Speaking of Rights—After the Midterms
n this issue’s Forum you will find thoughtful and thought-provoking comments about the midterm U.S. elections—as they approached and their outcomes—intertwined with cogent observations on the continuing struggle for women’s rights, a struggle which has suffered concerning reverses, including the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs
v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
and state government actions.
This issue’s “Short Takes” theme, “Resistance and Resilience,” is also very much reflected in our readers’ comments below, which reveal concerns, frustrations — and a profound determination to keep working to achieve equal rights and opportunities in a democratic United States. We thank all those who responded to our call for Forum comments.
Finding Resilience Through Boundaries
My knowledge of biology is archaic. An eighth grader would know more than I do. Fifty years ago, I learned the rudiments of cell structure: cell walls are permeable boundaries—molecules flow in and out. Some are nourishing like oxygen, and others such as pathogens are harmful.
My mind and heart have definite but nonmaterial boundaries. Information and feelings flow in and out to shape my understanding of the world.
On Election Day, I am deeply worried about our country’s future and anticipate disastrous outcomes. Yet I resist that apocalyptic mindset and vow to strengthen my boundaries so less toxicity can flow in and less fear can flow out. The goal is to protect my organism so I can live to fight another day. In that way I find resilience.
In Nevada, Just Before Midterm Elections, A Feeling Arrives
A feeling arrives like a holograph of a woman
A possibly rewired intuition palpable as anyone’s pulse
A replacement of mass with outline, shading, flipbook animation
A polite tribute to Wonder Woman, her aunt, her mother
A presumed energy neither created nor destroyed
A demand for room in all lives for peonies and MRIs, doves and ballot boxes
A yoking of elements that engage, that attract questions
A body of bodies, sky-rising and ground-bound
A memory of a child who talked with certain ghosts
A certain myth that all continents touched and connect us
A belief in Grace and Perseverance that is not a myth
A response that demands we stay amazed even in suffering
They try to type all elections, but this one scared me into voting early. It was a long night, made longer by the size and emotional elements involved. I accept a pink trickle, because it addressed fears I had that rationality would not prevail. We needed a thoughtful election with younger voters, women speaking up for their rights, and candidates with a real plan for our nation.
America, the beautiful? America, the difficult? but still America.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Thank goodness young people came out to vote for their futures and so did women. But as long as Republicans continue to cheat and bully with pervasive gerrymandering, democracy is not safe.
Brooklyn, New York
I was so busy surviving in my youth, I didn’t have the time, the knowledge, or the extra dollars to be remotely ‘political.’ All grown up now with four children, 12 grandchildren, and one great-grand, with another great on the way (against my better judgment, but what do I know?), my awarenesses and responsibilities are different, thank you longevity. With age comes clarity. It took me years to see that my right to vote matters. Today, I use my mature fact-finding skills, my discernment much improved with age, to know who advocates for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, to borrow from the language of NOW (and no matter what the semester). That was the straight ticket I voted in the latest mid-terms and will again in two years. I am one of the lucky matriarchs: I and many of my descendants live in Oregon where certain rights remain inalienable. In our November 2022 Governor’s race, I was never in doubt that the majority of OregonIans would elect the best and most capable protector for the job. This meant I could support, even with my still-limited resources, those in favor of uteri liberation in other states. I was so happy to wake up November 8 to find my $100 donation to Hillary Scholten’s congressional race in Michigan contributed to shutting down John Gibbs’s power grab. Gibbs, a former missionary and political appointee of the prior president, not only lands on the extreme right and what that means for women in Michigan, he went on record as being against any woman working outside her home and other ridiculousness. It’s up to women of all ages from every state to help deliver us from such dangerous and revolting beliefs. Our power to do so remains in our own hands — hands that take time to cast informed votes. Votes that will protect the rights of girls not yet of legal age to cast their own.
Sharon Wood Wortman
I’m glad progressives did as well as we did. However, I’m still astonished at the number of women in power who would deny other women access to proper health care. So much work to be done among us.
Santa Monica, California
I submitted a request to President Biden last week: I wrote that Barack Obama squandered his legacy with passage of the inaccurately titled Affordable Care Act. I suggested that he cement his reputation in the tradition of FDR and LBJ with expansion of Medicare to all and the codification of Roe. I informed him that Americans recognized the cynical tactic Democrats employ with usage of these two popular measures as wedge issues that may placate activists and guarantee votes, but also risk lower turnout when the Administration does not produce results.
The People Have Spoken
Relieved, to be sure. Relieved by the midterm election results, but angry. Angry to feel relief that Americans finally realized democracy was at stake, that a woman’s right to control her body was again, still, always, an issue. Angrier still that this right to control our bodies is seen as separate and not integral to our freedom.
I came of age with Roe vs. Wade. The right to have an abortion was unquestioned. Like democracy, it was a bedrock principle, a reality as firm as the ground beneath my feet. The fact that this ground can crumble, taking a fundamental right with it, was unthinkable.
It’s notable that the unprecedented challenges we’ve experienced to our democracy – voter suppression laws, the Capitol insurrection, election denial — occurred during the same few years Roe v. Wade was overturned. They’re inextricably linked. Roe’s overturning exposed the fear and rage over women’s power. What is it about a woman asserting control over her body, her mind, that drives the powers that be to reduce her to chattel? Think of Eve, punished for eternity for merely acting on her own, for wanting to think, to question — for tasting, not of the Tree of Life, but the Tree of Knowledge.
The results of the mid-terms were a reassertion of our power. We must continue to wield it. Referendums on abortion rights have passed in every state that’s had them on the ballot — red states, as well as blue. We should draw strength from this, the same strength that the conservatives so fear. These referendums should be proposed in every state, not stopping until the right to abortion is enshrined state by state, and Congress codifies it into law.
So yes, I am relieved. And angry. And proud.
The people have finally spoken.
Santa Monica, California
My mantra has become “it could have been worse.” Much worse. But it’s clear there is much work to be done. Marches are grand but ultimately a lot of effort for relatively little pay-off. (The days of the very effective anti-Vietnam war marches are over.) If there is something to consider doing on a large scale, I think economic boycotts and any other action that hits powerful people in their pocketbooks are the way to go. But even more importantly, we need to be active at the local levels. Support libraries’ rights to circulate, display and promote books on LGBTQ issues, on diversity, on Critical Race Theory. Make sure that school boards, if elected, are not taken over by right-wingers. Dialogue with moderate Republicans if possible; encourage collaboration wherever common ground can be found. (Abortion is a prime example of an issue that crossed party lines.) If your town has a city council or similar form of government, do what you can to get open-minded people of whatever party on it.
Think nationally, work locally.
The children are watching:
seeing the grown-ups with snarling faces
spew public lies
observing violent attacks against democracy,
striving for social media created illusions
of ideal relationships and possessions
The children are listening:
hearing grown-ups swear at, mock and bully
with hate, people with whom they disagree
taking in the angry denial of actual results,
being bombarded by the crushing silence
paying attention to ways to avoid consequences
The children are learning:
grown-ups act like spoiled, dangerous children,
to flee from the results of climate change
even as it is denied
how wealth can be used or abused,
that they have much to do and to undo
The children are watching
The children are listening
The children are learning
How We Can Move Forward
A few days before the election, I saw a young woman in athletic tights and a fleece sweatshirt pushing her stroller down my street. Her baby, cheeks pink from the cold, peeked at me as I approached them to say hello.
She was talkative and volunteered that she’d recently moved into a house a few doors down. An uneasy feeling enveloped me. This was the house that I’d passed with increasing dread as the election approached. Why? Because this house had a sign endorsing a school board candidate who espoused conspiracy theories, believed in banning books and wanted to tear down our schools. This friendly woman with the baby was one of THEM.
Our interaction was pleasant enough, but as we parted, I couldn’t help but think of her as a cruel, hate-filled, misguided person who was stupid enough to fall for what I – and every thinking person — knew to be lies. And that’s a problem.
If we are to move forward, I must get beyond my own preconceived notion of who she is based on which candidate she supports. I must see her as a person who is concerned about our local schools, who is trying to do the right thing for her community and her baby. That’s one way to bridge our nation’s divide. And one I can control.
How We Can Move Forward
“And the prize goes to Texas where a woman’s rights continue to be trampled on.” I have to ask myself why so many women vote for candidates who want to or already have placed outrageous controls over our rights as human beings and citizens. Our votes as women should foster and protect our rights. Do some women not consider themselves equal to men? We vote, but they continue to believe we are not smart enough to make our own decisions? What will they do next? Will they decide our votes shouldn’t count? Can we sit idly by while the Supreme Court tells us our hard-fought battles were for naught? This makes me sad for all the little girls in the country, especially the poor.
How We Can Move Forward
Bottom Line: I’m relieved, yet I know that the relief will be temporary and can only be so big. At least right now there are still enough people in the U.S. who are able to get informed about the past and the present, see the bigger picture as well as their own immediate circumstance, to select position holders who can do the same and who have some degree or other of ethics and caring for others. For the moment, alarm-hooked “believers” in some religion and/or abuse-created bully did not succeed in pushing our democracy over the cliff. But the public’s “state of mind” is so precarious. If only most people could have welcomed the insights and analysis of the patriarchal, fear-driven, dominate-and-exploit world that brilliant feminists of the ’60s and ’70s offered the world. If only. Without that change, patriarchy continues to rush towards its logical conclusion, tragically taking Nature, all of us, and all the delicious experiences of being human down with it. With most people clinging to gender roles and domination, as opposed to living as part of Nature and in cooperation, I don’t see the valiantly good people being able to continue to protect the democratic system ongoing. I wish it were not that way, but organized fear-driven cruelty does win out over sanity and kindness, as the Patriarchy has shown us. Right now I take pride in the savvy, lovingness and courage of people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the Capitol police, Christine Blasey Ford, Anita Hill, Bella Abzug, Barbara Jordan, Elizabeth Warren, Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, Judy Chicago, Starhawk, Serena and Venus, Chris Evert, The Me, Too and Time’s Up women, The World Kitchen, investigative journalists, people in all the arts, attorneys and activists against all violations of human and other Earth life. Yes, I am relieved and grateful. Temporarily. Sadly.
J. D. Choate
If men could get pregnant, reproductive rights would not be an issue – they would be law. How dare our legislators restrict a woman’s right to make a very personal decision regarding abortion, birth control, etc? Many other Western nations have legalized pregnancy termination – what is wrong with America? I don’t see the objectors donating a portion of their income to raise money to support the children of unwanted pregnancies. There are very good reasons why women want and need this alternative. Sexism and Puritanism are flourishing in our land of the free. A disgrace!
I wrote piles of letters and letters to the editor, attended rallies, canvassed both days on most weekends, gave money, made phone calls, put up signs and took them down. Everyone outside of Monroe County, Pennsylvania is ecstatic. GO YOU!
But for me, this was no pure victory. Our State House candidate from the West End, Trumpland, did not stand a chance. Nor did our State Senate candidate. The incumbent, a smiley Stepford wife who has voted 18 times against reproductive freedom, beat our smart one.
White male voters do not have time for abstractions. Economics, the environment, alliances, justice, human rights, all abstractions. They want to feel like protectors and providers. “Prices will go down if we drill baby drill, crime will go down if we jail, baby, jail.” We must show success in these areas, explain how we did it, and brag about it.
We must show macho men saying, “Ya know, it costs $250,000 to raise a child,” “Ya know, if I could get pregnant, I’d want that choice.”
Is sisterhood still powerful? Can meek wives vote differently from their loud, opinionated husbands? What if we pulled off a Lysistrata? Men who can’t care about women’s freedom don’t get to sleep with us. And publicize it.
Re women’s rights: It is important to sustain our opinions about women’s rights even when things seem to be going well for them. We must never let down our guard against prejudice or sarcasm or sensitivity about being a woman. We are important persons whether as mothers or wives or spokespersons for our gender. Stay vigilant and stay proud of who we are: women!
Fort Bragg, California
How to Respond to the News These Days
Consider observing the Sabbath, time away from the din, the distractions, the need to look busy, be productive. Give yourself the tang of oceans, petrichor of rain. Follow the map of a tinseled sky. Let your dreams linger in daytime. Rest.
Protect your soul. Walk away from people who wound; turn off the hammering of uninvited voices; make your house a home to recuperate, regenerate. Embrace patience, provide kindness.
Observe your surroundings, mulch with love yet fence its integrity, and yours. Where possible, plant flowers, trees for their joyful beauty. Plant seeds for life and life-giving: vegetables, fruits, more herbs. Share. Nurture the children, yours and those of your community.
Cultivate that metaphoric garden Voltaire suggested. Explore all the possibilities for plenty: culture, literature, music, great food, stimulating ideas, even those of the other.
You weren’t wrong to march, campaign for issues, write the editor, the politician; certainly, your votes matter despite the propaganda on all sides. You took risks, brava! You spoke up when you saw something that needed attention. Hallelujah! You helped others vote. Thank you!
Continue to have faith in possibility. Maybe this time, the world will welcome peace. Keep speaking up. Please. Thank you.
Los Angeles, California
There’s an old saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I look at the centuries of struggle it has taken for basic civil rights to be established for blacks, for women, for gays, and one word comes to mind: persistence. Truth and justice WILL prevail but it will take more than 1 or 2 election cycles. In my state (Kansas) our Democratic Representative Sharice Davids, Native American and lesbian, won handily as a pro-reproductive freedom candidate despite her district being redrawn to favor the Republican anti-abortion candidate. Other candidates did not fare as well, but I’m optimistic that progress is being made.