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Democrats knew that Roe was going to end — and were still unprepared

Telling women to peacefully protest and vote is a predictable and infuriating proposed salve.
People protest the Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday. Andrea Morales for NBC News

Democratic leaders knew — as we all did — about the Supreme Court’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade after the opinion’s draft was leaked in early May

Given the notice we received, you’d think Democrats would have a plan by now. And yet, in the days since the decision to strip women of their constitutional right to autonomy, they have failed to take action, let alone provide us with a productive means of channeling our righteous fury.

As America ushers in a new era of open hostility toward women — and as we women boil over with anger — the notion that we can simply vote or march our way out feels woefully inadequate.

After all, to be a woman in America — especially one with children — is to watch this country smash your freedoms to the floor, revel in the mess and then force you to clean it up without complaint. Any nation where it’s easier to get your hands on an assault rifle than baby formula, where health care, child care and paid leave are considered luxuries rather than guaranteed rights, where the government would rather force birth (and possible death) than allow women to make decisions about our own bodies, is a terrible place to be a mother.

Instead, President Joe Biden asked us to stifle ourselves, entreating us to make our voices heard in the streets and at the ballot box, emphasizing the need for peace without acknowledging the violence of attacking the bodily autonomy of half of the nation. The court’s decision is an attack on women, so make no mistake that it’s mostly us who are being given these predictable and infuriating proposed salves.

But we can’t vote or march our way out of this one. 

In years past, we have channeled our anger exactly as suggested by Democrats. Angry moms flipped Congress and the White House blue in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Some 4 million women marched in 2017 to protest the inauguration of a person who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals and who lost the popular vote by millions, millions hit the streets again in 2018 to demand long-overdue legislation to save our children from gun violence, and Black women and mothers were at the forefront of Black Lives Matter marches, which polls showed were attended by 15 million to 26 million people.

What we’ve had to show for it, does not match the effort it took to organize and make our voices heard in this way. 

So, as America ushers in a new era of open hostility toward women — and as we women boil over with anger — the notion that we can simply vote or march our way out feels woefully inadequate. This moment necessitates a different approach.

That’s not to discourage the thousands who took to the streets last Friday, or those who have, for generations, stood at the front lines of the same battles we’re still somehow fighting: for abortion access, gun control, voting rights and equal pay. But there’s a persistent feeling of futility. As a loud minority, motivated by grievance, becomes more radicalized and our government becomes less accountable, the common tactics that worked in decades past seem to make little difference in the short term, with long-term impacts that are, at best, too little, too late.

Still, even those with the optimism to continue the fight typically don’t have the time or resources to do so. Those of us who hug our kids extra tight before school in case their classroom is next to make the news would love to dedicate our days to raising hell. So would those of us who drive around in search of formula so our babies don’t go hungry and tear ourselves apart to bring life into this world — knowing full well our government, our employers and sometimes even our partners won’t help us piece ourselves back together.  But someone has to pack lunches and change diapers and tell our kids, even if we may not believe it ourselves, that there’s no such thing as monsters.

Adding salt to the wound is the fact that as women are stripped of our basic bodily autonomy, society continues on. After Congress fumbled passing a bill that would provide child care and paid leave, after our bodies were declared nothing more than incubators, after 19 more children were killed by gun violence in their classrooms, we went back to work. We did laundry, washed dishes and changed diapers. We kept it — ourselves, our households, our nation — together because that’s what we always do.

One solution might be to let things fall apart for just one day. Stop working, stop washing, stop doing any of the labor — visible and invisible, paid and unpaid — that makes this country run.

That’s what women did in Iceland in 1975, when 90% of the nation’s women went on strike on a Friday, refusing to go to work or care for their kids, to demand equity. Iceland’s parliament passed a law banning wage discrimination based on gender a year later. 

Indeed, even with the massive challenges of pulling off such a protest in a nation far bigger than Iceland — where strikers can lose their jobs and their health care — this tactic would be worth it. I’m not so naive as to think it wouldn’t require the full participation of a nation infamously known for refusing to endure even the mildest discomforts for the greater good. But I would hope that in a country where most people agree that access to abortion care shouldn’t be taken away, we can work together for one day to have our voices heard. 

And if it’s not this, I remain hopeful that we’ll find new ways to meet a moment in which our righteous anger is co-opted and weaponized and our autonomy is criminalized.

We have to make our anger heard. We must demand that our elected leaders who claim to be saddened by the court’s decision at least try to exercise their power. It’s also crucial to remind them that their inaction — their failure to expand the court, abolish the filibuster and codify abortion access into law, to set up abortion sites on federal land, not just to score political points, but to save lives — is a choice. And it costs us, and the nation as a whole, dearly. We need to point out that the same people who considered angry rioters who stormed the Capitol (over a lie) to be righteous and “peaceful protesters“ now expect women who have had a fundamental right taken away to remain calm and quiet.  

But we must also make our rage count by donating to organizations that help women access resources that are vital to their well-being and sharing our homes with those seeking care in states that protect abortion. And if women are going to be forced to give birth in a country with the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world, where the maternal mortality rate is rising and a formula shortage is ongoing, we can spend our time helping one another heal from childbirth and hunt down food for our children. 

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Together, these acts of generous resistance become something those in power can’t ban: our care. By caring for one another in these myriad, impactful ways, we light the way for others and help them rekindle their fire. And one day, slowly but surely, we’ll have the firepower to burn it all down together and birth something much better from the ashes.