Pro-choice protestors outside the University of Texas. (File Photo) Photograph: Getty Images
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What the hell actually happened in Texas last night?

Chaos and confusion in the Capitol.

If you don't know what's happening in Austin right now, then chances are you haven't opened Twitter in the last few hours. The internet practically exploded last night, as protesters in the public gallery of the Texas State Senate unleashed a pandemonium of screaming in support of the heroic Wendy Davis, a state senator who was on her feet speaking for ten hours. Davis had been working to filibuster a particularly horrific anti-abortion bill which would limit access to abortion-causing pills and reduce the number of clinics in the state effectively to just five.

After a chaotic few hours of waiting, it now looks certain that the bill, known as SB5, has indeed been killed – and by a matter of moments. The official record of the vote is that it took place at 12:03 – three minutes past the time when the special session closed. Under Texas law, that means it didn't pass.

If this sounds like a bit of a procedural drama, it was. But it was an extremely dramatic one, especially for the last fifteen minutes, and if there's anything the internet loves, it's a good melodrama – just look at the tweets-per-minute data of the event.

Republicans in the chamber at first claimed victory, and the Associated Press reported that the vote had passed. But the internet raised a hue and cry: when the result was first posted, the date-stamp was today's; it was quickly changed, but not fast enough that the internet missed it. The two screencaps are here.

The senators were recalled to the chamber for an emergency caucus, and the screen-caps above were shown in the  chamber. Moments ago, after an agonisingly long discussion, the Lt. Governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, announced that the vote had been out of time and invalid – the filibuster was successful. Few people have seen politics this electrifying in living memory. More than 170 thousand people were watching the live-stream of the chamber by midnight, despite the fact that it was the middle of the night on the east coast.

This is the moment when, with fifteen minutes to go before midnight, Davis' colleague, senator Leticia Van De Putte, struggling to be heard, asked what a female senator had to do to be heard over her male colleagues; causing the cheering to begin from the public gallery. The cheering continued, drowning out the attempts of the chamber to vote, until after midnight.

A filibuster is famous for being at the heart of some of the most exciting moments of US political history. It is when a politician attempts to run out the clock on a debate, by speaking for a prolonged amount of time in order to prevent a vote on a particular topic. In Washington today, however, moments these are rare. Just the threat of a filibuster – like that of a Presidential veto – is usually enough to upset the course of a bill these days, though earlier this year libertarian Senator Rand Paul filibustered for thirteen hours to protest about the President's drone policies.

So what happens next? Once the confusion calms down – this was the scene inside the Senate chamber just a few moments before the emergency session announced that the bill had not passed – Republicans may try to mount a legal challenge. Some supporters of SB5 are already saying that they will try to re-introduce the bill at the next special senate. The democratic body of Texas was overruled last night not by debate or campaigning, or even, in the end, by the heroic Senator Davis, but by a grass-roots of people in the public gallery. It was not politics by the books; it was politics at its most raw, and the Republicans will respond.

The exciting part is probably over. But it has been an unforgettable night.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.