Tag Archives: state politics

Could This Work?

A couple of weeks ago, a commenter posted a YouTube video from February of 2019, in which actress Jennifer Lawrence introduced viewers to a nonprofit organization called Represent Us.

You really need to click through and watch it, because the summary I’m about to provide is incomplete, and doesn’t do it justice.

The basic premise upon which the organization proposes to function is that mending American democracy must come at the state level–that only when we end corruption in a sufficient number of states will we be able to move the federal government and federal courts in a positive direction.

The video was made in 2019, and I haven’t heard anything about this effort in the intervening years, but according to its website, the organization remains active. It’s harder to tell whether–like so many other efforts to salvage the American Idea–it has failed to energize enough people to get the job done.

I had two competing reactions to that video.

The first was triggered by the imminent victory of the pro-fetal-life movement, which will overturn (explicitly or by eviscerating) Roe v. Wade. That will return the issue to the states, and in a “best-case” scenario, will activate a significant percentage of the 60% of Americans who want Roe retained and send an impressive number of them to their respective statehouses. If that happens–if voters in large-enough numbers are sufficiently enraged and motivated–the state-level reforms identified in the video are much more likely to occur.

That scenario is the optimistic one. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my optimism is at death’s door.

Over the last few months, I’ve had multiple discussions–with my children, with friends, with former colleagues–about the state of American and global governance. Attitudes ranged from deep depression to resigned acceptance, but virtually everyone I’ve talked to believes that–as one person put it– America is over. Democracy has had its day.  Autocrats  and their fearful and tribal supporters are on the ascent worldwide.

Of course, none of this may matter in the end, thanks to our unwillingness to confront climate change when we could have moderated its effects.

It’s hard to argue with this gloomy analysis.

When I look at the collection of deranged and incompetent people serving in Congress, when I think of the millions of people who cast their 2020 vote for a man whose terrifying inadequacies and mental illness were impossible to miss, and the large numbers who still believe in the Big Lie and QAnon…when I think of the state-level lawmakers focused on protecting the “rights” of nutcases with guns but who are unwilling to protect citizens from a pandemic (not to mention the culture warriors willing to die to “own the libs”) …It’s really hard to envision a happy ending.

If any of you can talk me off the edge, I’m listening…..

Looking For My Inner Pollyanna–Roe v. Wade Edition

Along with all the other legal mayhem we can now expect from the most reactionary Supreme Court in over a century, most observers predict the demise of Roe v. Wade, despite polling that suggests most Americans would strongly disapprove.

If Roe is overruled, there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives. Bear with me, here.

We have all recognized the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voter. Without Roe, it’s conceivable (no pun intended) that the wind will go out of that sail. (It will be much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists.) Anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt for reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to states where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of the currently constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the confirmation of Kavanaugh and the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer.

The current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their dominance is due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments. The GOP vote suppression tactics that depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control.

The next redistricting will occur in 2021. Between now and then, women, Democrats, liberal-leaning Independents and new voters need to focus their efforts on statehouses around the country. We need to eliminate gerrymandering wherever possible, and we need to put an end to vote suppression tactics.

There will be other strategic decisions necessitated by a rogue Supreme Court. Lawsuits implicating civil rights and civil liberties, for example, may have better prospects in state courts interpreting state constitutions than in the federal system. (When the Supreme Court was less open to arguments from the LGBTQ community, the ACLU and Lambda Legal had some considerable successes in state courts.)

The next few years will be critical. Success will depend upon the “staying power” of those Americans for whom the 2016 election and the travesty of Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been wake-up calls. It’s one thing to post despairing messages to like-minded friends on social media; it’s another thing entirely to continue the day-to-day drudgery of organizing and registering our fellow citizens, and getting out the vote.

If we are going to reclaim the America we thought we had, however, anger and determination are great motivators.