This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade’s protections. Well, it would have. Regrettably, the Right managed its anti-choice movement far better than the Left, and we’re back in 1972 again.
A few short months after Roe’s demise, while a bill codifying abortion rights died a slow death in the Senate, a glorious celebration took place on the White House lawn, when President Biden signed statutory protections for same-sex and interracial marriage into law. Tears flowed. Activists hugged and reminisced. The future seemed bright.
Why such contrast? Why swift action on marriage, but slipping backward for abortion rights? The anti-choice movement’s success gutting abortion access protections — and the Left’s success defending marriage equality — lays bare among many points an important one:
In public policy, power accrues from many sources; we must build ours in all of them, wherever we can.
Fixating on just one source of power — one tactic — Congress vs. the courts vs. executive action, culture vs. corporate America, and so on — is insufficient; it’s not how real power accumulates. You have to work all the refs, pull all the levers, and invest at every level in every arena.
Everything, everywhere, all at once.
Gay marriage was once a chimera. Before 1993, there wasn’t a single gay marriage anywhere in the world — and few people thought there ever would be — but brilliant advocates led the change by pulling every possible lever of power. Culture change. Corporate engagement. The high courts in Hawaii and Massachusetts. Local policy.
Ultimately, we won a constitutional right to marry in the Supreme Court. And when Justice Thomas signaled that the right was on the chopping block like Roe v. Wade, watchful advocates insisted that Congress codify the marriage statute anyway.
The same is true for all systems change movements. To meaningfully change the system, our movements must be large and diverse enough to build power everywhere — courts, Congress, capitols, corporate arenas, media, and culture — all at once.
The history of social change under the law shows that protections come incrementally and from multiple power sources. Sophisticated leaders see every path to progress — and build movements invested in each.
As it should be.