Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited

Social media analysis challenges stereotype of conservative state
By Amanda Jean Stevenson
The full text of the article is available at this link to the June 24th edition of The Houston Chronicle
One year ago this week, state Sen. Wendy Davis drew national attention with her filibuster of HB2, an omnibus abortion restriction bill that has since ushered in a 50 percent decline in the number of abortion clinics in our state. For 11 hours a year ago today, she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes as thousands of Texans rallied around her at the state Capitol and 180,000 people watched online. Her filibuster also sparked the wildly popular social media hashtag #StandWithWendy, instantly offering insight into a segment of the state that isn’t so red: Not all Texans agree that restricting abortion rights is a good idea.

Most discussion of Texas in the national media focuses on the state’s extremely conservative factions. But Texas is full of principled people across the political spectrum. Thousands of them marched on the state Capitol to oppose HB2. Before Davis filibustered, 700 people registered to testify in a “citizens filibuster” that lasted late into the night of June 20, and thousands filled Capitol buildings day after day dressed in orange T-shirts, the color chosen to symbolize the fight against HB2. After Davis’ filibuster, 19,000 filed comments against the bill and they continued to fill the Capitol for each hearing and vote. Throughout, they were joined by a digital chorus on Twitter that was hundreds of thousands strong.

I have analyzed the 1.66 million tweets that comprise the Twitter discussion associated with the bill. These tweets came from 399,000 users worldwide. Roughly 44 percent of the tweets were sent from Texans in support of abortion rights, and in all, about 115,500 Texans expressed their support for abortion rights as part of the Twitter discussion of the bill. These Texans are not all Austin liberals. They live throughout the state, in rural and urban areas. In fact, tweets in support of the filibuster were sent from 189 of Texas’ 254 counties, including the majority of rural counties and all urban ones. Only 1.8 percent of the Texas population lives in counties from which no identifiable tweets of support were sent.

The full article

How I Make You Invisible

performance photo

by Mario Venegas


The play Am I Invisible engages audiences through a series of performances that demonstrate the perspective of the homeless in Austin, Texas. Directed by Roni Chelben, the presentation consists of video footage of interviews with members of homeless communities, followed by a series of monologues, and ends with a Forum Theater scene (Boal 1975). The monologues and interviews portray the lived experiences of members of the Austin homeless community. Some of these monologues include poetry, song, and personal testimonies of being ignored and made socially invisible in the consumption-laden streets of Austin. During the performance, I had my own preconceptions about what would take place and how the piece might be just another form of entertainment or ‘poverty porn.’ I was torn between these critical streams of thought and my own personal experiences in organizing street theater and productions like the Tunnel of Oppression back when I was an undergrad. However, once the play was over, and I was able to go home, rest and process, I started making better sense of Chelben’s production.

The Forum Theater is especially interesting. In Chelben’s performance spectators witness a story of a man’s ‘descent’ into homelessness. In the scene, the man gets no help from his family or friends to move his stuff from an apartment whose rent is long overdue. He ends up homeless and seeks help at a shelter, but the facility is too full. So he meets another homeless man at the facility, and they both sleep in a public space, where they’re then harassed by the police. The scene ends with both men being arrested for resisting authority.

After the scene takes place, Chelben, who is the facilitator or ‘joker’ (Boal 1975; Schutzman et al 2006), guides the audience to engage with the scene, which is then reenacted according to suggestions made by audience members.  The audience has a chance to talk among themselves and propose actions that could change the outcome of the scene. The goal to implement the suggestions in order to  spark dialogues among the audience and cast on the social issues presented.

I want to share some of my thoughts on the performance below. I’m relying partly on the works of Augusto Boal, such as Theatre of the Oppressed (1975), and other related perspectives. Also, I’m speaking from a spectator’s point of view, specifically that of a graduate student with limited knowledge of the production itself and of being homeless.

Theatre of the Oppressed


Theatre of the Oppressed talks about ways in which theater has become a tool of the ruling classes; confined to a bourgeois space that is divorced from the social and political spheres of life (Boal 1975, p 77). Inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Boal suggests, and demonstrates in his work, techniques to transform audiences from a passive role to an active one; making them constitutive of the theatrical process of social conscientização.

One such technique is the use of Forum Theater. Forum Theater is where ‘spec-actors’ give input on a scene in order to change its course of action within the bounds of the social context so that realistic solutions are discussed and rehearsed. The goal of Boal’s work is to use theater as a means to empower audiences by creating a space to ‘practice’ social change. Of interest here is the use of the spec-actor as a means to locate the participatory potential of audiences in Am I Invisible.

During the entire production, two things stood out to me. The first thing that struck me was the monologues of being invisible in Austin. I admit I, too, am guilty of participating in this ‘invisibilization’ process as I meander through downtown. When a homeless person asks me for spare change or tries to get my attention, I shake my head, look down and just keep on walking. Why do I react in this way? What has conditioned me to not only ignore but also deny any sort of assistance to a homeless person? I’ll return to these questions later.

A second aspect of the production that stood out to me was the use of the Forum Theater in the final scene. After the first run-through of how the man became homeless, audience members were allowed to contribute to the scene and try to change its outcome. However, the ‘joker’ or facilitator does not allow for easy, magical solutions—i.e. a friend suddenly appearing or winning the lottery. The suggestions must be realistic and feasible within the context of the scene. According to Boal, the idea behind this practice is for audiences to rehearse their suggestions as a way to develop a sense of social and political participation.

Boal (1975) writes:

Often a person is very revolutionary when in a public forum he envisages and advocates revolutionary and heroic acts; on the other hand, he often realizes that things are not so easy when he himself has to practice what he suggests.

The theater provides a ‘play space’ for these types of rehearsals, but again, not without faults to be addressed in another discussion.

To go back to my previous questions, I wished we could have had a conversation about the ways in which those of us who are not homeless are implicated in the process of invisibilizing the homeless. I think this aspect was underdeveloped and would’ve provided a more engaging conversation. That is, it would be fruitful to use Boal’s techniques to illuminate the ways images are used to police boundaries between groups, viz the homed versus the homeless. In other words, to incorporate into the discussion some ways in which images of the homeless and the poor are part of a discourse of class and social degeneration used to police the boundaries between classes (McClintock 1994, p 47) to further marginalize the poor, as in this commercial.

The Real Cost


It was through applied theater that my sociological imagination was first sparked. Community theater gives me a space for a queer marginalized body on a white campus to survive and to develop a means and a language to navigate the prisms of inequality and power we inhabit. I believe applied theater is fertile grounds for sociological engagement and provides one of many ways to communicate an understanding of social structures. Overall, I found Am I Invisible to be a rich play.


Here is a site where audiences can submit comments as part of a journal project:



Boal, Augusto. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Urizen Books.

Fraser, Nancy (1995) “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age” New Left Review 212: 68-93.

Fraser, Nancy & Naples, Nancy A. (2004) “To Interpret the World and to Change it: An Interview with Nancy Fraser” Signs 29(4): 1103-1124.

Meikle, Glendora. (2013) “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?” The Guardian accessed May 1, 2014 at (

McClintock, Anne. (1995) Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York, NY: Routledge.

Neelands, Jonathan. (2007) “Taming the political: the struggle over recognition in the politics of applied theatre” Research in Drama Education 12(3): 305-317.

Schutzman, Mady (1994) “Brechtian Shamanism: The Political Therapy of Augusto Boal” p. 137-155 in Playing Boal: Theatre, therapy, activism edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz. New York, NY: Routledge.

On Cowards, Think Pieces, and #HashtagActivism


by Shantel G. Buggs

Much has been said about the ubiquity of think pieces in 2014. Think pieces – written with the intention of making the reader “think” about a given topic – address everything from Beyonce to whether Michelle Obama is a “feminist nightmare” to, even on occasion, think pieces themselves! These days, social media platforms, bloggers, and online news outlets seem to have stumbled into some kind of think piece Inception-like fever dream, leading some critics to view this obsession with think pieces as both a waste of time and a lazy means of “participating” in social movements and/or politics.

Several weeks ago, Gawker ran a piece entitled “Black People Are Cowards” in response to the release of audio of Donald Sterling’s racist comments about Magic Johnson, the players on his NBA team, and whom his alleged mistress could be seen and/or sleep with. Written by New York City recording artist, Homeboy Sandman, who also has thoughts on stop and frisk , the piece lambasts black people (and all people, generally) as cowards for failing to stand up against racism or other forms of injustice. Sandman accuses black people of being too afraid to risk losing out on earning money and/or other material possessions.

Clippers stage a silent protest.

While the initial targets of his ire were the black members of the Clippers, who staged a silent protest against Sterling’s comments by wearing their team-issued shooting gear inside out and throwing their warm-ups on the center court logo, Sandman suggests that black people are “walking quietly to slavery.” He argues that black people (and, assumedly, everyone else) need to “step it up” by using social media to rally each other for real (i.e. physical rather than virtual), meaningful social action. Sandman states:

It’s almost as if people have forgotten that struggle includes struggling. You might have to lose your job. You might have to lose your life. That’s what it takes for change to happen. There’s no easy way to do this. If you’re scared to stand up for yourself, for whatever reason, all I ask is that you stop pretending. Stop with the Facebook posts. Stop with the meaningless conversations. Just stop. Be honest. About how you behave. About your part in all this madness. About what you are. A coward. Just a coward. No need to put on an act for the rest of us. We can all see right through each other.

By invoking Frederick Douglass – “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”[1] – Sandman situates himself among abolitionists, civil rights activists, and other agitators who value action-oriented social movements, minimizing the work that can be done by sharing an article or by participating in a hashtag discussion. While I can understand the insistence that people who are marginalized must do more to push back against the system that marginalizes them, I find it a bit ridiculous to suggest that black people – who are disproportionately found to be living in poverty or just above the poverty line – should protest their conditions by staying home from work or going on strike. Call these people “cowards” all you want, but how does it help us progress as a society if the marginalized become further marginalized through these “strikes?”

As any good Marxist knows, capitalist enterprise will find a means of replacing its work force, because capitalism is very good at facilitating the growth of surplus labor. Further, Sandman’s implication that the loss of employees of color will undermine the capitalist system enough that “real” change can be achieved entirely ignores the fact that the anxieties that arise during times of abundant surplus labor are tied to norms associated with race, gender, sexuality, and class.[2] While there may be liberatory potential in capital itself – as Ferguson suggests, it is “amoral” – that does not mean that capitalism, the system, is not inherently racist and heteropatriarchal.


People of color, women, and nonheterosexual persons are marked as nonheteronormative and pathological, and therefore, when they find a place within the capitalist framework, the “universality” that has been defined by the white, male heterosexual, it becomes undone and the racial integrity and purity of the state is put at risk.[3] To suggest that professional athletes (though not even all of these individuals are “millionaires”) and the everyday “citizen” have the same capacity to challenge their employers/the system is a dangerous comparison to make and one that I simply cannot get behind. That is not how power works. Everyone exists in what Patricia Hill Collins terms a matrix of domination,[4] which allows for the visualization of the limitations that result from our various intersecting oppressions; people of color, especially women of color, become particularly vulnerable in systems like capitalism due to these matrices of oppression.

When Sandman calls for black people to stop being cowards and be willing to quit their jobs, I doubt he had urban single women/mothers in mind, despite the rise in the feminization of poverty. He mocks the assertion that people are “trying to feed their families” as though that is not a valid reason to not go on strike. Rather than trying to use capitalist logic and the market as a tool to foster change, Sandman might want to try to consider a world where capitalism is not the system we operate under at all. Personally, I do not believe that “real” change comes from making wealthy, old, white capitalists take a (likely, negligible) dent in their profits.


Further, to belittle the work that think pieces, Facebook posts or hashtag “activism” can do does little to make real change happen, whatever “real” change is; having these conversations and exposing people to other ways of thinking and viewing the world can have an impact. Bringing people’s attention to issues that are outside of the quotidian can have an impact (#BringBackOurGirls or #solidarityisforwhitewomen, anyone?). It is one thing to critique the co-opting of hashtag movements by individuals who actually possess a modicum of social power (ahem, umm, yeah and oh, okay) and another to suggest that those who use hashtag activism to amplify the voice(s) of those who do not get a say/have very little social power are doing nothing. The days of protesting and marching and sit-ins are not over – we see people do it all the time. But it is important to check our privilege as public intellectuals (or whatever identity we may subscribe to) and note that not everyone has the luxury of protesting their conditions by marching on Jena or Wall Street or Washington, D.C. or Abuja, by quitting or striking their place of employment, or by risking their life. Sometimes, the only way to protest your condition is simply to survive, to exist.

[1] Douglass, Frederick. (1857). “West India Emancipation.”

[2] Ferguson, Roderick A. (2004). Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Collins, Patricia Hill. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment.


Shantel G. Buggs is a fourth-year in the Sociology department studying race, gender, sexuality, and popular culture. Follow her on Twitter at @Future_Dr_Buggs.

Indigenous solutions to intellectual violence – stop talking and listen

Ilarion Merculieff, director of Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways and Dr. Libby Roderick, Director of the Difficult Dialogues program at the University of Alaska

Intellectual violence in the academe is a hot topic and was the subject of an animated Sociology brownbag last year.  There was consensus about the problem, but no real solutions emerged.  So, when I signed up for the  Stop Talking – Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning workshop offered by the Humanities Institute, I was glad to discover valuable insights and techniques for creating civility in often heated academic discussions.

Co-presenters Ilarion (Larry) Merculief, the director of the Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and professor and Director of the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s difficult dialogues program Libby Roderick have co-authored and published two books.  The first provided the foundation for our meeting and the second, Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education is a companion piece for instructors teaching courses that deal with contentious issues. Ilarion, an Alaskan native, began by describing his life as a child growing up in a traditional aleut village. His family were hunters and fishers, members of a small Unungan community living on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. From an early age, the children were taught to open their minds and their senses to the earth and sea and to listen. A typical greeting, translated as “The morning tastes good,” reflects their sense of well-being living in harmony with nature. Parents allowed children the freedom to roam and they were not chastised or punished for misdeeds, but taught communal values by elders and by their Aachaa, with whom they had a special spiritual bond. Time, attention and belonging were predicated on nature, on place, and on being one of the people who kept the balance of life by honoring and protecting the earth. People spent a lot less time talking and much more listening and communicating non-verbally. The foundation for respecting all living beings was given to Ilarion along with the challenge to communicate this balance of life, self and other to non-natives.

He began with a list of values that he felt most Alaska Native cultures have in common:

  • Treat each other with respect
  • Keep in mind that everyone has their own truth
  • Listen without agenda
  • Be polite, courteous and thoughtful
  • Refrain from interruption
  • Affirm other speakers
  • Do not voice disagreement or use violent words; instead, say something positive about the previous speaker and then simply add your own thoughts
  • Respect privacy: everything shared in confidence needs to be kept in confidence
  • Be supportive of each other

Clearly, a very civil agenda and one sorely lacking in most academic discourse.  The foundation of respect comes from the knowledge that the community is completely interdependent and rooted in love of the earth.  One of the first things workshop participants were asked to do was go outside for a 10 minute exercise in listening and opening our senses to the environment. We went to the turtle pond by the main building to enjoy the beautiful day.

This re-centering  and re-energizing exercise was one suggested method for engaging the mind/body and including the heart in the conversations to follow. Giving participants a chance to reflect before answering questions and building in spaces for silence slows the pace and gives introverts more opportunities to be heard.  Another useful technique employed in the workshop was to create listening pairs, setting aside five or six minutes at a time for each person to talk about what they were learning with the other actively listening.  Research has shown that using wait time as a teaching strategy to facilitate think time produces better responses to questions. Even issues that are divisive and contentious can be discussed if we allow each person to have their own truth and we are willing to listen without formulating a response. There will be additional posts from this workshop,from the Stop Talking handbook and from the Start Talking engaging difficult dialogues handbook. The value of these lessons cannot be overestimated and I am grateful to Ilarion and to Libby for sharing their wisdom with their southern compadres.


The Financial Crisis, Gender, and Graduate School: An Interview with Megan Tobias Neely


Recently, Dr. Christine Williams interviewed Megan Tobias Neely for the blog Work in Progress – the official blog of the ASA’s Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section.

Neely’s interview is part four of a four-part panel on the health of the Sociology of Work.

Synopsis of Neely’s Interview:

Christine Williams responds to Chris from a different angle, presenting an interview with Megan Tobias Neely, who just defended her PhD thesis proposal for an ethnographic study of hedge fund managers. Megan notes that professors, fellow grad students, and even those within the hedge fund industry have been very interested in her research. While there are differences in studying this industry versus others – most notably, a need to be careful to neither demonize nor glorify her subjects – she concludes that “My goal is no different than that of my fellow graduate students who are studying low wage workers—contextualizing their social worlds and learning about how they make sense of their daily work lives.”

The panel on the health of the Sociology of Work can be found here: A Health Check on the Sociology of Work