EPA WATCH - This essay was written before I got word that:(a) hundreds of women and others were surrounded by Capital Police and facing arrest in militant protests on behalf of recently stripped abortion rights outside the illegitimate Christian Fascist United States Supreme Court on the morning of Thursday, June 30, 2022;
(b) that the illegitimate fossil fascist Court (same body with a different fascist hat on) had the same morning grievously stunted the executive branch’s power to try to protect a livable planet in a decision that struck down an Environmental Protection Agency plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. According to the New York Times, the EPA “decision is a victory for a conservative movement to shrink the ‘administrative state’… a significant victory for libertarian-minded conservatives who have been working for decades to curtail or dismantle modern-style government regulation of the economy. Known as the administrative state, this system consists of a series of specialized agencies Congress has set up in the executive branch to regulate the economy across a broad range of issues, like keeping the air and water pure and ensuring that food, drugs, vehicles and consumer products are safe.” This disastrous summer Court session has brought one horrific right-wing ruling after another, including but not limited to: a major rollback of gun safety and control even in the wake of two horrifying mass shootings; the advance of religious prayer in public schools; a major rollback of Miranda rights for arrested persons; the cold murder of women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion (the main subject area for the essay below);now the crushing of the White House’s power to limit carbon emissions even as the world and nation spiral into a potentially terminal environmental catastrophe largely driven by global warming fueled by excessive capitalogenic carbon emissions. All these decisions go well against the grain of majority public opinion. Beneath all its “free market” talk, we should always remember, the right wing and its revanchist capitalist backers aren’t really opposed to “big government” as such. They’re opposed to what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state” – any and all parts of the public sector that reflect the struggles of past social movements by serving the social, democratic, safety, inclusionary, and (last but not least since there’s no social justice and democracy on a dead planet) environmental needs of the non-affluent majority and the common good. But they embrace the “right hand of the state”: the portions of big government that serve the opulent minority by distributing wealth and power upward, disciplining workers and the poor, and attacking those perceived as nefariously resisting capitalist and imperial order at home and abroad. The ascendant and ever more mainstreamed fascist wing of the right embrace and advance those parts of the administrative state that oppress and regulate those Others deemed a menace to the dominant racial, national, ethnic, cultural, and/or gender order. Thus it is that the right can uphold and advance a racist big government police state, a racist big government incarceration regime, grotesquely intrusive and sexist big government abortion bans, and paranoid racist and sexist big government educational bans (on the honest and proper teaching of the past and ongoing history of racism, sexism, and classism) while simultaneously attacking government’s capacity to regulate business, protect the poor, protect working people, protect civil rights, protect livable ecology and fund the common good. Of all the terrible decisions rendered by the current illegitimate Christo- and fossil-fascist Supreme Court, the environmental one handed down today is arguably the worst one. The climate crisis, unfolding before our very eyes, is the biggest issue of our or any time. There’s no democracy, no women’s rights, no civil liberties, no social justice (etc.) on a dead planet. The US American governance order, tilting dangerously in the direction of fascist consolidation over the next two and a half years, is being exposed as not merely democratically illegitimate but as a lethal and existential menace to human decency and survival. It is time to start thinking, discussing, agitating, organizing, and planning for a genuine and serious popular revolution, nothing less. As two peripatetic German philosopher-activists noted in 1848, it’s either “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” or “the common ruin” of all.
I was outside the big iron fence surrounding the illegitimate Supreme Court when the ruling that ended women’s fifty-year constitutional right to an abortion was handed down by the Donald Trump-appointed Christian fascist majority on the most powerful judicial body in the world’s most powerful nation. It felt like when a loved one who has long been gravely ill finally dies. You know it’s coming, but it still hits you in the gut.
Two reporters asked me if I was surprised by the decision. Not at all, I said, no more than I was surprised by the January 6th Capitol Riot. Anyone who paid remotely close attention to Trump’s statements as president knew that he would never admit defeat and that he had no intention of permitting the peaceful transfer of power after he lost. The Trump Hall Putsch was both shocking and entirely predictable.
Anyone who has followed the Court since Trump and his party completed the Christian fascist takeover of the world’s most powerful judicial body with the appointment of an actual Handmaiden justice, Amy Coney- Barrett) right before the 2020 election knew that the reactionary ruling was coming. It was presaged in the Court’s decision to hear the Dobbs v. Jackson case in May of last year, in the oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson last December, and of course in the majority-backed draft decision that was leaked in early May. This moment was precisely the point behind the Trump party’s three high Court installations: Neal Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett. The woman-hating “instinctive fascist” Trump handed federal court appointments to fascist, arch-patriarchal theocrats as part of a deal that got him elected and helped keep him from being removed from power during his epically criminal and corrupt presidency.
So what if fully 72% percent, a nearly three-fourths super majority of the US population, supported the continuation of Roe v. Wade,the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established women’s constitutional right to an abortion after many years of feminist struggle?
Republi-fascist Murder, Democratic Complicity
My analogy with the death of a long-ill loved one is flawed in at least one critical way. Roe v. Wade did not die naturally. It was murdered in an unprecedented fashion. Major US civil, human, and voting rights have long been getting chipped away at, piece by piece. Abortion was and remains no exception in that regard. But with Dobbs v. Jackson, the Christo-fascist Kangaroo Court did something novel in US history: it liquidated a constitutional right in its entirety in one fell swoop.
The Republifascists did not and do not kill without a major party accomplice. The dismal, dickering, demobilizing, dollar-drenched Dems (the D6 Party of Passive Resistance/D6PoPR), are deeply complicit. The D6PoPR has had numerous opportunities over the years to codify Roe v. Wade as a national law. They have failed to act on this as on so many other – endless examples include universal health care, workers’ right to organize, and comprehensive immigration reform – campaign promises.
The Dems and their allied pro-choice organizations led by Planned Parenthood (PP) and NARAL surrendered Roe well in advance of the final assault (I have PP mailings referring to “the post-Roe era” as far back as last January). They refused to undertake sustained mass mobilizations in the streets, public squares, schools, workplaces, and town halls over the last six-plus months. They rejected the kinds of mass action and civil disobedience that could have enlisted millions in the cause to make it clear to the Court and the nation’s capitalist owners that overturning Roe would destroy the legitimacy of the judicial and broader governance order and destabilize the profitable functioning of the capitalist machine. They shunned and even in some cases demonized and slandered (see my postscript below) those who did try to organize a proper response – the intrepid activists in Rise Up 4 Rights (RU4AR).
Why this despicable conduct? A major part of the explanation is the liberal class and the Democrats’ corporate backers’ generic fear of the mob – of the potentially destabilizing popular anger that might be unleashed if they sanctioned mass resistance and mobilization. The Democrats and their many friends in the NGO industrial complex share a deeply conservative dread of the people and anything they can’t control for their own supposedly expert purposes. They insist that everyday people stand down and stand back so they can supposedly handle things properly from inside, through lobbying, legislation, and electoral politics.
Another part of the problem is the D6PoPR’s excessive faith in institutions that enslave. Last January, the liberal bourgeois historian Timothy Snyder rightly told Business Insider that “Democrats tend to trust the very institutions that Republicans are corrupting. Republicans are the ones who, if you poll them, are more likely to say somebody’s gonna fix the election. Democrats… tend to believe the institutions are going to work, that everybody will come together, etcetera.” Snyder hit upon a key point: millions of “liberal” Democrats are dysfunctionally and suicidally attached to a (to use language an anti-Marxist like Snyder eschews) bourgeois-democratic electoral regime that the Republi-fascist Party is effectively rigging for authoritarian, white nationalist outcomes.
(Full truth be told, it’s much worse than that. The constitutionally ordained institutions “Democrats tend to trust” – and here we include the Electoral College, the absurdly powerful and malapportioned US Senate, the viciously gerrymandered House of Representatives, and the autocratic Supreme Court, judicial review, and states’ rights federalism – have always been poison for popular sovereignty and the common good, reflecting the long shadow of wealthy and slave-owning aristo-republican Founders for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare and much to be checkmated in advance. National peculiarities aside, moreover, Western bourgeois democracy has always been and remains fraudulent. Lenin said that democracy “always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.” As long as long as the nation’s means of production, investment, distribution, and communication, the great US philosopher John Dewey wrote, “politics” is little more than “the shadow cast on society by big business.” )
And other part of the explanation has to do with cynical political calculation. Many elites in the D6PoPR have been looking forward to the Jackson v. Dobbs crime. They think it will help them “keep Congress” (which they don’t really “have” in the first place thanks to the deeply reactionary nature and power of the absurdly malapportioned and right-leaning US Senate.)
Good luck with that. The Democrats are heading to minority status in both houses of the federal representative branch thanks to the long historical partisan record of the mid-terms (the party newly in White House power almost always loses the mid-terms), rampant inflation (the worst in four decades), the endless bumbling of the hapless warmonger and eco-criminal Joe Biden, the baby formula fiasco, the historically high percentage of US Americans who think the country is “on the wrong track, and savage right-wing House gerrymandering and voter suppression in red states.
PP and NARAL and their establishment pro-choice ilk have been fundraising like crazy off Roe’s demise on since the Court decided to take on Dobbs case on, which the right-wing women-hating state of Mississippi sent to the Court precisely with the intent of crashing Roe.
“This Decision Must Not Stand”
A second limit to my opening analogy with the death of a long and gravely ill loved one is that this isn’t over. Physical death is final. But woman’s right to safe and legal abortions on demand across the entire country should NOT be understood as deceased. The struggle for legal abortion on demand across the land continues. “This decision must not stand,” RU4AR has been chanting in the streets of Washington DC the last few days, “legal abortion across the land.” RU4AR is not talking about underground railroads to abortion “sanctuary states,” abortion funds, legal challenges, mailed in pills, and all the rest of the “emergency response” that pro-choice liberals and progressives are focusing and raising money on. While any pregnant women/girl/person who chooses not to give birth will naturally want to take advantage of any path of personal escape from the patriarchal violence and involuntary servitude of forced motherhood, but those are incredibly expensive yet woefully partial solutions that fail to confront the Christian fascist attack head on. They will leave out millions of disproportionately nonwhite and poor women and girls.
There must be no retreat and no surrender on the principle of legal abortion on demand across the land. There is little mysterious about what Biden and the D6PoPR can and should do: declare a national health emergency; provide safe and legal abortions on demand at military bases in states that have defied super-majority national public opinion by criminalizing abortion; make an executive order mandating the provision of abortion pills to girls and women who need them in all states; pass legislation making abortion a right across the land; end the absurd Senate filibuster and expand the roster of the preposterously powerful and absurdly right-wing Court, whose 5-4 neofascist majority is horrifically out of step with national public opinion.
Imagine Biden Waking Up to Meet the Moment
A seriously democratic and progressive Joe Biden (analogous to a flying donkey) would announce the national emergency and the executive orders in a nationally televised address that calls out the Dobbs decision not merely as “sad” and “extreme” (Biden’s pathetic language on the day of the decision) but as illegitimate and based on theocratic woman-hating incompatible with the democratic principles the US purports to uphold. “Our” sleepwalking president would couple this announcement with calls for Court expansion, for death of the Senate filibuster, national legislation codifying Roeas federal law, and the granting of statehood to the District of Columbia.
He might even – imagine – include a call for US Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump and Trump’s fellow coup-plotters for trying to subvert an election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power before, during, and after the 2020 presidential election. Amidst the abortion drama, the House January 6 hearings are bringing forth yet more overwhelming evidence that Trump and his circle engaged in a clear conspiracy to overthrow previously normative bourgeois electoral democracy and rule of law and establishment the sadistic orange beast as a de facto dictator. The putsch effort should be understood as intimately related to the Court’s recent horrible decisions: they are all parts of the larger US-Amerikaner neofascist project that Biden pretended to care deeply about stopping in the video that announced his third presidential candidacy in 2019.
Joe Biden needs get his warmongering ass out of Europe and confront the fascist menace in his own country. Remember his opening campaign commercial, hooked off Charlottesville?
As most CounterPunch readers certainly know, this is not how Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden and his party roll. But it’s not about speaking truth to Biden. It’s about holding his ass to the fire of the fury of masses in the streets and public squares. It’s about coming out en masse in the streets and public squares to demand legal abortion across the land, among other things. And this means confronting a different version of doctrinal belief than what poisons the brains of the Christian right. The D6PoPR may not fully share the Republicans’ patriarchal, Christian fascist creed but they are doggedly committed to the crippling religion of bourgeois electoralism, under whose doctrinal sway millions of US-Americans, have “been brought up,” in Howard Zinn’s words fourteen years ago, “to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.” That belief is childish nonsense. History has shown again that the most important thing a citizen can do to create a decent present and future is to join hands with other (world as well as national) citizens in mass and direct actions to interrupt the flow of business as usual. It’s not just about whose sitting in the White House, the courts, and the suites, it’s about who’s sitting in the workplaces, public squares, and streets. Go ahead and vote if you want to, Zinn used to say, but understand what a minor action it is compared to mass sustained direct action beneath and beyond what his good friend Noam Chomsky called “the quadrennial electoral extravaganzas”:
“There are candidates who are somewhat better than others [,Zinn wrote], and at certain times of national crisis…even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death… Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth…But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens…Even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.”
The onus is on everyday people and organizers. “It is not within the power of unaided human nature,” the great escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said three years and eight months before the onset of the American Civil War, “to persevere in pitying a people who are insensible to their own wrongs and indifferent to the attainment of their own rights. The poet was as true to common sense as to poetry when he said, ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.'” Further:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. ”
That is surely one of history’s most purple passages, born out again and again in the ongoing People’s History of the United States.
I dedicate this essay to the courageous handful of RU4AR and RU4AR-allied activists who faced arrest and criminal charges in Washington DC for engaging in heroic civil disobedience before and after the Court dropped its disgusting Dobbs ruling on the world on June 24th.
I’ve never liked the old IWW slogan “don’t mourn, organize.” Who wants to be organized by some steely -eyed soulless militant who doesn’t know how to mourn? Not me. Mourning vs. organizing is a false dichotomy. Do both. But for morning-after organizing to be effective, masses must be made “sensible to their own wrongs” and passionately wedded to “the attainment of their own rights.” They must also see the need for solidarity with others with whom they might have disagreements in fighting against the common enslaving enemy.
From my perspective, two things beyond the horrific if predictable decision itself have been depressing to witness leading up and since Roe’s fall. The first cheerless thing concerns the remarkable number of people, including a distressing number of young women, one confronts in the streets who know little or nothing about the Christian fascist assault on abortion rights. It’s heartening and important that two-thirds of the nation supported the continuation of Roe v. Wade. But values without knowledge don’t go very far. It’s nice to think that wealth should be equally distributed in the US but if you don’t know how far wealth concentration has gone (the top tenth of the upper US 1 Percent has as much wealth as the bottom US 90 percent) you are not likely to fight for your belief.
A second demoralizing thing was the almost unfathomable pettiness, slander, stupidity, and viciousness of the backbiting, neo-McCarthyite, and hyper-identitarian sleepy-woke attacks that a malevolent liberal “pro-choice” writer and a vicious sectarian “repro” group made against RU4AR, which has been by far and away the most principled, together, militant, far-seeing, and on-message organization in the abortion rights struggle over the last half year. Having engaged in this struggle from a united anti-sexist/-fascist perspective tolerant of those with alternative perspectives – examples include strong attachment to Democratic electoral politics and the false notion that understanding the assault on abortion as fundamentally an attack on women and girls is exclusivist towards transgender persons – I can attest to the core justice and accuracy of R4AR’s recent responses to these spiteful, morally and intellectually disgraceful hit jobs:
“At a moment when masses of people are rising up – at last – to fight against the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, an assorted group of organizations who have done absolutely nothing to mobilize people to fight this decision when it was impending over the past 6 months, have issued a statement packed with outright lies, slanders, and out-of-context quotes against Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, the one organization that has led and continues to lead the fight against this unprecedented, illegitimate, and egregious decision. Pull back the lens and see this attack on Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights for what it is and where it comes from. This attack is a confession and exposure of these organizations’ capitulation to the very reactionary forces that have now prevailed in overturning nationwide abortion rights. When facing a powerful enemy that you perceive to be invincible, it becomes so much easier to slander and attack those who are not only standing up but challenging all others to join in doing the same…On the very day that women in multiple states will now be faced with the terrifying life threatening consequences of abortion bans—these groups choose to attack the only group that has been calling for sustained nonviolent struggle and protest to stop this since January! Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has consistently, since its formation, called for the broadest possible united action, in the streets, against what was then the looming Supreme Court decision ripping away abortion rights. Read the actual founding statement of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and see whether it comports with what its accusers claim. The sad fact is that the great bulk of the ‘reproductive rights movement’ chose to downplay the severity of the attack. They simultaneously counseled people to prepare for a ‘post-Roe’ America rather than throw everything into preventing the decision. Many of these organizations attacked Rise Up for saying that this assault on abortion was overwhelmingly focused on women, even as Rise Up also spoke out against the way this assault would be used against the rights of LGBTQ people (as can already be seen in Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion yesterday) and consistently pointed to the disproportionate effect the overturning of Roe would have on Black and Latina women, and other women of color. Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights’ actions over the past months and on the day of the decision are documented in the media around the world. The record is clear.”
It is frankly difficult to fathom and exaggerate the shameless inanity and libel (legally actionable?) involved in the venomous attacks RU4AR has received from the liberal feminist zine Jezebeland the organization NYC For Abortion Rights, whose ridiculous call for RU4AR to “step back from pro-abortion spaces” reeks of COINTELPRO-like defamation and smear. RU4AR doesn’t need grassroots financial contributions to conduct its activism and raises money just to feather the pockets of its leaders? Really? Seriously? Any proof of this baseless charge? If a US-based organizations copies an effective color and style from another region around the same issue (the green bandanas and other green symbols used in Latin America’s remarkable abortion rights movements) you are appropriating that region’s peoples’ culture? Seriously? For real? If you think the war on abortion rights is fundamentally about controlling and oppressing women and girls and don’t want to replace “women” with “people” in your abortion rights rhetoric, then you are against transgendered people and don’t defend abortion rights for transgender folk? Seriously? For real? It’s a problem that some abortions rights organizers are influenced by an older white male communist? Seriously? Abortions rights activists should spend the money they raise not on material to advance the cause of legal abortion across the land but for abortion funds to help girls and women in red states get abortions in blue states, as if massive fundraising for such funds is not already underway under the direction of organizations like Planned Parenthood? For real? And all this nonsense directed at the leading militant organization that has stood up passionately against the reversal of Roe and called out the establishment organizations that surrendered in advance to the Dobbs decision and continue their capitulation now in the post-Roe era they helped birth? Shameful.
The attacks on RU4AR are also unsurprising. Again and again, when the people suffer great defeats like the Dobbs ruling, the liberal and fake-radical knives come out and principled leaders like Sunsara Taylor, Merle Hoffman, and Lori Sokol (the co-initiators of RU4AR) are slandered and denounced by those who failed to fight and who resent those who brilliantly and courageously out-flanked them on the actual people’s Left.
On a more hopeful and inspiring note, I was struck during my recent trip to Washington DC (I stood with URU4AR) in front of the Court when the decision came down) by the vast majority of rally attendees who showed no resistance whatsoever to joining radical Leftists like me in understanding the assault on women’s rights as fundamentally fascist in nature, as something that the D6PoPR had helped enable, and as a reflection of the undemocratic bankruptcy and autocratic essence of the US governance order, including the Electoral College, the absurdly powerful and malapportioned US Senate, revanchist states’ rights federalism, and judicial review itself. During one short speaking engagement, I heard roars of approval when I told a large crowd this after confessing my distressing age (older by the day), race (white), gender (male/he/him), and sexual orientation (straight): “But let me tell you how I identify. I identify as a revolutionary! (loud cheers). I identify as an anti-capitalist! (same). I identify as an anti-fascist! (same). I identify as an anti-imperialist! (same). I identify as an anti-racist! (same). And of special significance today, I identify as an anti-sexist! (same) and as an enemy of this illegitimate, motherfucking woman- and girl- and pregnant person-hating court! (same).” I’ve rarely seen so many young people willing to cast the standard crippling identitarian (including generational) biases aside and identify themselves loudly with radical in-the-streets politics beneath and beyond the big money, major party, corporate media, candidate-centered “quadrennial [and biennial] electoral extravaganzas” that are sold to us as “politics,” the only politics that counts. And doing so right in the seat of illegitimate power, just feet away from the big black iron fence around the Court, to which two heroic young RU4AR activists chained themselves (leading to their arrest along with an RU4AR legal observer) days before. I’m sorry if this sounds cynical, but if Democrats can repulsively welcome Dobbs for helping them (they hope) in the coming mid-term elections I can be excused for noting that the ruling (along with numerous horrific Court decisions this term) is yet one more terrifying demonstration that the old ways of ruling class and capitalist system legitimacy are dying and that this provides an opening for revolutionary organizing and consciousness.
Paul Street is a writer for CounterPunch where this essay was featured. His latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).