This article appeared in the April 9, 2019, issue of the student newsletter.
As part of Women's History Month, former Texas state senator Wendy Davis spoke to a crowd of students at Brookhaven about everyone's role in activism and civility and her background.
Davis served in the Texas Senate from 2009 until 2015. She is the founder and director of Deeds Not Words, which is a nonprofit that works to "empower and activate the voices of young women in public and political discourse."
"Civility means treating each other with respect and trying to at least give a sincere effort to put yourself into the shoes of someone you disagree with to see if you can find common ground," she said.
Wendy cited Earl Warren, the 14th chief justice of the United States, who was a significant figure in expanding civil rights and civil liberties, as the greatest example set for her about civility.
Her career started more than 20 years after Earl Warren died when, in 1996, she lost by fewer than 100 votes in a Fort Worth City Council election. Three years later, she ran again and won her first public office when she was 36 years old.
"I was filled with the hope and the dream that I was not going to live the kind of life experience that I'd seen my mom live," she said. "A life where every day she would come home, take those white shoes off, prop her swollen feet up on the sofa, knowing that for the next day and the next and the next and the next, this would be her life.
"I wanted something more for myself."
Earlier in her life, things changed drastically when Wendy found out she was pregnant when she was 18 years old. Soon after, she was a single mom working multiple jobs just trying to get by.
"I sometimes paid my bills by going to a pawn shop. Sometimes I was unable to pay my bills, so I would come home, and my lights were turned off," she said. "Or I would go to the grocery store and have to put groceries back because I didn't have enough to pay for what I had in my cart.
"I learned through those experiences what it means to struggle, but I also learned to hope in the midst of that."
One of the ways out of that purgatory was through community college when she attended Tarrant County College.
After two years, she transferred to TCU. She recalled wearing purple heels to class every day because she had to go to work right after her morning classes. She thought about those shoes during her 13-hour filibuster in 2013 to block Senate Bill 5, which included restrictive abortion regulations for women in Texas.
"I was standing in a pair of pink sneakers, but really I was standing in my grandmother's leather lace-up shoes," she said. "I was standing in my mom's white orthopedic comfort shoes. I was standing in those purple high heels with the nails protruding through the heels. I was standing in my bare feet as I laid back on a doctor's table and made the most difficult decision of my life.
"Community college brought me to that moment and formed why I cared so much about making sure that young people across this state had access to the same higher education opportunities that I had," she said.
She also spoke briefly about Deeds Not Words.
"The work that we do centers around making sure that we are free from sexual harassment and assault. We can't be fully equalized if we're not," Wendy said. "We work on making sure women are being paid equally to men with equal workplace conditions. We work to make sure that the minimum wage is increased because it so disproportionately impacts women."
To achieve that, sometimes you have to be unconventional.
"Every now and then, we need to be unruly, and every now and then, we need to raise our voices so high and stomp our feet so loudly that we force change, and we know nothing but that is going to make it happen."