Rallying for Change After the Fall of Roe

From a protest I attended - May 14th, 2022.

Like many of you, I was shocked, heartbroken and angered as I heard the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which completely overturned the precedents in both the Roe and Casey cases. I was shocked that the highest court in a country once considered a model for democracy would overturn settled law against the will of 70% of the people. I was heartbroken that the women around me – particularly those my age – would now have no federal protection for their bodily autonomy. I was angered that Clarence Thomas, in his apparently mature legal jargon, suggested reviewing (and implied overturning) the precedents in Obergefell v. Hodges, Lawrence v. Texas, and Griswold v. Connecticut – and, of course, I was angered that a law from one year after our state’s founding now forced abortion providers to immediately cease their abortions, although there is no immediate indication that the law is being enforced.

I saw that many of my friends – even those who pay little or no attention to politics – presenting their anger and fear by posting rage, viral posts and screenshots, and breaking news on their Instagram and Snapchat stories. I went to Facebook and saw much the same – a majority of my Facebook friends expressing their anger and sadness through countless posts, stories, videos, and the like. Those explicitly against choice were completely silent, remarkably, as the ruling seemed more like a silent victory for a small minority than a grand victory for a great majority. 

In Milwaukee, I saw at a protest that the same feelings were evident: there was much less conversation, excitement and hope; rather, there was far more fear, despair and blind rage. I saw people – women and men alike – in tears as a Planned Parenthood leader spoke to us. I watched as chanting women, so angry and heartbroken because their full body autonomy had been revoked from them in a matter of minutes, yelled and even screamed until they lost their voices – yet, I will tell you all, they continued to scream, even as their throats grew dry and sore. I have been to dozens of protests in my life, but the raw emotion in that two-hour march certainly went unrivaled to any of the others I had taken part in. 

The raw emotion present in the protest and on social media is an incredibly potent vehicle for change, but it is also extremely dangerous. This same emotion inspired the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but also the insurrection on January 6th; it is a blend of innate anger and despair, whether out of real injustice (in the case of the civil rights and women’s rights movements) or delusion (in the case of January 6th), that inspires action, often unwavering and remarkably constant. The emotions you see now will still be present in a month, a year, years, decades – perhaps until the central tenets of Roe are codified.

These same emotions, my friends, have also led to calls for the pernicious and self-defeating acts of violence or intimidation. My Facebook feed has also been infested with posts providing justices’ home addresses, advocating “burning down the Supreme Court,” and targeting pro-life centers and organizations. 

These actions are pernicious because, though they may have a small, immediate, positive effect (bringing limelight to an issue, for example), they will only have a negative impact in the longer term. The very small minority of George Floyd protests that went violent, for example, upended the movement as a whole and damaged its good name.

These actions are self-defeating because they regret the importance of the method in achieving change and fail to excite the moderates and silent liberals. The “ends and means” argument that Martin Luther King often referenced provides great evidence for the self-defeating nature of violence and bitterness: the ends, being a society in which women have their full bodily autonomy, does not justify “whatever means necessary,” being violence, brutality, and intimidation. Rather, the ends and the means are inextricably connected; the ends cannot be achieved without positive execution of the means, and the means cannot occur without solid understanding of the ends. To reach the ends, we need solid means: peaceful protest; hope and devotion; extensive voter registration and “Get Out the Vote” campaigns; the absence of bitterness, violence, and hatred; and, above all, love and understanding of one another – both our friends and those who wish to call us their enemy. A campaign on violence will never appeal to the majority of voters, certainly, and it will only give those who would call us their enemy the firepower to crush our movement, destroy our morale and ruin the good cause of our work.

If we embrace a notion of bitterness and hatred, violence and intimidation, against those who seek to eradicate bodily autonomy, we will fail miserably in our attempt to restore the God-given rights that women in our country so rightfully deserve. If we embrace love and understanding, hope and action, against those same people, we will not fail – we will see a Congress that will codify the decision in Roe and bring back a woman’s universal right to abortion in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, and we will see again the open and human-natured society that we became used to with the decision in Roe still in effect.

The words of an organizer at the protest on Friday are a great testament to how important it is that we use our raw emotion for positive action: the organizer told us, right before the march began, “when someone calls us out or protests against us, please continue to walk on. Remember, we are also fighting for them; these people are not your enemies.” Thousands of us walked on as motorcycles screamed their engines, as people flipped us off, and as disgusted looks were constantly hurled at us. If that organizer’s words, the protest itself and the incredible messages of solidarity on social media are any indication of the fight ahead, there is much reason to hope that women’s rights and bodily autonomy will win.