We Don't Have to Accept This
The Supreme Court can say what it wants. But it is not the boss of us.
On Friday, just hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a group of House Democrats gathered outside of the Capitol to celebrate the passage of gun control legislation. Despite the fact that half of the country had just had one of its most basic legal rights torn to shreds, Nancy Pelosi—fresh off of a round of emails asking people to save abortion by giving money to Democrats—led her group in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”
At about the same time, Washington’s Metro Police Department issued a statement (complete with rainbow-ed out Pride logo) saying that it had “initiated a full departmental activation” in anticipation of any forthcoming protests, and police in riot gear were deployed around the Supreme Court.
This is how our political system tries to maintain itself, especially when its contempt for us is displayed most clearly. Our elected officials make frantic, feeble gestures at patriotic unity, and promise us that, if we just put our trust in them, they’ll sort the mess out. Meanwhile, the violent apparatus of the state gears up to see that we stay pacified in the face of outrageous injustice, and promises us that there will be brutal reprisals if we get out of line.
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What’s crystal clear a day after the fall of Roe is that only one of those promises can be believed, and it’s not the one coming from the politicians.
The power of the government to help people is on pathetically limited display, and the lack of urgency from Democrats is palpable. Despite having months to prepare, the White House made no significant moves to protect abortion access. Kamala Harris tweeted a picture of her concernedly watching news coverage of the Dobbs ruling from 30,000 feet in the air aboard her government plane—as blatant a visual manifestation of this administration’s preference for “I see you, I hear you” gestures over concrete action as you will find. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that Joe Biden does not want to reform the Supreme Court. Senate Democrats mobilized by vowing…to hold a hearing on abortion in July. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House (and great friend of anti-abortion Rep. Henry Cuellar), shrugged that the Dobbs decision was “anticlimactic.” Rep. Andy Levin marked the occasion by tweeting a picture of himself doing yoga.
But the power of the state to hurt people? That’s as robust as ever. On Friday night, police tear-gassed protesters in Arizona and assaulted reporters in Los Angeles. A cop running for office in Rhode Island physically attacked his opponent in the street. And by Saturday morning, the cancerous network of trigger bans and draconian laws had rapidly spread across America. As of this writing, according to the New York Times, abortion is fully banned in nine states, and at least 12 more are soon to follow with either new restrictions or outright bans. As of this writing, there are few things as heavily surveilled, violated, and criminalized in this country as women’s bodies, and politicians intend to use the vast punitive powers at their disposal to keep it that way.
There is only one inescapable conclusion to be drawn from all of this: the American system is not the guarantor of our liberties, it is the obstacle in the way of them. We’re asked to place our trust in a voting system that’s been gerrymandered and corrupted to the point that it makes a mockery of meaningful democratic representation; in an economic system that relentlessly funnels money upwards and works overtime to turn the rest of us into supplicants, too ground down by our precarity to fight for our rights; in a judicial system that has been captured by the far right for decades to come. We’re asked to back politicians who take the power we give them and fritter it away time and again; who strip money from our schools to give them to cops; who respond to a civil liberties emergency by singing “God Bless America.”
We don’t have to accept any of this.
We don’t have to accept that a Supreme Court ruling is sacrosanct guidance. The Supreme Court is not the boss of us. It tells us what is “legal,” not what is right or just. The right to an abortion does not come from a statute. It comes from peoples’ essential right to control their own lives and their own bodies. It comes from their existence as human beings. There is a power in that that trumps any decree handed down by a group of unaccountable theocratic thugs. The court—and the state violence that supports it—can succeed in putting up countless horrifying barriers between people and those rights, but it can’t alter that reality. Nor can it stop abortions from happening. Unjust laws are made to be broken, relentlessly, militantly, and creatively. (And the homes of the powerful are made to be picketed.)
We don’t have to accept that our role in life is to meekly vote for the Democratic Party. It has touted itself for decades as the main protector of abortion rights in this country, and for decades it has shown how hollow that narrative was. The fall of Roe is as profound a verdict on the betrayals of Democratic governance as any moment in American history. It has had repeated chances to enshrine abortion rights in law, and it has punted every time, preferring instead to use abortion as a get-out-the-vote cudgel. Even now, it refuses to stand firmly against anti-abortion voices within its own ranks. It also refuses to break with the carceral monstrosity that will be the chief enforcer of abortion-related punishment across the country. “Fund the police!” Joe Biden screamed. Well, now those police he loves so much will be hauling women to jail for the crime of deciding they’d rather not be pregnant. Democrats are vowing to codify Roe into law, but what reason do we have to trust them? It is obvious that the only thing that will move them is if they are made to move—if business as usual is disrupted enough that they see there is no other choice. They may beg us to respect the rules, to cling to the institutions that spit in our faces every day, to support them no matter what they do. But we are not obligated to listen to them.
We don’t have to accept that this is just how things are in the United States. The people in charge want us to cower before them, to grimly carry on with our lives even as everything goes to hell around us, but we don’t have to do that. We can disrupt and disobey. We can go out on strike. We can take up space. We can refuse to treat the rotten establishment that rules over us with a respect that it doesn’t deserve.
Friday was a terrible day, and there are more terrible days to come. The court is openly gunning to ban contraception, to destroy the rights of queer people, and to generally turn this country into a Christian theocracy. There are wrenching fights ahead. But we don’t have to accept this—and history shows us that things only change when we make it clear that we won’t accept this, that we see the system’s assertion of legitimacy for the cruel joke that it is, and that we will work overtime to bring that system to heel. That is how we win.