How We Won – We need more than protests!
After the Supreme Court’s threat to deer leak, Democrats and liberal feminist organizations were telling us to stay home until November. But we weren’t happy with that. Socialist feminist activists in Madison began to organize walkouts, sit-ins at Senate offices, and demonstrations by thousands, which ultimately resulted in this victory. When the Dobbs leaked draft in May, the Socialist Alternative branch in Madison staged a 3,000-person protest at the state Capitol.
On this basis, we organized several action assemblies, where workers and young people willing to fight back could discuss the next steps to build a stronger movement. From those assemblies, we helped organize walkouts at five high schools, where students were already looking for ways to step up the fight for abortion rights.
While we were organizing in Madison, Socialist Alternative in Seattle was leading a very similar fight for legislation that would protect people seeking abortions, both those who live in the city and those who come from trigger-ban states. The legislation was introduced to the Seattle City Council by Kshama Sawant, a Socialist Alternative member and Seattle council member. We mobilized people at rallies and council meetings to keep the pressure high, and using this strategy, we won! This was a major inspiration to abortion activists in Madison and we knew we could do the same here, despite the statewide trigger ban, if we enforced the same method.
To win in a trigger ban state, we knew we had to constantly apply pressure. In June, we organized with several groups for another large demonstration, which attracted 3,500 people. We used the momentum of that protest and the subsequent action assemblies to stage a sit-in at Senator Ron Johnson’s office. We then used it to launch a signature collection campaign where 2,000 people signed the sanctuary legislation at tables we set up across the city. The petition was also unanimously endorsed by the South Central Federation of Labour! We mobilized dozens of people at county council meetings throughout August and September to testify publicly, keeping up the pressure until it was passed.
By thinking strategically about our next moves and tying them to the goal of forcing the Democrats’ hand rather than waiting for them to take the lead, we avoided the problem of “protest fatigue.” Protests alone are not enough, but they can help build momentum, which must then be organized behind a common agenda and an ambitious strategy to win.
Wisconsin Democrats ceding ground to Trump’s GOP
The approach of the Madison activists contrasts sharply with that of the Democrats, who will no doubt want to take credit for this victory despite their total passivity.
After the Supreme Court gutted Roe vs. Wade, local Democrats responded by passing the buck to the right-wing-dominated state government. When Governor Tony Evers called for a special legislative session to overturn the 1849 abortion ban, Republicans immediately closed the session. If Democrats really wanted to win abortion rights in Wisconsin, it should have been met with calls for mass protests until the session reopened. Instead, Evers went home and requested a legal brief to weigh his options, putting the decision in the hands of the right-wing courts.
While fighting for this legislation, Democrats refused to do what would be necessary to strengthen the legislation. We need direct checks on the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices — barring any ability to enforce the abortion ban — but Democrats balked at that demand with a cursory apology about county jurisdiction.
Even without direct oversight, Democrats on the board worried about the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s ‘right’ to enforce the abortion ban, rather than focusing on defeating the draconian and potentially deadly law. . Several county supervisors attempted to derail the legislation while claiming to oppose the ban. This is not surprising, as they have always sided with the police against movements like ours – especially in response to the George Floyd uprising, with Democrats like Ron Johnson’s Democratic opponent Mandela Barnes calling to increased funding for the police. We need a party that truly represents working people and we need to build our movements independent of the Democrats.
We can’t stop here, we need a socialist feminist strategy for the movement
Even with sanctuary legislation, abortion rights are threatened by an increasingly enraged GOP. In Wisconsin, far-right gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels is trying to shield the abortion ban from intense scrutiny by promising paid parental leave — a massively popular demand and for which Democrats have refused to back down. to fight. This leaves the door wide open for the right to cynically pose as the party of working parents.
After the victory in Seattle, we knew we could gain immediate protections in Dane County if we used a movement-based approach. This victory in Wisconsin shows that workers and young people can start fighting for immediate protections in trigger-ban states across the country.
If activists in trigger-ban states across the country took a similar activist approach, we could organize a much larger mass movement, independent of Democrats, to win even broader protections. Socialist Alternative continues to organize for abortion rights and the rights of all workers across the country, join us in this fight!