share buybacks till the end of 2015 and authorized a rarely seen seven-for-one stock split, addressing calls to share more of its cash hoard while broadening the stock's appeal to individual investors. Activist investor Carl Icahn, who had famously called on the iPhone maker to boost its buyback program, tweeted his approval of the move on Wednesday. On Wednesday, Apple reported sales of 43.7 million iPhones in the quarter ended March, far outpacing the roughly 38 million that Wall Street had predicted. But whether Apple can again produce a revolutionary new product remains the central question in investors' and Silicon Valley executives' minds.

  • U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows
    U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows

    By Rodrigo Campos and Jonathan Cable NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in April and the euro zone private sector started the second quarter on its strongest footing since 2011, while the pace of decline in Chinese factory activity slowed, surveys showed on Wednesday. Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or "flash" U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 55.4 in April from 55.5 in March. Economists polled by Reuters expected a reading of 56.0. Earlier on Wednesday, data showed China's HSBC/Markit flash PMI for April rose to 48.3 from March's final reading of 48.0, but was still below the 50 line separating expansion from contraction.

  • Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC
    Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC

    (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway , said on Wednesday he thinks Coca-Cola's controversial equity compensation plan was excessive, but that Berkshire Hathaway abstained in the shareholders vote. Earlier on Wednesday, Coca-Cola said 83 percent of shareholders approved the plan. Critics, most notably activist investor David Winters, said the plan would dilute the holdings of current shareholders too much. As of December 31, Berkshire owned 400 million shares of the company, just over 9 percent of the shares outstanding.

  • Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture
    Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture

    (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc released unaudited dealer sales data on Wednesday that showed a deepening deterioration in global demand for its mining equipment but a continued, albeit modest, rebound in sales of construction equipment as well as reciprocating and turbine engines. The world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment said global dealer sales of its yellow earth-moving machines fell 12 percent year-over-year in March, after falling 8 percent in both January and February. Equipment demand from mining customers was especially weak, Caterpillar said, with global dealer sales of those high-margin products tumbling 46 percent in March after falling 37 percent in both January and February. The downturn in demand for mining equipment was especially dramatic in the Asia-Pacific region, where dealer sales slumped 65 percent in March after falling 55 percent in February and 53 percent in January.

  • Buffett: moving oil by rail safely major industry concern
    Buffett: moving oil by rail safely major industry concern

    By Luciana Lopez NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, said on Wednesday that safety is a major priority for the rail industry, after a recent spate of accidents raised concerns about how to transport oil safely. He added that the delay in the construction of the Keystone pipeline was unlikely to prompt additional purchases of tank cars at Berkshire railroad unit BNSF. COCA-COLA COMPENSATION PLAN Buffett also said, in an interview with CNBC the same day, that he thinks Coca-Cola's equity compensation plan was excessive, but that Berkshire Hathaway abstained in a shareholders vote. Earlier on Wednesday, Coca-Cola said 83 percent of shareholders approved the plan.

  • Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC
    Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC

    (Reuters) - The chief executive officer of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which made a $47 billion unsolicited offer for competitor Allergan Inc on Tuesday, said during an interview on CNBC that he was "disappointed" with Allergan's so-called poison pill. Allergan on Tuesday night said its board of directors had adopted a one-year stockholder rights plan to give it more time to consider takeover proposals. The Valeant offer was made with Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund, which built up a stake in the company. ...

  • Valeant, Ackman offer to buy Botox maker Allergan for $47 billion
    Valeant, Ackman offer to buy Botox maker Allergan for $47 billion

    Canada's Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc said on Tuesday it and activist investor Bill Ackman made an unsolicited $47 billion bid to buy Botox maker Allergan Inc as it seeks to become one of the world's five biggest drug companies. The offer, if successful, would bring together two mid-sized pharmaceutical companies with expertise in skin care and eye care products, and is highly unusual as activist investors typically buy stakes and then agitate for strategic change. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management, Allergan's largest shareholder with a 9.7 percent stake, disclosed in a filing on Monday it is supporting the bid. Allergan said in a statement that it has received the offer, and will carefully consider the proposal and "pursue the course of action that it believes is in the best interests of the company's stockholders." Valeant offered to pay $48.30 a share in cash and 0.83 of its common share for each Allergan share, valuing Allergan at $152.88 a share, a premium of over 7 percent to the company's closing price on Monday.

Follow Yahoo! News