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Now playing in downtown Austin: An angry abortion rights rally, and a celebration of Trump

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Dueling downtown political rallies Saturday — an abortion rights demonstration at the Texas Capitol organized by Democrats, and an event hosted by former President Donald Trump at the Austin Convention Center — neatly illustrated the current state of Texas politics.

Over a thousand gathered in the 95-degree heat to protest the likely demise of Roe v. Wade, the decision that codified a constitutional right to abortion in 1973. A stage was set up on the South Capitol steps, where speakers took turns railing against Republicans, leading chants and calling for additional abortion protections.

The prevailing message was one of anger — anger at Gov. Greg Abbott, anger that Republicans seek to legislate women’s medical decisions and anger that Democrats in Texas are essentially powerless to stop them, as demonstrated last year with the passage of Senate Bill 8, the state’s 6-week abortion ban.

Meanwhile at the convention center, Trump supporters paid $100 to $5,000 a seat. The event is not a campaign rally or fundraiser — Trump held such a rally in Conroe in January — but is a for-profit enterprise featuring an array of conservative speakers and rocker Ted Nugent.

Abortion rights demonstrators attend a rally at the Texas Capitol, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Demonstrators are rallying from coast to coast in the face of an anticipated Supreme Court decision that could overturn women’s right to an abortion. More (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay, STF / Associated Press

The former president and other speakers; who include Donald Trump Jr., former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; were lined up to trumpet the accomplishments of the 45th president and the Republican party to a crowd of thousands in the air-conditioned convention center.

The Trump event by mid afternoon felt more like a business conference than a fiery political rally.

The biggest names were scheduled to speak later on in the afternoon. At 3 p.m., the speaker was selling financial services, encouraging the audience to buy stocks and invest. He asked the audience to pay for access to a financial seminar and software to manage their investments. His upbeat, enthusiastic pitch sounded similar to a late-night infomercial.

The crowd toward the back of the room was a little antsy as they awaited the more high-profile speakers. One woman complained, “this guy’s been speaking for like 90 minutes.”

Above the stage, a banner said “It’s time to win back America” in all capital letters, and banners hung down from the sides of the stage saying Faith, Family, Finance and Freedom. Eight large screens were positioned from front to back of the hall to broadcast the presentation. The line for Southside pizza and concessions was very long.

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 14: Anti-abortion protesters attend a rally for reproductive rights at the Texas Capitol on May 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas. On May 2, 2022 Politico published a leaked draft Supreme Court majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Womens Health Organization that explicitly overturns Roe v. Wade, which would reverse constitutional protections for abortion across the nation. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Montinique Monroe, Stringer / Getty Images

Never more worried

In Texas, Democrats have not elected a statewide official in a generation. Democrats are minorities in the state House and Legislature, and of late Republicans have moved away from a tradition of comity and bipartisanship in the Capitol, instead enacting conservative priorities with little or no Democratic assent. With the reins of power in-hand, Republicans have drawn political maps that are advantageous to them, making it even more of an uphill battle for the Democrats to fight back.

The Democrats are standing out in the sun, yelling. And the Republicans are enjoying the air conditioning, discussing their many victories and planning more to come.

Demonstrators at the abortion rally said some combination of pragmatism and a desire for emotional release brought them. They hoped a show of solidarity would be enough to change the laws legislators pursue at the Capitol, or that it might translate to votes in future elections. But for many, it was also an opportunity to let go of anger, stress and despair for the future with a like-minded crowd.

Abortion rights demonstrators try to block anti-abortion demonstrators at the Texas Capitol, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Demonstrators are rallying from coast to coast in the face of an anticipated Supreme Court decision that could overturn women’s right to an abortion. More (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay, STF / Associated Press

Anti-abortion demonstrators are separated from Abortion rights demonstrators state police during a rally at the Texas Capitol, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Demonstrators are rallying from coast to coast in the face of an anticipated Supreme Court decision that could overturn women’s right to an abortion. More (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay, STF / Associated Press

Anti-abortion demonstrators are separated from Abortion rights demonstrators state police during a rally at the Texas Capitol, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

“I’m very worried. I try not to let it ruin my life, but a lot of women my age are,” said Karen Mangan, in her 60s, from Blanco County. She said she’s grown used to having certain rights, including her abortion rights, and now feels they’re being stripped away. She’s never been more concerned about the future of the United States.

Mangan said the rally “might, might” influence the Legislature, but she doesn’t have her hopes up. She noted that the Women’s March in 2017 drew enormous crowds all around the country.

“It didn’t stop Trump from being in office for four years,” she said. ”We have to let some rage loose, so we can go on, live our lives.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett — an Austin Democrat — hit similar notes in his speech at the rally. “This must not just be about venting our justifiable anger,” he said.

“What we have to overcome is elsewhere in Texas, their lies are selling better than our truth,” Doggett said. “No one here needs to be convinced… we will not win this fight at the courthouse, so we must win it at the ballot box.”

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