Your State Will Not Save You
It's time to act — and it's time to organize
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I had a very different newsletter planned for this weekend. But here we are, reeling from the aftermath of the legal revocation of bodily autonomy for all women and anyone else with a uterus.
We knew it was coming, and yet. We knew it had been coming for years, and yet. We know that more states will be rolling back abortion access in the weeks and months to come, and yet. We know that the conservative right’s theocratic Christian Nationalist agenda does not stop at Roe — and that Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly invited exploration of the roll-back of the right to access to contraception and the protections of gay relationships and marriage. And yet.
We know that Mike Pence, channeling a belief held by many in his party, has called for a national ban on abortion — a move that would eliminate the momentarily safe havens for access, and is very, very possible if the GOP is swept into power in November. We know that is about abortion, but it is also about political citizenship and power. We know that it is not disconnected from the #Me Too backlash, or the attacks on trans rights in Texas, or the armed men at Pride in Idaho, or Don’t Say Gay, or the anti-Critical Race Theory freakout across the country, or the explicitly racist rantings of mass shooters. We know that we, as a nation, are regressing. And yet. The path and fight forward is so unclear.
When you live in a state or nation engineered to honor minority rule — and suppress the votes that would usurp that imbalance — voting is not enough. When the leaders in the party that ostensibly represent you read a poem and call the ruling a “tragic error,” you have little faith in the party itself to figure it out. What we have — as sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out last month, in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo — is a consumer model of citizenship:
As consumer-citizens, we have been conditioned to believe that if our votes don’t matter, our donations will. And if our donations don’t do it, then we can simply call the manager or email political liaisons. Citizenship looks like leaving a Yelp review for the representative who was elected in your gerrymandered district.
None of it is enough. Citizen-consumers are ill equipped for the electoral politics we have. That politics is bigger than our preferences. Big donors, both corporate and supranational, have more say than the majority. The issue isn’t that voters don’t care about gun control but that caring is all we seem able to do.
Caring is all we seem able to do. Donating is all we seem able to do. Crossing our fingers that a state will remain a safe place for you, no matter your identity, no matter your choices or your family healthcare decisions or your family planning needs — is all we seem, and feel, able to do. And it’s not enough. A corporation pledging to help cover the costs to travel across state lines for reproductive care — not enough, not even close. A smattering of blue “shelter” states for abortions, but also for queer people, for their families, for trans kids, for future pandemic precautions — also not enough. The West Coast Offense? Still not enough.
This week’s Supreme Court ruling striking down the ability for states to legislate stricter gun control rules is proof. The ultimate solutions must be equitable, which is to say they must be national, and codified in legislation, and protected against ongoing erosion.
But here’s the reality: those changes are impossible in the immediate future. No amount of protesting or campaign donations will immediately change that calculus. If you are a white, straight, cis-gendered person who comes from economic stability — this feeling might feel particularly alien. Even within a consumer-citizen model, there is no spending or social media consciousness raising our way out of this.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote or be in constant contact with your elected officials or donate, as I suggest below. (The voting component is particularly true right now in Kansas, where voters will decide on August 2nd whether to amend the state’s constitution that currently stipulates the right to abortion access). But individual-centric solutions are insufficient. The only way out is through collective action. That begins in facilitating access in your immediate community — particularly for people in different situations than your own — and then, eventually, extends to national efforts to actually codify change.
As I was thinking through this on Friday, Culture Study subscriber and organizer Siena Chiang articulated the framework I needed. In a thread dedicated to the repeal of Roe in the Culture Study Discord, people were asking what so many of us were asking: what do we do. “Get organized,” Siena said. “Not just mobilized, which is showing up at a rally once or twice. Organized means acting in coordination with others who have a long term strategy. Finding a local group doing direct, tangible work and asking them how to help. They’re probably inundated right now so commit to following up in the coming month. Go in person if that’s appropriate, don’t just email. Show up thoughtfully. Be consistent and reliable. Follow their lead.”
This is not a new framework, but is an incredibly powerful one. I have already committed to a recurring donation to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, because that will help provide immediate material resources for people seeking abortions where I live and where I grew up. But I am also committed to figuring out how to actually get organized here in the larger Seattle and upper Pacific Northwest community, whatever that might mean. In the subscriber Discord, we are using the local threads to post resources, but I also know that not everyone wants or is willing to hang out in Discord. So I want to encourage everyone reading this newsletter to figure out what getting organized — not just mobilized, or enraged — looks like in your community. And if you’re willing, post those local resources in the comments, so others in your area can take that lead as well.
First and foremost, we need to give the sort of money that allows these organizations to build robust and sustainable infrastructure. We need them to be abundantly staffed so that people don’t burn out. We need them to have enough money to hire support staff, and volunteer coordinators, and interpreters. And we need the donations to be ongoing, so that these organizations can budget and fund accordingly. If you have space in your budget to do this — do this.
Some of us can give our time. Some of us can offer a safe haven or even just a ride. Some of us can give Excel spreadsheet skills, or grant-writing capabilities, or legal services, or be the other person on the other end of the line when someone calls in need. There are clinics moving across state lines that need immediate assistance. Northwest Abortion Access Fund needs fluent Spanish speakers for its hotline and a board member in Alaska. Cascades Abortion Support Collective needs people to provide practical support in Oregon and Southern Washington. There is a mass day of volunteer training on July 17th so that individual groups won’t have to figure out the infrastructure to train the influx of volunteers themselves. The networks are out there. You just need to place yourself within them.
I know you’re tired and grieving. I know you’re scared. I am too, I really am — and I also know that my fear as a white cis-woman without kids near the end of child-bearing age is nothing, comparatively speaking. And I know how disheartening it is that we will spend the next twenty years, if not more, working to regain the rights that our foremothers worked so tirelessly to achieve. What matters is that we don’t talk ourselves into apathy — or, just as importantly, individual solutions to collective problems that will inevitably protect the most societally privileged amongst us.
So if you’re furious or grieving, ask yourself: what am I willing to do to change it? What am I willing to do to protect the autonomy and safety of our generation, and the next, and the next? How do I push against the natural inertia to pull my own circle tight and protect them and them alone from the world outside? As AOC put it in her Instagram stories yesterday, “ultimately, we live in this world and in this time. We have no choice but to engage in it while we’re here. Even running away is a form of engagement. So will your engagement hurt or heal?”
Your engagement can be as big or as small as you need it to be in this initial moment, and it can continue to grow in the months to come. And I don’t care if you’re a man, or a teen, or grandparent, or a tough old broad. If you’re furious about the revocation of women’s political citizenship and bodily autonomy, are you ready to act? And if you’re making excuses, if you’re satisfied with a social media post or a yard sign, if you think you’ll be fine in your blue state, ask yourself: what story will I tell myself, ten years from now, when the revocation of rights comes for me, too? Will I have felt I did enough? And what story will I tell my children, or my friend’s children, or my siblings’ children, about what I did to protect not just them, but everyone else?
Usually comments are open to subscribers only. But I’m opening them to all newsletter readers to facilitate even more sharing of resources. If you know a group doing reproductive justice work in your area — and/or their specific needs right now — please share below. And just so we’re clear: this is not, in any way, a space to debate the legal right to abortion care. If you decide you to test that, you will be banned, no questions asked. This is not the time and this is definitely not the space.
And the subscriber thread from several weeks ago that I keep returning to: Why Abortion Matters
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