What Wendy Davis’s Dramatic Filibuster Teaches Us About Tenacious Leadership

Last night, the Texas senator captivated the country with her epic filibuster in the state senate. But it’s far from the only thing she’s done.

What Wendy Davis’s Dramatic Filibuster Teaches Us About Tenacious Leadership

Last night, Wendy Davis solidified herself as a hero of women across America.


In a flurry of late-night theatrics, the Democratic state senator captured the national stage when she attempted a 13-hour filibuster to kill a controversial bill that would dramatically restrict access to abortions in Texas. If passed, SB-5’s strict new requirements would result in the closure of a significant amount of abortion clinics in Texas (a state of 26 million people), and restrict abortions after 20 weeks.

In accordance with Texas rules, Davis was required to speak continuously (and on-topic), forbidden to lean against something for support, or take a break to visit the bathroom or eat.

With just two hours left in the senate’s special session–and eleven hours of speaking–Davis’ filibuster was brought to an end after three warnings by Lt. Governer David Dewhurst. However, after considerable stalling by Democrats, and almost continuous applause from supporters in the senate galley, the vote was not completed by the midnight deadline, thus accomplishing the initial objective of Davis’ action.

Here’s a (slightly choppy) video of an elated Davis speaking, immediately after the bill was struck down.

On Monday, Davis tweeted “The leadership may not want to listen to TX women, but they will have to listen to me. I intend to filibuster this bill. #SB5 #txlege.” In preparation for the lengthy event, she asked her constituents to share their stories, some of which she read during on the senate floor.

By late Tuesday, over 120,000 viewers were watching Davis on the Texas Tribune’s live stream of the filibuster. On social media, hundreds of thousands of tweets and Facebook posts commended Davis for her defense of women’s issues in a male-dominated field, and a Republican-controlled senate.


So what leadership lessons can we learn from Davis and her dramatic stand?

You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps

According to her site biography, Davis began working to support her single mother and three siblings at the age of just 14. Five years later, she would give birth to her first child, and work two jobs while starting her academic career at a local community college. Davis then transferred to Texas Christian University, where she earned her degree and finished first in her class, (the first in her family) before continuing on to Harvard Law School.

After being elected to the Fort Worth city council in 1999, Davis would rise to the position of state senator in 2008, when she defeated entrenched Republican incumbent Kenneth Brimer by a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

Don’t be swayed. By anything.

In March 2012, a bag stuffed with six Molotov cocktails was left outside Davis’ office in Forth Worth.


The resulting fire caused damage to her office, but was extinguished by several alert staffers. Davis was not in her office at the time of the attack, which was later deemed to be committed by a mentally unstable man. Following the incident, Davis told the Dallas Observer, “We have an open door and we will continue to have an open door. And I’ll continue to talk about the things I’ve been talking about. I don’t intend to change my public positions on those issues or to be quiet going forward.”

Stand up for what you believe in, and don’t back down

Last night’s filibuster was not Davis’ first. Two years ago, she flew headfirst into the GOP-controlled senate against a bill that would leave Texas public schools nearly 4 billion dollars short. The filibuster left lawmakers scrambling, forced a special session the following morning, and garnered national attention.

Davis returned to her Twitter page late last night to find a staggering increase of 50,000 followers. She tweeted:

“Thanks to the powerful voices of thousands of Texans, #SB5 is dead. An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them.”

[Image: Eric Gay | AP images]

About the author

Former Editorial Assistant Miles Kohrman helped run Fast Company's homepage and completed miscellaneous tasks around the newsroom. He is a 2013 graduate of The New School.