By Greyson Van Arsdale, Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the United States)
The evening of May 3, thousands of protesters gathered in cities across the country to protest the leaked draft decision by the Supreme Court which would strike down Roe v. Wade. The Court is set to rule early this summer, giving the movement a window of time to get organized and fight back against the ruling.
Socialist Alternative led major protests in Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Madison, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, and Seattle, among others, calling for escalating action with walkouts and strikes to build pressure to stop the ruling. In other cities, we led vibrant socialist feminist contingents within broader demonstrations.
“Major progressive victories in the United States have never been gift-wrapped and handed to us by the establishment,” said Rachel Wilder, a Socialist Alternative member and Temple University student in Philadelphia. “In fact, the establishment has been on the wrong side of history every single time – on abortion, on gay marriage, on desegregation – until mass movements of working people forced the two parties of big business to concede. We need millions of people on the streets to defend abortion and stop the right wing!”
The protests nationwide showed a major discontent with the failures of the Democratic Party in defending abortion and fighting for what working people of all genders need. Speakers pointed out that not only did Joe Biden make a campaign promise to codify Roe v. Wade, but Obama campaigned on legalizing abortion in 2008 and then failed to do so even with a supermajority in Congress. Following the leak on Monday, Biden said in a statement that he asked for his administration to “have options ready” if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and did not give his support to ending the filibuster to allow Democrats to vote to legalize abortion in Congress.
It’s clear that young people are tiring of the Democrats’ broken promises. In New York City, after the Women’s March organized rally ended, our members led a chant calling for a march. The response from the main stage, which was dominated by Democratic Party operatives hostile to the idea of taking direct action, was “it’s cute what you’re trying to do back there, but that’s not what we’re doing.” Rather than allowing the energy to dissipate, ourselves and other left groups led nearly a thousand people through the streets of Manhattan and to another rally in Washington Square Park where we openly discussed next steps for the movement. At the march protesters could be heard chanting “Voting blue is not enough! Democrats we call your bluff!”
“This is how we got here in the first place – a party that doesn’t know how to fight, that is more afraid of it’s base getting organized than anything else,” said Socialist Alternative member and Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant at a protest in Seattle last night. “A party which will go all out to marginalize or drive out genuine progressives, as they silently prioritize the stability of the capitalist system and profitability of corporations above all else. Above women, reproductive rights, workers rights, LGBTQ rights, and above even the continuation of human civilization as we face utter climate catastrophe. We need a new party! One that fights tooth and nail to defend reproductive rights, workers rights, LGBTQ rights and against racism!”
What’s next in the fight for abortion rights?
Many of the protesters out last night also participated in the Justice for George Floyd uprisings of 2020, where much larger numbers protested for months on end. Despite these large numbers, the movement unfortunately did not succeed in winning major reforms on a broad scale, and most individual cities have continued to ramp up police budgets.
Since this was the largest protest movement in U.S. history, it begs the question – what was missing, and how can we win this time?
Despite mass numbers, Justice for George Floyd remained largely a street movement without structures or clear demands. The movement did not escalate to incorporate widespread direct action. With just weeks until the Supreme Court could come down with a ruling, we need to go beyond street protests and escalate our struggle to include walkouts, occupations, and even strikes. The energy of street protests must be translated into our communities and workplaces in order to force the hand of the Supreme Court and Congress.
We have seen new life breathed into the labor movement with the heroic unionization campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon. This newly revitalized labor movement has an essential role to play in building out the struggle of working class people for free, easily accessible reproductive care. SEIU and NNU, who both organize healthcare workers, have made statements about the devastating impact an overturn of Roe v. Wade would have on women workers. We need these unions to organize their members to take action in defense of abortion rights, and we need more unions to step into this struggle. The newly-formed Amazon Labor Union showed important solidarity when their interim-President, Chris Smalls, called for protesters to join at Foley Square in New York City yesterday.
Unions have an especially vested interest in winning full legal abortion, and going forward to win Medicare for All with full reproductive and gender affirming care. Employer-provided healthcare is a major bargaining chip in the bosses’ hands in contract negotiations, and bosses will often pull workers’ healthcare benefits in the event of a strike.
For union members, non-union workers, students, and youth who are ready and motivated to fight for abortion rights and free healthcare for all, we need public organizing meetings to put together a plan for escalating action, including walkouts and strikes. Socialist Alternative is hosting public meetings in cities across the country.
To win, this movement needs strong demands that move the terrain from defense to offense.
We call for:
- Beat back the right! The Supreme Court must reverse course and uphold Roe v. Wade!
- For mass walkouts and strike action to defend abortion!
- The Democrats have full control in D.C., they should immediately end the filibuster and legalize abortion!
- Congress must pass Medicare for All with abortion on demand, full reproductive care, and full gender-affirming care for all!
- This attack on Roe will open the door to ongoing brutal attacks on the rights of queer people. We need a united struggle against gender oppression in all its forms! Our movement needs to fight for full reproductive care as well as against reactionary anti-trans laws sweeping states across the country!
- End the two-party system – we must launch an independent working-class party that will defend the interests of working-class women, queer people, and people of color!