‘We can’t pretend we live in a democracy right now’
It’s a rough week to be an American. Ever since the Court handed down its decision to overturn Roe v Wade, I have been re-evaluating my relationship with America. This is the country I was born in, but it is not a country that has always been good to me. As a gay man, I had to fight for my right to marry the person of my choosing – only to see Clarence Thomas, seven years later, salivate at the proposition of once again making me an unequal citizen.
I have been here before. I vehemently protested against the war in Iraq. It did no good. Thousands of Americans and millions of Iraqis died as a result. I voted for Obama and watched him be elected on the same night California voters took away the right to equal marriage in Proposition 8. I campaigned for Hillary Clinton, only to see Donald Trump elected – after losing the popular vote. So much for the consent of the governed.
Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose the overturn of Roe v Wade, a recent poll by NPR and PBS Newshour found. The 50 Democratic senators we currently have represent 41 million more people than the 50 Republican senators. When Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh were nominated by Trump and approved by the Republican Senate, the people who put them on the court represented fewer than half of Americans and yet were able to force this massive social change on an unwilling nation.
It gets worse. In 2012, House Democrats won a larger share of the popular vote nationwide, but Republicans captured the majority. Then incoming Speaker John Boehner claimed he had a mandate – but how? Most Americans did not want him to be Speaker or his party to control Congress. Again, we come back to the consent of the governed. This happened again in 2014 and with the Senate in 2018. In 2016, Democrats won 44.8pc of the seats in the House but 47.3pc of the votes for House candidates. Much of this is down to Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, such as in Texas where they put one drop box per county – meaning Loving County, with a population of 64 people, had the same number of places for folks to drop of ballots as Harris county, with a population of more than 4.5 million.
Many on the right will argue that American is not a democracy, it is a republic. There are reasons this is a rubbish and sinister talking point on the right – they use it as a justification for perpetual minority rule. But it’s worth acknowledging that they may have a point. America is very clearly not a democracy, not if six unelected people in black robes appointed by people representing a minority of the country can force its unpopular ideology on the nation writ large.
If America is not a democracy, is it worth celebrating Independence Day? After all, there doesn’t feel like much to celebrate this year. We are staring down a rising tide of fascism and minority rule. We have fewer rights and freedoms on July 4th than we had on June 4th. I may be seeing the rockets’ red glare, but I’m not interested in fireworks. The only marching I want to do is not in a band. It’s in the streets.
So that is what I am doing. I will be attending abortion rights protests all weekend long, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my sisters as they fight for the rights their mothers and grandmothers secured. I will channel this rage into something useful. That is, after all, the most patriotic thing I can do right now.
Looking back through American history, we see that the only thing that has ever affected change in this country is massive civil disruption. The Civil Rights Movement was up against monumental odds, yet they succeeded. They sat in at lunch counters. They marched through the streets. They organised voter registration drives in places where doing that work can and did get them murdered. They put their bodies on the lines for the cause of righteousness and in the principle of nonviolent resistance.
The women’s suffrage movement was split between two camps, one of which performed direct action in D.C. (including picketing the White House during the First World War) and who went to prison and were tortured as political prisoners. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, wheelchair users staged the “Capitol Crawl” to demonstrate the need for accessible public spaces. The gay rights movement did the hard graft of convincing loved ones we weren’t monsters but people – but we always remind folks that Stonewall was a riot.
Eventually, public opinion on the war in Iraq turned – but it’s hard to imagine it would have without a sustained peace campaign keeping the atrocities of that war in the news. After Proposition 8 passed, there were massive and coordinated protests throughout California. Within a few years, public opinion turned, too. Seventy percent of Americans now support equal marriage. We campaigned against Trump and defeated him, first in the 2018 elections and then in the 2020 elections.
I can think of nothing more American than protesting. Supposedly, this country is run by “we the people.” It’s the first three words of the Constitution. Well, we are the people. It’s time to take our country back, and I can think of no better day than the Fourth of July to start a revolution.