We spent the Friday Ruth Bader Ginsberg died counting signs. Well, that wasn’t the only thing we did. My trans wife and I live in a small town, Prairie du Sac on the Western edge of Sauk County Wisconsin. It is a community that has become increasingly polarized in the last twenty years, as the Republican party has made polarization of the electorate a strategy. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in our Village of 4,417 by fewer than 200 votes. It is a largely Catholic community and the Spanish priests exhorted their parishioners to vote the single issue of abortion, vote Trump no matter what. I have to wonder how much death, torture and destruction they are willing to countenance in support of their fetus fetish, but I digress.
So, since Covid we drive up to Baraboo for grocery pick-up. Our community was late to comply with mask requirements and our local grocer’s was no longer a safe place to go. We drove through the farmland in between counting signs. Four Trump, Three Biden. Extrapolated to the rural population that is a huge increase since the 2016 election. Farmers have to choose between being able to put food in their own children’s stomachs under Trump’s trade policies, or the promise of a Supreme Court pick who will overturn Roe v Wade. Most of the farms here are smallish (fewer than 500 cow) dairies and/or a little bit of beef, a little bit of pork. At the 2019 World Dairy Expo Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue told small dairy producers:
In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.
Not a way to win friends and influence people exactly, but the fetus fetish is strong among my people. I’m sure there were people cheering RBG’s death because it opened that Supreme Court seat while Trump was president. Just like there are people on the left fearing that all is lost because of her death. I cried all day.
But, remember this. The insistence on the white women’s movement of the 1970’s on pursuing birth control and abortion as the single incremental strategy is why we are where we are now. We handed the right the counter strategy of a single fight, a single highly politicizable issue as the key to undermining women and keeping marginalized people marginalized. Making women’s rights and women’s reproductive control about freeing white women from the burden of unwanted motherhood, to pursue their share of capitalism is how we lost. We turned our back on the demands of women of color who asked us to include issues of poverty among others in our definition of reproductive rights. BIPOC women told us. BIPOC women prepared us. We dismissed them. And now we have to do the job all over again. Like my mother said “If you don’t do it right the first time…”
When I became pregnant at 19 the white feminists were done with me. I heard a lot of “You made your bed now you have to lie in it.” Optics. Later when I was trying to leave an abusive marriage I had very little support. The year I got divorced is the year Betty Friedan published The Second Stage which proclaimed feminism good for men. In Friedan’s interpretation it was up to women to convince men that equal rights worked for their best interests as well as ours. It has made the argument that any advancement for a marginalized group ends up helping everyone suspect to me. It may be true, but it must never be why. Gloria Steinman never spoke for me when she proclaimed “We are becoming the men we wanted to marry”. I was supposed to marry a boy from the mill.
What happened was that white women were willing to sacrifice the feminist needs of BIPOC women, trans women and non-binary people, because keeping white supremacist capitalist patriarchy functioning was the point. White upper and middle class women wanted the spoils, too. And poor and working class white women didn’t see through them, not solely because family planning defined as access to birth control and abortions was a much needed antidote to intergenerational poverty.
What saved me was that that same year This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Andalzua was also published. This led me to the work of the Combahee River Collective and the work of the poets Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich. It led me to a beginning of an understanding of intersectional feminism eight years before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term. As defined by the Combahee Women’s Collective it’s:
The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.
I learned that to BIPOC women reproductive justice meant the freedom to have your babies, love your babies, raise your babies, protect your babies. What I desperately needed I had a right to for mine.
Trump has already named his pick for Justice Ginsberg’s seat. She will likely be fast tracked to her appointment. There is little we can do to stop it. So, when we pick up the fight again and we will, let’s listen to Black, Indigenous, and other Women of Color who have been trying to warn us all along that if we make this fight only about abortion, as the fetus fetishists do we are also accepting the violence, death, and destruction that is the hallmark of late stage capitalism. We must do better this time round.
Poverty is reproductive injustice, sexual violence is reproductive injustice, food insecurity is reproductive injustice, housing insecurity is reproductive injustice, forced sterilization is reproductive injustice, police violence is reproductive injustice.
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