When Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion in Dodd v. Jackson Women’s Health first leaked, a contentious blame game flared up online among some members of the political left. The debate, it seemed, was over which Democratic politician or influential liberal was most responsible for landing us in this moment of doom.
It was Barack Obama’s fault, some argued, for not prioritizing the codification of abortion rights during the few short months at the beginning of his first term when Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in both chambers of Congress. Or maybe it was the actress Susan Sarandon, who discouraged progressives from voting for the Democratic nominee in 2016 because a Trump presidency, she suggested, would “bring the revolution immediately.” Most absurdly were those faulting Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pioneer whose life was spent advancing women’s rights, for not resigning her seat on the Supreme Court when a Democrat held the White House. This unproductive conversation keeps us distracted from the work to be done and lets the folks who are really at fault off the hook.
As those of us in Louisiana already know, the extremist evangelical right has been organizing for decades to get to the moment where they can overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion. But abortion was not always their signature issue. “One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion,” explains Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor (and Episcopal priest) who has spent his entire career studying and writing about the history of American religion. “In fact it wasn’t until 1979— a full six years after Roe— that evangelical leaders… seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying cry [against Democrats]. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.” In other words, anti-abortion advocacy became a subsidiary of the Lost Cause.
We know from numerous national polls that a large majority of Americans want the rights enshrined in Roe to stay in place. It’s not even close. A new CBS/YouGov poll shows that 67% oppose a law criminalizing abortion, and 64% want to keep Roe as is. Poll after poll after poll shows by about a two-to-one margin, Americans say Roe v. Wade should be upheld rather than overturned.
If the left has not been organizing as effectively, as cleverly, or as obsessively, there is no choice but to do so now. As a Louisiana organizer who has worked in Democratic Party politics for 15 years, people often reach out to ask what they can or should be doing. Those requests have escalated in the last two weeks, so I’m writing to offer some options of how people can get engaged in this precarious moment.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO HERE IN LOUISIANA?
Already, marches and protests have been held across the state. While those kinds of actions are not sustainable in the long term, nor do they address the big structural changes we need to make, this is certainly a moment for the majority to be visible and vocal. If you have the opportunity to attend a big public event in defense of Roe, this is a time when it would make strategic sense to show up.
I’ll just add my relentless pitch for organizing here: If you’re attending a march or a rally without registering voters or collecting names and contact information for future follow-up with sympathetic allies, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Those efforts will be more successful if you can coordinate with and feed that information back to groups that are already set up to do advocacy work on the issue at hand.
More urgently, bills are being debated in the Louisiana legislature this session that deserve attention. As the Alito draft leaked, many conservatives in elected office took that as a green light to move full speed ahead with their extremist anti-abortion agenda. Groups that have been tirelessly organizing on reproductive rights and reproductive justice in our state for years could use support in their efforts now. Below I’ve hyperlinked to five prominent ones that you can plug into right away and get involved at a local level.
Even as we work to block the worst bills being proposed in today’s Louisiana legislature, we already have some of the most oppressive abortion laws in the country. In addition to existing laws restricting abortion in our state, there are further Draconian “trigger laws” that will go into effect the minute Roe is overturned, completely eliminating the rights of Louisianans to make decisions with their family and their doctor on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. At that point, according to a recent Guttmacher Institute report, Louisiana would literally be the farthest state away from access to safe, legal abortions. It would require a Louisianian to make at least a 1300-mile round trip for an appointment, assuming a) the clinic wasn’t too overburdened to accept them, and b) the patient could afford the journey, as well as time off work and away from family.
Spoiler alert: Yes, many of these awful bills were introduced by Louisiana Democrats, and signed into law by Democratic governors – even a Democratic woman governor. If that last point seems counterintuitive, it just so happens that there are no “pro-choice” women at this moment, Republican or Democrat, in our state senate. In fact “pro-choice” women represent less than 10% of the entire Louisiana legislature, in a state in which women comprise the majority of the population, and in which only 22% of the residents believe abortion should be banned with no exceptions. Few Louisiana politicians are eager to broach the subject on the campaign trail due to outmoded perceptions of demographics, sporadic polling, and historical voting patterns.
However, a new poll from LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs suggests a potential shift in that strategic thinking. Bayou Brief publisher Lamar White provides the upshot in his piece for The Daily Beast: “Most notably, since LSU last conducted the polling on the issue six years ago, Republican attitudes have remained relatively the same, while support for abortion rights among Democrats has increased dramatically.”
So at a time when abortion rights are imperiled at a federal level and Republicans control the agenda in our state legislature, with enough votes to override the governor’s veto, is there any reason for left-leaning Louisiana voters to support anti-abortion Democratic candidates in future elections? There are national Democrats who refer to themselves as “pro-life” yet vote firmly pro-Roe. I’m not suggesting litmus tests, but defending all the rights enshrined by Roe is not too much to ask from candidates representing the only party that still works to protect our democracy.
As we know, with few exceptions, most politicians who refer to themselves as “pro-life” are, in fact, pro-forced birth. They do not support families making the best decisions for themselves in concert with their doctors. They do not support mothers as they carry a child. They do not support parents of newborns. They do not support children after they are born. They do not support systems that would allow for healthy, thriving, whole families, and afford the promise of America to all, from birth to end of life.
Disturbingly, the Alito draft reveals that this is not just about restricting abortion rights. Instead, it opens the door for far-right lawmakers and judges to strip away many of the hard-fought rights Americans have won over the last several decades. So let me offer another reframe: Instead of saying those advocating for abortion rights are “pro-choice,” let’s call them “pro-freedom,” because that’s what this fight is about. This is a battle against the larger national and global assault on individual freedom, personal privacy, human rights, and democracy.
So after we have fought the good fight in Baton Rouge for the legislative session’s remaining weeks, when sine die hits Monday, June 6, 2022, how should Louisianians organize to stop the hellish domino effect of the Alito draft decision?
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO NEXT?
At the risk of infuriating some of our Democratic candidates running for office in the 2022 midterms, no polling or punditry suggests Louisiana has a shot at flipping the partisan makeup of our federal delegation. Congressional seats have been gerrymandered to protect incumbents, and our senate race is rated by every reliable prognosticator as Solid Republican, with Shreveport’s own Charlie Cook’s Political Report assigning us a Partisan Voting Index of R+12. Should we be doing something to change that long-term? Of course we should. Should we always have a Democrat running in every race? Absolutely.
Like a football game, you always suit up and take the field. Wild things happen in elections; we should always be poised to make a move when the opportunity presents itself. And the data collected from every election is instructive. We must vote in every election. We must always support good Democratic candidates. That’s one piece of the puzzle to building a bench and establishing infrastructure, which is significant since we’re only a year out from our gubernatorial and state legislative elections.
That said, we have several significant elections happening in Louisiana in 2022. We have two Public Service Commission seats up this year that are critical to our energy and climate goals. There are multiple school board seats on the ballot, and this is a space where we’ve seen a sharp increase in ultra-conservative, Q-conspiracist, anti-history, book-banning candidates. So these are key races to engage in for the sake of our children. There are also parishes voting this year on chiefs of police and judges, all of which arguably are opportunities to further criminal justice reform and protect rights potentially threatened by the Alito draft.
The outcomes of each of these local elections will impact thousands of lives, immediately and daily. If folks are working or volunteering for good candidates in these races, don’t stop that crucial work. And for God’s sake, everybody, understand how much your vote for these positions impacts your community. At the very least, vote!
However, if abortion rights are your primary concern – or access to contraception or protections for women who have miscarriages or family planning of any kind or LGBTQ+ rights or protections for interracial marriages or privacy rights or civil rights – then the whole ballgame in the 2022 midterms is not in just maintaining Democratic control of the U.S. House, but in expanding the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
At this point, it might be helpful to do a quick explainer on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. for folks who may not live and breathe politics. Leigh McGowen, professionally known as “Politics Girl,” created a simple, digestible (and slightly NSFW) three-minute video that explains this more thoroughly. But here’s the short version: The Democratic-controlled House is passing bills that the Democratic president is ready to sign, if only they could get through the U.S. Senate.
It’s true, Democrats currently have a razor-thin majority in the evenly-split Senate, owing to Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. And that’s important. This simple fact has kept Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s lump of coal in America’s stocking, from being Majority Leader. McConnell took pride in being known as the “Grim Reaper” when Republicans controlled the Senate, because most of the bills Speaker Nancy Pelosi could get passed through the House never saw their way to the floor of the upper chamber. He just left them to die in the legislative graveyard that was his office.
With Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York now Majority Leader (thanks to victories in the Georgia senate runoffs on Jan. 5th, 2021), some of the gridlock that previously existed has been broken up. (And since the January 6th Capitol Insurrection denied Democrats a chance to fully celebrate those remarkable wins, we should forever pat ourselves on the back for everything we did to elect Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.) Among the many pieces of legislation that have advanced to the president for signing are the covid relief package, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and aid to Ukraine.
Congressional successes have given President Biden some of the support he needs to establish a full pandemic plan, get students back in classrooms, grow wages, create more jobs than any presidential administration in recorded history, guide unemployment to a 50-year low, decrease the deficit, and yield the largest federal monthly budget surplus in U.S. history. Search #BidenBoom on Twitter and you’ll find a lot of discussion (and debate) on this. Of course, gas prices and inflation are high largely as a result of the war in Ukraine, China’s bizarre lockdown policies, the impacts of covid on our own country, and stimulus efforts to rebound the economy. Biden is currently on tour promoting his plan for tackling inflation and contrasting it with the Republicans’ plan, which would unsurprisingly, once again, raise taxes on the middle class and jeopardize Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs.
Meanwhile, due to support from Congressional allies, Joe Biden, the man who fairly won “the most secure election in American history,” has steadily repaired our relationships with our foreign allies, rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, reunited migrant families, filled positions in the State Department and other agencies that had atrophied under Trump, and rebuilt a stronger NATO than we’ve seen in decades.
However, due to cumbersome Senate rules— and two senators you hear about all the time, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema— Democrats have struggled with passing some of the bigger items on President Biden’s agenda. If we want the opportunity to appoint more justices like Ketanji Brown Jackson and continue Biden’s work of ensuring a more diverse judiciary ( including appointing more Black women to federal judgeships than any other president), Democrats need to keep the Senate. In order to pass some of the big agenda items currently being blocked by every Republican, plus Manchin and Sinema, we need to elect at least two more Democratic senators. If we want to codify Roe, we need to elect more “pro-choice,” pro-freedom, pro-privacy rights Democrats to the Senate. If we want to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or the Freedom to Vote Act or the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act or the Build Back Better “human infrastructure” plan, if we want to amend the filibuster rules and potentially expand the Supreme Court to break it out of its current anti-democratic iteration, we need to dilute the power of Manchin and Sinema’s votes.
WHERE SHOULD WE FOCUS?
As an abortion rights supporter in Louisiana, I consider working to expand the Democratic majority in the senate to be the best use of my time and money in 2022. Speaker Pelosi is working on the congressional races, and she’s a pretty badass strategist, as well as a world-class fundraiser. Since the current concern is the Supreme Court, and that’s the purview of the senate, I would make the argument to focus there.
There are four well-liked, solid Democratic senators we must re-elect: Mark Kelly in Arizona, Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. Looking at the Cook Partisan Voting Index again, these are states that just barely lean red or are considered toss-ups.
Arizona – R+3 – Tossup
Georgia – R+3 – Tossup
Nevada – Even – Tossup
New Hampshire – Even – Lean D
Additionally, demographics and circumstances give us some pick-up opportunities: Val Demmings running against incumbent Marco Rubio in Florida, Cheri Beasly running for an open seat in North Carolina, Tim Ryan running for an open seat in Ohio, John Fetterman for an open seat in Pennsylvania, and a Democratic nominee to be selected on August 9th to run against Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.
Florida – R+3 – Lean R
North Carolina – R+3 – Lean R
Ohio – R+6 – Likely R
Pennsylvania – R+2 – Tossup
Wisconsin – R+2 – Tossup
I’ve hyper-linked either to the websites of the candidates or the state party where the primary has yet to take place. Signing up to volunteer, supporting them through donations, or amplifying their messages on social media are all ways that you can help. I’ll continue to give more detailed information on how to help these campaigns in this document, which will be updated as the year progresses.
It’s always difficult from a distance to know which campaigns are worth our investment. We don’t get to see the candidates up close and personal. We don’t know if they’ve built an effective campaign infrastructure, if they’ve got the capacity for sufficient fundraising, if they’ve made the right community connections, or if they’ve got the right message to speak to the voters of their state. But at the very least, if we start with the demographic and polling data, we know that we’re contributing our time and resources to winnable races.
I recommend looking over these candidates and finding one or two that speak to you, for whatever reason: you like the reverend or the astronaut, you have family in Ohio, you went to college in North Carolina. Just pick a candidate or a state, and pitch in as much as you can. If you don’t mesh with the first campaign, try a different one. Find the right fit for you.
Every one of these races is going to be a fight, so every bit of extra help for every single vote will matter. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you missed the story in The Washington Post by LSU professor and political historian Robert Mann about a recent judicial race in Baton Rouge: “My wife and I nearly didn’t vote. Then our guy won — by two votes.”
WHEN DO WE FINALLY WIN?
If you feel like you belong to what one former Republican politico dubbed “the exhausted majority,” I empathize. We’re going through serial crises: pandemic, insurrection, war, inflation, the linked threats of white supremacy, theocratic extremism, and authoritarianism… and just as the Louisiana legislature closes up shop, hurricane season starts in a region increasingly impacted by climate change. Some of the tactics of the right are specifically built to exhaust us. It doesn’t help that during the Trump years, we became semi-addicted to “doom-scrolling” on social media.
We should take some inspiration from the way Ukrainians are standing up for their country and their right to exist. If they can weather 2022 with such courage, surely we can too. Or consider the words of Alexey Navalny, the illegally-imprisoned opposition leader to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “I’ve got something very obvious to tell you. You’re not allowed to give up.”
Yes, we made this heroic effort in 2020. Now we have to do more. We need our country to be motivated enough by what we’ve seen from radical Republicans, not just in the Alito draft, but in their promotion of white nationalist and Q-Anon conspiracy theories, and in the hundreds of voter restriction bills that are being introduced and passed across the states. While there is still time, while we still have the right, we must, once again, turn out our voters in numbers too big to ignore.
Let’s revisit polling one more time. While polling suggests that the abortion issue may motivate pro-freedom and women voters to turn out in the 2022 midterms, other polls make clear that conservative voters and men and white women have been committed to voting this year-long before the Alito draft was leaked. The numbers tell the story that we cannot take anything for granted.
As Avoyelles Parish community leader Liz Leger put it when I asked her about the Supreme Court leak during an interview for the Louisiana Lefty podcast, “We get five minutes to cry, and the rest of our lifetimes we have to organize.” It’s a theory to which I subscribe. It was the driving force behind my career in politics, and now I’ve built a podcast around it. I believe we create our own hope through organizing.
And surely, by now, we know that some things are worth fighting for.