On Roe and our collective calling. Issue #97.
The demise of Roe and the rise of radical compassion.
We are witnesses to troubling signs of political dysfunction and acts of wanton violence. The rise of authoritarian leaders and their followers, the demise of our collective trust in institutions and governments, the rapidity of changes to our climate and our local environs — fires, flooding and famine — all are bewildering and worrisome.
The demise of Roe v. Wade, while sadly both imminent and predictable, created a new tear in the social fabric that has been fraying before our eyes. The insult that Dobbs bears — that women are less equal and more subject to the state than men, that women do not have a right to control their bodies, that women must be bound to the whims of political geography — make this U.S. Supreme Court decision shocking and stupefying.
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According to many pundits, the fall of Roe means there is also more (perhaps much more) reactionary legal reconstruction to come. Women and those who are most marginalized in society are now targets of an emboldened group of mostly male local state representatives. Access to contraception, the legality of gay marriage, and the right to freely vote are now potentially on the operating table of a court (and a Congress after November) that represents a minority of people in the United States.
For these and so many other reasons, the fall of Roe is a shot across the bow. It potentially represents the rise of a new form of sad-sack theocracy that will stand alongside with or replace democracy. It disconnects and atomizes people across the country, from their country. And it also signals the need for us to fundamentally rethink who stands up for us, who are leaders are, and how we elect, motivate and sustain the drive to greater equality and human liberation.
Dobbs is both atavistic and incendiary. And it is a warning.
Many of us are going to throw up our hands. We could say that this is the way it is. That things are going to get worse. And they might. In my darker hours, that’s where I go and where most people I know, are going. The unease of this moment, with the fall of Roe and all it portends, is palpable. It feels like the bottom has fallen out — and below us there is no net.
But we also know better. Our ancestors fought tooth and nail to get us to this place and this time — and giving up or giving in is not a real option. My grandmother, Celia Shulman, traveled with her mother thousands of miles from Zhytomir, Ukraine, to get to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to live a better life. Away from the autocrats, the Cossacks, and the Russian army, my family in the United States carved out a living and a life and a livelihood.
Soon, we will have to organize. And organize well. (And while I am a dual national in Canada, I take nothing for granted here, nor anywhere. History shows that rights are are not permanent fixtures; they are words, strung together and alighted, based on shared purpose, ideals, and values.)
Organizing is not easy and, despite our instant communications, perhaps it’s harder than ever.
We will need to rise up and not just take back what we had but fight for what is rightly all of ours: real liberation, freedom of expression, government by us and for us, and a right to decide what happens to our bodies and to our minds. Radical compassion, driven by great uncertainty and tears of anger and anxiety, will, somehow, need to flourish again. It has before. We must also will into existence a transformation of communications — design, media and messages — to support the movements to come.
We will need all of this.
I thought I would share a few voices that have resounded for me recently about the state we are in.
Garrett Bucks, on his Substack (The White Pages) at History is written by the losers (who keep organizing):
The good news, though, is that for those of us who love justice for all, we too walk on the shoulders of organizers, of foreparents who recognized that the real work happens when you’re at your lowest, when the world assumes that you’ve lost.
Jennifer Mendelsohn, a journalist and genealogist based in Germany, posted this on Twitter.
Michelle Goldberg in The Future Isn’t Female Anymore (The New York Times):
It’s true: We’re in trouble. One thing backlashes do is transform a culture’s common sense and horizons of possibility. A backlash isn’t just a political formation. It’s also a new structure of feeling that makes utopian social projects seem ridiculous. The left, feminism very much included, needs people to be optimistic and confident about change. It needs to be able to paint a picture of a better world and enlist people in the adventure of trying to create it.
But this is a fearful, hopeless and even nihilistic time. Retrenchment is, perhaps, to be expected. That doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
Bill McKibbon, in his Substack (The Crucial Years) at Be The Backlash!:
But the backlash can’t just be aimed at Washington. It has to go at Wall Street too. It’s the billionaires and the Chamber of Commerce and the banks and the oil companies that have funded this endless rightwing tilt, coming together time after time to support the end of regulations.
Fury—nonviolently exercised, but with the force of a firehose—can change the political dynamic that has been sending us in a slow drift towards some variety of rightwing theocratic fascism. But we may not get more chances. This right now is the opening.
Joanna McClinton, Pennsylvania House Representative from West Philadelphia, in Harrisburg (via Twitter):
Reading: For my birthday in March, my wife gave me this book, The Future We Choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. I was not in the right frame of mind to read it. It’s increasingly difficult to be in the right frame of mind to read anything about climate. The authors offer up two potential scenarios for the earth in 2050: one devastatingly grim (a picture akin to what David Wallace-Wells paints in grotesquely more detail in his devastating The Uninhabitable Earth) and another, in which we collectively get our act together. I liked the second one much more.
In their lead up to offering ten key actions that we can take to confront and contain the climate crisis, they write about the need to open a space for transformation, to move beyond what we know from the past to what we know about ourselves. They write:
The Buddha also understood that we are not subject to our attitudes in a passive way but are active participants in creating them. Neuroscience has now confirmed this. It does not matter if our natural tendency is to see things with optimism or with pessimism. At this point in history we have a responsibility to do what is necessary, and for most of us that will involve some deliberate reprogramming of our minds.
This loosely aligns with my own thinking about design and design consciousness. Perhaps the word here is not “reprogramming” per se but refocusing?
Yuval Noah Harari, one of my favourite authors of the past few years, noted that this was one of the most inspiring books he has ever read.
Listening: Tess Parks, originally from Toronto and now living in Berlin, released her much awaited album And Those Who Were Seen Dancing. Tess’s work speaks to the very moment: songs of anger and disgust, full of foreboding and emergency, but also of possibility and promise. (Her collaborations with Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre are beautiful, and each song is a hit of sonic joy.) Of this album, she says:
The recording and final completion of this album took over two years and wow — the lesson I have learned the most is that words are spells. If I didn’t know it before, I know it now for sure. I only want to put good out into the universe.
This music video, which uses footage of Parks as a young dancer, is from the album. It’s called Happy Birthday Forever; the refrain is “get me out of here.”
You are here.
I’ll leave you with this: a photo of planet Earth taken from the surface of Mars. It was taken eight years ago, by NASA’s Mars Rover, 99 million miles away.
99 million miles.
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Wishing you a very good week ahead.