Women’s reproductive rights; pollution regulation and climate change; separation of church and state; Native American rights; gun safety – the alt-Right U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a series of severe blows to hopes for an enlightened society. In all those areas, the Court is taking the country back to where it was when I was as a much younger person.
Richard Hertzberg, a friend of my husband from U.C. Berkeley days, is completing a book entitled “Fists and Flowers,” a history reflected by the political leaflets on issues of the 1960’s. The various movements of that era were about freedom of speech, voting rights, women’s rights (including equality and abortion,) black empowerment, academic freedom, legalizing marijuana and more. In the six decades between then and now, the country worked hard to confront the problems and, with a lot of hard work, devise solutions. In most cases, those solutions were not perfect – certainly not perfectly implemented – but they were moves in the right direction……based on an implied belief in progress.
Today’s malign Supreme Court has potentially wiped out not only those gains (with threats to go further) but also, at least for the moment, left us feeling overwhelmed. It takes a lot right now to remain optimistic, especially since it is widely expected that SCOTUS’s next term could slash away still further at voting rights, affirmative action, press protections, gay rights, and who knows what else.
Defenders of this radical shift say the Court is just remanding to the states what is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. But, if you look at the crazy-right shift in state houses and legislatures, reinforced by court-supported gerrymandered redistricting plans the outlook is bleak.
Charlie Sykes’ The Bulwark quotes Bill Crystal quoting John McCain about how “It’s always darkest before it goes pitch black.” So, yes, things are grim, and wherein lies our hope? I still have faith that Individuals, alone and working collectively, can make a difference.
People are blessed when they have skills and experience to make an impact. Young people, like one son, who has committed his career in architecture to sustainability is, in his deeply personal way, helping to chip away at climate change. Grandkids, who have absorbed their parents’ values, in their own ways, are embarking on careers in public school teaching and medicine where they can make a difference. My sister, for 39 years teaching middle school, shaped young lives in a most profound way.
My husband’s 1960’s, working on housing issues for the poor in Oakland and in Chicago, and much later on, developing non-profit global initiatives to address local problems by sharing best practices internationally at the local level, have also had an impact.
You ask for metrics? I often use the example of my answer when people asked me if my editorials ever changed anything. I would tell them that, while there were individual cases where we could directly measure our impact (on a particular piece of legislation, for example, or a line-item in the state budget), our efforts were more like water dripping on a stone. You couldn’t see the mark of a single drop of water, but over time you know it made a difference.
I still believe that all our individual efforts should not be underestimated. They can coalesce and build (at this time, rebuild) into movements that matter. We are dispirited, but I do believe that, with others, we can turn things around. Pro-choice groups are developing fresh strategies and finding resonance in certain corporate policies and state courts. Environmental groups are not idle either, and other interest groups are picking themselves off the ground and rolling up their sleeves. Perhaps there is nothing more important than supporting candidates in the mid-terms who can staunch the bleeding that the Court has caused in the body politic. As our whip-lashed President has said, everything is on the ballot in November.
I had lunch last week with Hubie Jones, who has spent his life fighting the good fight – on race, social equity, economic justice, and more. Inspired by Martin Luther King when he was at B.U., Hubie assiduously took up the mantle of leadership in the African-American and broader community. He has spent his years as an activist, building coalitions, founding children’s services, social and cultural initiatives, educational and job opportunities. Who has a greater right to be in a dark mood? But, in spite of everything, he still has faith in this country. He believes in the essential goodness of its people. And he, like others of the older generation, sees great strength and potential in the younger generations.
Today’s younger generations have always taken for granted that reproductive rights, clean air and clean water, minority rights, and more were a locked-in part of our national fabric. Those of us who knew how things were before know that over time the Court’s upending of these values can be reversed. But it will take time, energy – and lots of hard work. (Especially for worn-out seniors, it may just mean strategic check writing, no matter how large or small.)
Remember on this Independence Day to look around the world. We’re still lucky to live in the United
States, despite its backsliding and unfinished agenda.
Make no mistake about it. I am sad that I may not be around to see the promised land. But the turn-around can – and, I believe, will – happen. And we all have a role to play.