(Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Nov 05, 2022
After he said what he had to say, that's when "it got wild."
Author and political commentator Anand Giridharadas was about to deliver a speech touching on the ideas of democracy, freedom, and fascism at a gala event during the Texas Book Festival on Friday night when he learned that Cecilia Abbott, wife of the state's Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, was in the audience.
"There is a word for a movement that seeks to steal vital freedoms, spread lies, fuel violence, and sabotage free elections. That word is fascism."
Just days before the high-stakes midterm elections, Giridharadas--at the event in part to discuss his latest book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy--decided to add remarks with a direct appeal to the governor's wife, specifically on the issue of abortion and women's choice.
Stating that the word "freedom" was something he "thought was revered in Texas," Giridharadas argued that the very idea of freedom was "under threat today from small-hearted, cynical, and frankly, creepy leaders in this state who want to control your body and mind."
Following applause, he continued by telling the Texas audience that "at the top of that list" of leaders was "your governor, Greg Abbott."
Giridharadas then acknowledged he knew that Cecilia Abbott was in the banquet room, telling her it was "an honor to have you here," and that maybe she could convince her husband "to leave other women's bodies alone."
With that, larger applause and hollers rose up and a standing ovation ensued after he asked those in the room if they would "like that message to be passed on to the governor's residence tonight?" Watch:
"Leave other women's bodies alone!" Giridharadas repeated as people in the crowd could be heard loudly clapping and yelling "Amen! Amen!"
It was after this, he explained as he retold the story and shared video of the event in a Twitter thread on Saturday, that some fallout began when one donor in particular who supported the book festival financially accosted him for being out of line.
"A big donor who had invited Cecilia Abbott came up and berated me in front of a crowd for five minutes, even as virtually everyone else was so nice about it," he described. "The donor said she was pulling her donations to the festival. And that I was therefore hurting kids."
While Giridharadas said he pushed back against the donor who contended he wasn't "supposed to be political at galas and literacy events" by saying "I'm always political" and that maybe it was not what he said but someone pulling donations that might end up "hurting kids"--he also explained that most of the people in attendance said they welcomed what he had done.
"I want to thank each and every Texan who came up to me afterward last night and said, 'No one does this in polite society in Texas, but we need to,'" Giridharadas said in his post. "There were more than I can remember... [more] aging white guys than I can count thanked me for standing up for women."
To anyone who suggests that, even if right, he broke an unwritten "code of civility" for speaking out and putting Cecilia Abbott and Gov. Abbott on the spot, Giridharadas said he wanted to be clear: "I reject that code."
"If you're more offended by a speech than by the theft of fundamental rights from women, that's on you," he said.
"Above all," he concluded, "thank you to the women in the room, and the men who love them, who stood and made me not alone as I sent my message to Gov. Abbott. None of us is alone. So if you see something, say something, even if it wasn't in your original script."
Though not captured in the video, the text of the prepared speech posted online by Giridharadas states, "There is a word for a movement that seeks to steal vital freedoms, spread lies, fuel violence, and sabotage free elections"--all a clear reference to Gov. Abbott and his Republican Party.
"That word," it says, "is fascism."
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