There are peaceful protests planned outside of conservative Supreme Court justices’ houses this week. A few have already happened.
One candlelight vigil was organized by one of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s neighbors, a 39-year-old mother of two named Laci Wooten-Holway. A bit of The Washington Post’s writeup of her effort has gotten stuck in my craw:
“A passing couple paused, reading her sign: “HONK 4 REPRO Rights and Bodily Autonomy.”
“Good!” the woman said.
“That I don’t agree with,” the man interjected. “I think you vote, and you expand the court. You don’t go to a guy’s house.”
Later, the same man is quoted as saying “I worry about lines being crossed… This constant escalation, I think, makes it dangerous.”
Sir, with all due respect (very little, considering how glibly idiotic his “you simply expand the court!” remedy is to a very immediate concern): the Supreme Court is inside our bodies, and, for millions of American women, things are already very fucking dangerous—much more dangerous than having one’s view from the dinner table sullied by Maryland moms holding candles.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and abortion is immediately illegal for half of all Americans who might need it, women will die. And the women who will suffer the most are those who are already on the precipice—the poor, the Black and brown, the young, the abused.
The sidewalks adjacent to a powerful person’s property are not more sacred than 73 million women’s bodies. And yet, from the way some voices have responded to protests outside of SCOTUS homes, you’d swear the real victim here was Brett Kavanaugh.
Fox News spent years in the bootlicking service of Donald Trump—who once told a crowd of police officers that they should be rougher with suspects as they arrest them; who routinely called for violence against the press; and whose Big Lie about election fraud led to ordinary election officials being harassed at their homes by MAGA mobs calling for their blood. This is the same Fox News that has routinely minimized the violence of January 6, 2021 as “tourism.”
But now that peaceful protests are targeting the public streets and sidewalks outside Supreme Court justices’ houses, Fox News is very worried about the safety implications!
But the liberals! They’re cheering! Stop the presses—today’s a day when conservatives aren’t getting mad about Mr. Potato Head’s gender identity, the green M&M making them less horny, Disney turning the kids gay, and Harry Styles wearing a dress. No, today’s when conservatives are angry that those cheering-ass liberals are standing on residential sidewalks exercising a constitutionally guaranteed right at a match-point moment.
President Joe Biden, for his part, tried to walk a hair-thin line in discussing the protests. A statement from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki read, in part, that while the president “strongly believes in the constitutional right to protest,” those protests “should never include violence, threats, or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety."
The BBC framed this statement as “critical” of the protests outside of justices’ homes, but I’ve read the White House statement over a few times and I don’t see criticism of the protests outside of justices’ homes specifically—unless I’ve missed something about them turning violent.
Besides, if protesting in a manner that makes anybody uncomfortable for any reason is unacceptable protest, then no protest is an acceptable protest. I don’t believe that the framers of the Constitution meant “everybody is free to whisper their concerns into a soft southern breeze” when they enshrined the right to protest into the Constitution. Protest is supposed to annoy or interrupt the person or people being protested; that’s the point. It seems that those critical of pro-choice protests would prefer that people whose lives and bodies are on the line would make their concerns known through something that more closely resembles getting together in a big empty field and wishing upon a star.
I’m not suggesting that the home of every public figure or even elected official should be the site of protests for lesser reasons. A celebrity who says something idiotic and dangerous about vaccines, for example, shouldn’t have his house picketed, even if he’s a dangerous idiot. A news personality saying something ignorant about something he knows nothing about probably shouldn’t have his home disturbed, if only because it would probably bother his neighbors who had nothing to do with it.
The Supreme Court is on the precipice of making a decision that will directly and immediately impact the lives of millions. These are extraordinary circumstances. As long as protests outside of the homes of the people directly responsible for these circumstances are not unlawful or dangerous, they are appropriate.
The powerful are always the most removed from the consequences of their actions. This shouldn’t be the case.
Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is not cutting coupons to pay for baby formula—but maybe if he tried it, he’d legislate like less of an asshole. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman didn’t ruin his credit score over medical debt—but maybe if he had, he wouldn’t have fucked us out of a public option for health coverage. No matter what the Supreme Court does, Amy Coney Barrett’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s daughters will never have a problem accessing abortion care, if they need it (she’s got four daughters and he’s got two, so, statistically, at least one of them probably will.)
And yet, debates over whether or not those enraged by oppression are polite enough to the oppressors dominate American political discourse in a way that feels cartoonish. Righteous rage will always be debated by mealy-mouthed centrists (or “institutionalists”) who miss the point entirely, because it’s more comfortable to have debates about politeness than it is to acknowledge the sickness in the system. The biggest beneficiaries of the status quo are always the least comfortable talking about dismantling it.
Civility and politeness are how we got here, and history almost always proves the righteously enraged right and makes fools of the histrionics. Civility has always been a cudgel used by the powerful to remind those who disproportionately suffer at their hands that when they ask to have the boot taken off their necks, they should be nice about it.
This is how protest has been critiqued in America for generations, but it’s become particularly inane and whiny in recent years, and it’s inane and whiny now.
It’s the way we talked about Samantha Bee, who was absolutely correct to call Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” in response to the White House adviser’s inaction over her daddy boss’s enforcement of the family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s the way conversation about comedian Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents Dinner joke about then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ eye makeup being made of lies was hijacked by people who claimed the joke itself was sexist and mean. (Wolf, by the way, was absolutely correct to reference Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ ghastly eye makeup, even though she said that she was speaking admiringly about the makeup. Apparently even mentioning a woman’s aesthetic choices will run you afoul of the civility police.)
It’s the way former President Trump claimed that the real crime in the Russia investigation was that people were leaking information about his crimes. It’s the way that media establishment figures and conservatives have fixated on the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s Roe-slaying draft opinion, and not the opinion itself, as The Real Shocking News.
If Justice Alito’s draft opinion—or anything close to it—is handed down by the court in June or July, it will subject half of the American population’s bodies to the whims of state legislatures. It will lead to millions of women seeking abortion care unsafely. It will force pregnant women who do not seek extralegal abortion care to undergo childbirth—a painful, potentially disabling, and expensive medical event—against their will. It will lead to poorer outcomes for women’s existing children, endanger women’s lives (especially Black women), economically cripple families, and set American women’s social and economic progress back generations.
Of course it’s appropriate for people to peacefully protest on public property outside of the homes of people imminently poised to take the rights away from millions of their own fellow citizens. Of course it’s appropriate for architects of policy to be reminded that their actions will harm and even kill people.
When it comes to Roe, we are long past the event horizon for incivility.