Democratic leaders — like all of us — knew about the Supreme Court’s plan to overthrow Roe v. Wade after the draft of the advisory leaked out in early May.
From the message we’ve received, you’d think the Democrats would have a plan by now. And yet, in the days since the decision to strip women of their constitutional right to autonomy, they have failed to take action, let alone provide us with a productive means of channeling our righteous anger.
As America ushers in a new era of open hostility toward women—and as we women boil over with rage—the idea that we can just vote or march our way out feels hopelessly inadequate.
After all, being a woman in America — especially one with kids — is watching this country throw your freedoms to the ground, enjoy the mess, and then force you to clean it up without complaining. Any country where it’s easier to get hold of an assault rifle than baby food, where health care, childcare and paid leave are considered luxuries rather than guaranteed rights, where the government would rather force birth (and possible death) than allow women to make decisions taking over our own bodies is a terrible place to be a mother.
Instead, President Joe Biden asked us to choke ourselves and begged us to make our voices heard in the… streets and at the ballot box, emphasizing the need for peace without acknowledging the violence of an attack on the physical autonomy of half the nation. The court decision is an attack on women, so make no mistake that it is us who get these predictable and annoying proposed ointments.
But we can’t vote or march here.
In recent years, we have channeled our anger exactly as suggested by the Democrats. Angry mothers turned around Congress and the White House blue in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Some 4 million women marched in 2017 to protest the inauguration of a person who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals and lost millions of votes, millions take to the streets again in 2018 to demand long-awaited legislation to save our children from gun violence, and black women and mothers led the way at Black Lives Matter marches, which polls showed were attended by 15 million to 26 million people.
What we had to show does not match the effort it took to organize ourselves in this way and make our voices heard.
So as America ushers in a new era of open hostility toward women—and as we women boil over with rage—the idea that we can just vote or march our way out feels hopelessly inadequate. This moment calls for a different approach.
That’s not to discourage the thousands who took to the streets last Friday, or those who have been on the front lines for generations in the same struggle that we somehow still fight: for abortion access† arms control† voting rights and equal pay† But there is a lingering sense of futility. With a loud minority, motivated by grievances, becoming more radical and our government becoming less accountable, the usual tactics that have worked over the decades seem to make little difference in the short term, with long-term effects being too little, at best, too late.
Yet even those with the optimism to continue the fight usually lack the time or resources to do so. Those of us who give our kids an extra hug before school in case their class is the next news would love to dedicate our days to setting up hell. The same goes for those of us who drive around in search of bottle-feeding so that our babies don’t go hungry and tear ourselves apart to bring life into this world – knowing full well that our government, our employers, and sometimes even our partners won’t let us. help ourselves back together. But someone has to pack lunches and change diapers and tell our kids, even if we don’t believe it ourselves, that monsters don’t exist.
Adding salt to the wound is the fact that when women are robbed of our basic bodily autonomy, society moves on. After Congress passed a law providing for childcare and paid leave, after our bodies were declared nothing more than incubators, after 19 more children were killed by gun violence in their classrooms, we went back to work. We did the laundry, did the dishes and changed diapers. We kept it – ourselves, our households, our nation – together because that’s what we always do.
One solution could be to let things fall apart for one day. Stop working, stop washing, stop all the work – visible and invisible, paid and unpaid – that makes this country run.
That’s what women did in Iceland in 1975, when 90% of women in the country went on strike on a Friday, refusing to work or care for their children, to demand equality. Iceland’s parliament passed a law a year later banning gender pay discrimination.
Indeed, even with the enormous challenges of bringing about such a protest in a country much bigger than Iceland – where strikers could lose their jobs and their health care – this tactic would be worth it. I am not so naive as to think that it does not require the full participation of a nation notorious for persisting in its refusal even the mildest discomforts for the greater good. But I would hope that in a country where most people agree that access to abortion care should not be taken away, we can work together one day to make our voices heard.
And if it isn’t, I remain hopeful that we will find new ways to find a time when our righteous anger is co-opted and weaponized and our autonomy is criminalized.
We must express our anger. We must demand that our elected leaders, who claim to be saddened by the court’s decision, at the very least… to attempt to exercise their power. It’s also critical to remind them that their inaction—their failure to expand the courtroom, abolish the filibuster, and codify abortion access into law, to set up abortion sites on federal land, not only to score political points, but to save lives – a choice. And it will cost us, and the nation as a whole, dearly. We should point out that the same people who viewed angry rioters who stormed the Capitol (over a lie) as just and “peaceful protesters” now expect women who have been stripped of a fundamental right to remain calm and quiet.
But we also have to make our anger count by donating to organizations that help women access resources essential to their well-being and by sharing our homes with people seeking care in states that protect abortion. And if women are forced to give birth in a country with the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world, where the maternal mortality rate is rising and a formula shortage is underway, we can spend our time helping each other to heal from childbirth and to find food for our children.
Together, these acts of generous defiance become something those in power cannot forbid: our concern. By caring for each other in these countless, impactful ways, we light the way for others and help them rekindle their fire. And one day, slowly but surely, we will have the firepower to burn it all down together and create something much better from the ashes.