Politicians and pundits—from both parties—would have you believe that the spate of laws criminalizing abortion in Alabama, Georgia, and other states is about reproduction. But as essential as it is for women to have agency over their own bodies, this onslaught is about democracy.
Here’s how I see it: A small number of (mostly) white male policymakers have seized power and control over the many. And the many in this case are black and brown, as well as white women, who have lived for a generation exercising control and authority over their own bodies. But if the men can take away one constitutional right, there is nothing stopping them from taking away our other rights and freedoms.
Power is in the wrong hands. But there are 100 million reasons to be hopeful.
In presidential election years, about 60% of the voting-eligible population votes. In midterm election years, only about 40% of those eligible vote. That means 80 million to 100 million voting-age Americans aren’t yet engaged. My money says that these folks are more like you and me than they are like our far-right overlords. The work of bringing them into the political process is ours to do.
First, voter registration is too difficult, which means we have to make it easier for people. Volunteers in all 50 states registered a record 865,000 people during 2018’s National Voter Registration Day, beating the previous record from 2016. Civil rights groups, women’s rights organizations, unions, and others will need to increase registration drives to break more records next year.
Second, we also must put more women in office. In 2018, more than 100 women won seats in Congress—more than ever before—including more than 40 women of color and at least three who are LGBTQ. In 2020, we should be able to find a woman to run for every single open seat—from school board to president. Women will win with a proactive platform that addresses the needs of families, including lower healthcare and prescription drug costs, free or more affordable college, and economic opportunity that is distributed more equitably.
Third, we must call out the hypocrisy. If Alabama and Georgia really cared about babies, they would care for babies. In 2016, more than 500 babies born in Alabama died before their first birthday—the highest rate of infant mortality in the nation. In Georgia, more than 900 infants died the same year. And if those states cared about babies, they would also care about their mothers. Yet Georgia leads the nation in maternal deaths. In Alabama, the problem is on the rise. Both states had the opportunity to expand Medicaid, which would have provided lifesaving health care to mothers and others, but they refused.
And we must shout down the cynicism of the tactics. The radical right picks these fights—abortion, marriage equality, bans on transgender people in the military or bathrooms—to divide people who otherwise agree on most things. If we are serious about saving our democracy, we must show up for each other. What does that mean?
“History tells us you only win, particularly in the South, when you find a way to bring people together around common constitutional values and common moral values,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II has said.
It may feel like the worst of times, but the American people are resilient and have gotten through worse before, including slavery, a civil war, and decades under Jim Crow. This is a moment for America to transform itself into a more just, more inclusive, more perfect union. If we do the work, we will win the right to govern ourselves and begin to dismantle white male supremacy.
After all, the numbers are on our side. Women make up the majority of this country. People of color, increasingly, are gaining the majority. And when we win, we will create something new and beautiful: a government that reflects all of our people; an educated and engaged citizenry; and an unbreakable promise that the rights that citizens are born with can never be taken away.
LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and a senior fellow at Prism.