Don’t Just Get Angry about Roe, Get Involved

By: Jessica Alter

I knew the Roe decision was coming, almost to the hour, and yet the finality of it has hit me harder than I imagined. I know people are cycling through emotions that range from sadness to rage to fear. I’m not going to tell you “don’t worry, justice will prevail.” I’m going to leave that rhetoric to the politicians. I’m here to help you answer the question, “what can we do now?” 

There is a lot we can do, but there is no quick fix. We can come together and work harder and smarter - starting to focus on the state governments and long term thinking. But it will take commitment to protect our rights and the rights of our future generations. I’m telling you this not to be negative, but rather to be prepared to win. 

If we want things to change we need to change our strategy. 

Get organized, not mobilized - We live in a constant cycle of outrage - one bad thing happens, people get outraged on social media and “demand” action until the next terrible thing happens. Think of just this year - January 6th, Ukraine, gun safety, Roe, gun safety. It’s exhausting and it means that most people aren’t focusing their energy on any one thing over a long period of time. Politicians count on this short memory.

As Siena Chang wrote to Anne Helene Peterson, we need to ​​“get organized, not just mobilized, which is showing up at a rally once or twice. Organized means acting in coordination with others who have a long term strategy. Finding a local group doing direct, tangible work and asking them how to help. They’re probably inundated right now so commit to following up in the coming month. Go in person if that’s appropriate, don’t just email. Show up thoughtfully. Be consistent and reliable. Follow their lead.”

We don’t need to start new organizations, we need smart, dedicated people helping the ones that exist to do more, level up and be able to think and act long-term. Everyone has crucible moments - that’s human and expected. But find ways to stay meaningfully involved. That doesn’t mean you need to do something 365 days a year, it means you have some sort of ongoing involvement rather than only parachuting in when shit is really bad. 

Focus on the states - on the legislative side (e.g. passing laws), the Republicans have spent 40 years ferociously committed to taking over state governments, particularly state legislatures. In 1980, the Democrats were in control of almost 30 state legislatures - after the 2020 election it has completely flipped with Republicans in control of 30 legislatures. Why does this matter? State legislatures truly control almost every major issue - right to choose, gun safety, healthcare, voting rights and more. The Supreme Court opinion lays the groundwork for state legislatures to decide on other issues we’ve taken for granted of late - including same-sex and interracial marriage. If we don’t take back political control of states this will continue to happen, on issue after issue. 

And while Congress throws themselves a party for passing one or two consequential bills a term, the state governments are passing laws it’s going out of style. And because so many of them are run by Republicans they aren’t laws you’d likely be happy about. 

It’s been somewhere between very difficult and ostensibly impossible to get an abortion in the south for years. In 2021 alone, 19 states enacted 106 restrictions including 12 abortion bans. Eighteen states enacted laws making it harder to vote, including Michigan, Florida and Georgia (all considered “swing states'' in federal elections). Conversely, there are states enacting laws that protect basic freedoms. In the two years (2019-2021), that the Virginia legislature flipped blue, they passed criminal background checks for gun buyers and enacted red flag laws. They passed the Equal Rights Amendment. They expanded options for voting - election day voter registration and no excuse early and mail-in voting are just two examples. 

And yet, Democrats have an unhealthy love affair with Federal politics at the cost of state and local. In 2020, US Senate candidates Jamie Harrison and Amy McGrath raised a total of $250M and both lost by more than ten points - meaning neither of them ever had a chance of winning. The same year, the Michigan State House was 4 seats away from flipping. All of the candidates there raised a total of $14M cumulatively. I’m not saying we shouldn’t run against Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham, I’m saying we have a dollar allocation problem. 

The love affair continues to this very moment, with very smart and well-meaning people tweeting to end the filibuster as the panacea to restoring Roe. I get the appeal of a seemingly simple solution like this. The only problem is that it is completely infeasible as things stand today. If time is our most finite resource we need to stop putting any of it into even suggesting this solution and start focusing on state legislatures that are already deciding on the fate of a woman’s right to choose and patient care. And if in the vein of talking about long-term thinking, please game out what an end to the filibuster will mean if Republicans are in control. 

Ok, so let’s get specific about the ways to make a difference.

What type of impact do you want to have? 

One of the best frameworks for deciding where to focus is to think about the impact you want to have. The the three basic buckets are: legislative (change laws), patient care (helping people who want to have abortions in states where it’s illegal or restricted and legal (fighting in the courts).

Legislative Impact - I want to get people elected that will restore or protect laws that guarantee the right to choose.

The highest ROI way to spend time here is to focus on state legislatures. In the shorter-term there are a few states that could flip blue this year - Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire - or need help defending a slim Democratic majority - Nevada, Colorado and a few others. But it’s also imperative that we invest in places where we can’t win this year but that could be feasible in the next 4-8 years (Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas). It’s very hard to help one campaign at a time because there are so many, so it’s ideal to connect with an organization that is working with many of these campaigns. 

Suggested Organization:

  • Tech for Campaigns - I cofounded TFC in 2017 to help flips red and purple states blue, largely using technology and digital marketing - an area that is sorely underinvested in by Dems. The organization works with hundreds of campaigns a year to run their digital marketing and runs their own, highly effective, digital voter turnout program. You can get involved by volunteering on a campaign (5-7 hrs a week for 6 weeks) and/or by donating. Every dollar goes towards electing candidates to swing districts in state legislatures and turning out voters that will decide the fate of a person’s right to choose and much more.

Patient Care - I want to help people who need access to abortion care - advice, travel funds, coordination, etc.

Suggested Organization

  • Local Planned Parenthood chapter - It’s often better to give to the local chapter than to the national umbrella organization which already has ample funding. 
  • National Network of Abortion Funds - this is a network of local, autonomous organizations that fund abortion care. I do not know them personally but my friend who is the former Medical Director at Planned Parenthood in Missouri says this is “probably the best bang for your buck if you want to fund patient care.”

Legal Impact - I want to help fight for abortion rights in the courts.

There will be continued fighting in the courts to ensure women can travel to get an abortion, to fight for access to the pill and much more. 

Suggested Organization

I know it’s antithetical to our meme-heavy, immediate gratification-centric culture to say there is no quick fix, but it’s important to hear. Congress is not coming to save us, nor is the President. We need to put the work in and start thinking long-term in the states and with the organizations that are already committed.

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