According to Wikipedia, a filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. The English term “filibuster” is derived from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter, “privateer, pirate, robber” (also the root of English “freebooter”).
It was not just about green eggs and ham. It was also not about Darth Vader. U.S. Senator Cruz ended his 21 hour filibuster on Thursday in an attempt to stall the Senate vote on funding ‘Obamacare’. Putting aside the merits of the legislation before the Senate, filibusters are the political equivalent of the hippie protests of the 1960s.
Filibusters allow elected representatives who are typically in the minority to hijack the elected body to highlight issues that they are passionate about. Sometimes the filibusters are meant to highlight when politicians feel their democratic rights have been impeded by the majority. Filibusters are rare in British parliamentary democracies as the majority can put time limits on debate, however sometimes Opposition parties can utilize procedural motions to slow or delay the will of the majority government.
But back to Senator Cruz. It is difficult imaging standing for 2 hours not to mention standing for more than 21 hours. Think of having to speak for almost an entire day. Senator Cruz was asked questions by fellow Senators which provided him with a brief opportunity to sit down for a short rest.
How do you prepare for a filibuster? Do you print off tons of notes and speeches from the internet, read books out loud for extended periods of time. Imagine Cruz’s spouse who had to endure his hours of preparation at home. Sort of like preparing to run a marathon.
And what about bathroom breaks. Either Cruz set a record for the number of hours being able to ‘hold it’ or some type of device was utilized since Cruz was not allowed to leave the chambers during the filibuster. What would have occurred if it was a female Senator engaged in the filibuster? And there is the issue.
The rules of the debate in the U.S. Senate are geared towards men. How would women be able to participate in a filibuster unless some type of porta potty was wheeled into the chambers. Filibusters highlight the need for legislative rule changes to ensure both sexes are treated equally.
Filibusters are good for democracies and even though Cruz was not successful in his attempt to delay the vote, he was successful in bringing attention to an important issue … the need for porta potties in elected chambers.