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Politics

Wendy Davis in Tallahassee: Politicians Can't Hold Women Down

April 26, 2015 - 6:00pm

Former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis fired up fellow Democrats in Tallahassee Monday evening during an event promoting equal pay and gender equality hosted by liberal group Progressive Choice.

Davis ran for governor of Texas in November but, despite national Democrats giving her a great deal of support and attention, she was routed by Republican nominee Greg Abbott, the then outgoing attorney general. Davis was utterly crushed by Abbott, losing 59 percent to 38 percent.

What Davis is perhaps best known for, however, is for lacing up her Mizuno running shoes, putting on a back brace and using a catheter so she could speak for 11 hours nonstop in the Texas Senate back in 2013 against a bill updating abortion regulations.

The filibuster led to Davis being dubbed Abortion Barbie by her conservative critics -- some even paid artists to create large posters with Davis photoshopped onto the body of a Barbie doll with a plastic baby in her belly next to a pair of scissors. While Davis was able to hold off the bill with her filibuster, the TexasLegislaturepassed the bill later in the year.

Despite the criticisms and her loss at the polls, Davis has become somewhat of a hero for liberals, specifically for Democratic women. But even with her attempts to portray herself as a champion for women, less than half of Texas women -- 47 percent -- voted for Davis as she flopped badly in November.

Florida Democrats cheered Davis on Monday night.

She ... energized all of us here and I think she energized the whole nation, said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. Cruz was joined Monday by several other state lawmakers like Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, Victor Torres, D-Orlando, and John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, who all came out to hear Davis speak.

To Cruz and other Democrats, Davis isnt just a political figure -- shes a role model.

Her activism has really motivated all of us here in the whole state, said Cruz.

Just because Davis is now out of office doesnt mean shes given up on the causes she holds dear to her heart. The Texas Democrat spoke to a crowd of around 30 people at the IMAX Challenger Center about the importance of gender equality across the country, reflecting on her own personal experiences as part of the reason shes committed to fighting for womens rights.

As a young woman and a single mother, Davis said she relied on affordable community college, child care, accessible transportation helped her sustain herself and her daughter and give them a better life. But, during the campaign, Davis drew media scrutiny for making misstatements about her personal life.

I feel an obligation to make sure that we turn things back to a better place [for women] and we begin to advance, she said.

Planned Parenthood was also a huge source of support for Davis.

I went there for contraceptive care to make sure that I could pull my daughter and I out of the place [where] we were stuck, she explained.

But in 2015, the former Texas senator said the potential to move up in the world does not exist.

Today there are so many women that cant tell the story that I can tell, she said, pointing to expensive education and child care as well as restrictions on reproductive issues as some reasons why modern-day women are struggling.

Davis also said many across the nation -- including politicians -- diminish womens accomplishments, seeing the female gender as weaker and incapable of being state or national leaders.

Theres been a very purposeful effort to divide us on these issues so that our voices will be diluted, she said.

Gender equality is a real problem affecting millions nationwide, said Davis.

It is not an abstract issue that women earn 77 cents to the dollar that men make, said Davis. It is not an abstract issue that most -- two-thirds -- of the people who earn minimum wage are women who are supporting families ... its not abstract when women dont have an opportunity to become better-educated and to rise in the workforce.

The solution: a unified front of women and men who support women to push for equality in all aspects of a womans life.

Dont ever accept that this is the way its meant to be, said Davis. If we own our own voices ... if we own our own power ... we absolutely can make a difference.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter:@AllisonNielsen.

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