May 8, 2022
Pearl River With the leak of Justice Alito’s preposterous draft brief overturning Roe v. Wade, the commentariat in the news, social media, city streets, and kitchen tables is in full force. One of the most interesting pieces I have read offered an explanation for this fifty-year rearguard fight to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision that it was possible because the victory had not been won by a mass movement, but by a court decision. I’m a sucker for such an argument, because I’m a softie for mass movements as the harbinger of comprehensive social change. I’m also a court skeptic, believing on one hand that they make decisions based on their finger in the wind measuring public opinion and political currents and then finding the arguments somewhere to support them, rather than in some mythic sanctity of the law. Sometimes, but rarely, do they lead, and mainly they follow by many miles on the big social questions, what people have already adapted as public practice.
Sadly, as an organizer, I understand that we have to take victory any way we can get it without being too picky. I also realize that as essential as movements are in speeding up the timetable to victory, they do not prevent continued struggle. No victory is absolute. All victories require permanent vigilance and struggle.
If the a priori to comprehensive social and cultural changes on something as personal and political as choice, and therefore abortion, was a movement, then how would we explain the fact that more than fifty years later we are still fighting for racial equality in our country – and sometimes losing. No one could argue that the civil rights movement was not comprehensive and powerful, yet in state by state there has been continued resistance. Not as transparent or as vocal perhaps as before the civil rights movement but as pervasive and pernicious at all levels of the country. In fact, I read another piece somewhere that argued that the whole fight from the right on abortion was a stand-in for the fight against racial equality, because the right didn’t feel comfortable being called racist, but were ok oppressing women. Maybe, that’s true. The shoe certainly seems to fight. Another case in point: workers. The rise of unions came from the labor movement, but the fight against unions has never ended and like water on rock is winning. Furthermore, who believes that the success of choice and even Roe v. Wade didn’t come because there was a in fact a mass movement: the women’s movement.
The problem is not the lack of movement or change coming through the courts. The problem is that no movement is universal and felt the same everywhere. Opposition always goes to ground. The fight is never over. If there’s an error, it’s pausing in the battle. We understand this dynamic when we are on the losing side. How can we forget it when we are on the winning side?
What I hate about the Alito brief and the likely coming decision in this case, as in so many from this court, is that it is not just anti-women, but it is also un-American. The majority of the Supreme Court don’t believe in American anymore as one country with equality for all. They believe in a bifurcated hodgepodge of states and their people pulling against each other. They want to pretend there is racial equality so they can stop protecting voters and allow racism to flourish, state by state. They want to pretend women have choices and options, so that they can eliminate one rule for all, and allow states to discriminate against women or not, as they chose. The justices do not believe in one Republic for all, and neither, it seems, do conservatives, and that’s un-American, pure and simple.