The Fourth of July in a Season of Reaction
This morning, I woke up and read Fredrick Douglass’s searing indictment of U.S. hypocrisy: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In the aftermath of Dobbs. V. Jackson and with the last January 6th Panel hearing emphasizing just how close Donald Trump’s coup attempt came to fruition, Douglass seems eerily close to speaking from the present. For all the rhetoric of freedom and equality that typically attends this day, it is blatantly obvious how much freedom and equality are in question—and for many have never been realized in the first place.
Speaking of never having been free and equal in the first place, this is a curious time for being a Queer person. After a series of victories begining with Lawrence V. Texas legalizing homsexuality in 2003—a decision that would have been impossible without Loving V. Virginia—and ending in 2015 with Gobergefell V. Hodges declaring gay marrige a constitutional right, last month was full of reversals. Trans women were effectively banned from competitive swimming by the world swimming body in punishment for Lia Thomas’s success after a transphobic misinformation campaign targeting her. The far right targeted Pride events, following the transphobic and homophobic rhetoric of Libs of Tiktok equating Queer people with pedophiles. And Texas Republicans, not to be outdone for hate, passed a uniquely queerphobic sucessionist platform, which will likely augment their prejudicial efforts including investigating the parents of transgender children for child abuse. Of course, all of this was followed by a fundamentally wrongheaded Supreme Court decision founded upon historical cherry-picking that threatens not merely abortion access, but to positively criminalize pregnant people and to threaten the legal basis of LGBTQ rights in the U.S.
It seems that even with a Demorcat president and a democratic majority in both houses of Congress, we are still well on our way to the land of Republican Christian nationalism thanks to the courts and conservative state governments. Christian nationalism might not be very popular, but then it’s in power anyway, and with the next coup attempt possibly around the corner, we might really find ourselves in a totalitarian, revanchist theocracy. Election results have been overthrown before.
All this to say, we live in an especially volatile moment where the forces of reaction have disproportionate institutional power and are willing to use any means available for its further seizure. It simply does not matter that they lack a majority or that their aims directly oppose most of the population. The structure of the U.S. government, with its systems of unequal representation, is not designed to thwart their goals, but to enhance their efforts. We cannot restrict ourselves to electoral politics. We cannot assume institutions will save us. We must respond to the crisis as one that threatens the fundamental possibility of our political inclusion and as therefore coming before any presumption of a system of politics in which we are treated as equal members.
So what are we to do?
We must organize. We must make the reactionary agenda utterly untenable, unenforceable, and too socially costly to maintain its advance. And that means building up local activist formations to acheive goals through direct action. This can take many forms from supporting abortion funds that help people travel to where it is legal to distributing free food to protesting, just to list a few examples. But above all, we need to do whatever directly hinders the right’s agenda and this will be most effective when we focus on local issues that effect our and adjacent communities. So now is a great time to look for pre-existing activist groups to join in your local area. Go to protests, meet people, find out who is organizing with others to get things done on the issues that matter to you, who is going out to every protest again and again, who are the ones people look up to when it comes to organizing. Everything is done by word of mouth, but even so, it’s usually not to hard to find people to work with. Soceitally, we just have this expectation that we have to make change alone, but all the real work gets done in a group.
We will not reverse the Supreme Court all at once this way, but we will build more resiliant communities and we will create a basis for change that outlasts this moment of reaction.