Earlier this week, the Washington Post editorial board scolded people for protesting the imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade in front of justices’ (specifically, John Roberts’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s) homes, even though, at least in Kavanaugh’s case, the march was apparently organized by his neighbors, in their own suburban Washington neighborhood, on public property. Ex-Obama senior advisor David Axelrod got grumpy about it as well:
So…What was “violent” about the SCOTUS protests again? Honest question. It’s hard to keep up, and Axelrod’s tweets at least read like a disingenuous false equivalency. He says Anthony Fauci was faced with threats; doesn’t say whether any of the Supreme Court justices were. With them, he merely mentions protests. Hmmm.
“To picket a judge’s home is especially problematic,” the Post pontificates. “It tries to bring direct public pressure to bear on a decision-making process that must be controlled, evidence-based and rational if there is to be any hope of an independent judiciary.” Pretty sure we’re past that possibility. Which is why I’m also amused at all the handwringing over the historical leak of Samuel Alito’s draft opinion — Where, exactly, is this pure, objective, politically untainted court whose legitimacy so many pundits say they’re safeguarding?
Didn’t “norms” go out the window when Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland, using a justification he conveniently forgot once it was Amy Coney Barrett’s turn? Or if not then, perhaps when Clarence Thomas’s wife helped initiate an attempted White House coup, then a year later Thomas was the only justice to affirm blocking the release of Trump administration January 6 records? (“I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them,” Thomas had the hypocritical gall to tell a conservative conference in Dallas this week, referring to the leak.) Are we really better off with the highest court in the land shrouded in secrecy and mystique of The True Lodge? As others have suggested the past few days, if we no longer have a right to privacy, why should they?
We still don’t know who’s responsible for the leak — and trying to track down whodunnit strikes me as an intriguing game of Clue, at most. When it comes to the credibility or reputation of the Supreme Court, the leak is least of our worries. Or should be. As for the protests, yes, by all means, let’s clutch our pearls about how people who increasingly feel powerless in a system that suddenly feels more like a theocracy than a democracy, and about how that makes their future and their daughters’ and granddaughters’ futures look, choose to peacefully voice their anger and frustration rather than getting upset about the devastating court ruling that left them feeling that way. We’re not exactly talking Operation Rescue tactics here.
At least not yet. The molotov cocktail arson of Wisconsin Family Action in Madison last weekend was obviously stupid and counter-productive, and the graffiti (“If abortions aren’t Safe then you aren’t either”) might well count as a violent threat; Jane’s Revenge, the group that took credit for it, promised “increasingly extreme tactics” if such anti-abortion offices kept operating. “Pro-Choice is Pro-Life” or “Bans Off Our Bodies” or “My Body My Choice” graffiti (all perfectly sensible slogans by the way) on churches in Houston and Boulder, meanwhile, strike me as the equivalent of vandalizing mosques after 9-11. Unless they’re the equivalent of Pussy Riot doing blasphemous punk-prayer performance art in a Russian Orthodox Moscow cathedral that wound up cheerleading Putin’s Ukraine invasion, but I’m skeptical.
Even if four of the five justices who reportedly support erasing Roe consider themselves Catholic, so do Roberts (who’s wishy-washy but apparently still dissenting) and Sonia Sotomayor. If anything, it was fundamentalist-leaning protestant evangelists starting with Jerry Falwell who really got the anti-choice movement off the ground in the ’70s; Catholics haven’t been in the drivers’ seat since before Roe. And even Amy Coney Barrett’s handmaiden-happy People of Praise are ecumenical, linked to a so-called Catholic charismatic renewal movement clearly inspired by protestant Pentecostalism. Religious bigotry doesn’t help anybody. There has to be a smarter way to do this.
If I sound like I’m the one clutching pearls now, I apologize. I’ve seen others complain, even if they agree with their goals, that pro-choice protests in general are a waste of time. “What possible benefit do these protesters think they will get either in the streets or at the home of the justices? These protests serve no purpose,” writes a facebook friend of a facebook friend, an Ivy League-educated surgeon who says he’s old enough to remember the horrors of back-alley coat hanger abortions. “Somehow, we have to get the Senate up to the magic number of 60 reasonable people and keep the crazy repugnants out of office until they come to their senses. Maybe it really is time to increase the SCOTUS. The number 9 is not in the Constitution.”
I approve of those recommendations, but he’s wrong about protests. Demonstrations bring people outraged about this together, so they can talk to each other, form relationships, organize, brainstorm plans and solutions, inspire others to action, and yeah maybe even change some minds. It’s an insanely long process (as are those political suggestions — which again I support, but I’m far from convinced I’ll ever see happen). Still needs to start somewhere. So far, relying on electoral politics has been depressingly ineffectual. (See also the Democrats’ circular firing squad and constant in-fighting between progressive and neo-liberal wings of the party, but even more so all the familiar ways the American electoral system is increasingly rigged against Democrats and democracy: Electoral college, the Senate, and now countless voter suppression laws and the stolen Supreme Court itself.)
To think all that is on the verge of changing any time soon strikes me as way beyond wishful thinking. Relying solely on protests may well be just as naive, but why not use every tool in the toolkit? Protests don’t negate what happens in Congress. They’re more useful than sitting on the sidelines being a cynic (which, believe me, I’m plenty experienced at). It took anti-choice activists a half century to get what they wanted (and they’re not there yet, obviously, but they’re closer than any of us thought they would be in our lifetimes — which is horrifying). They started with demonstrations, too.
Does the pro-choice movement need its own Randall Terry? What would be the equivalent of sit-ins at abortion clinics — picketing bogus Christian abstinence-only Crisis Pregnancy Centers with signs debunking their medical misinformation, educating about birth control options and mapping out a new underground railroad to assist in out-of-state abortions? (Signs needn’t even use that last word — see artwork up above, below the headline.) Meanwhile, it’s about time the Democrats started branding the GOP as enablers of rape and incest — which is certainly closer to the truth than rampant Republican lies slandering kindergarten teachers and Mickey Mouse as “groomers.”