Op-Ed: We watched history go in reverse on Friday in Washington

My wife campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment as a teenager. We both took to the streets for abortion rights. We consider Roe vs. Wade fundamental, but we also understood it would be overturned.

Still, it’s one thing to know a disaster is coming and another to be there when it does. We both visited Washington on Friday, and when the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision came down and Roe was overthrown, it felt like a physical assault. We had planned to go to Capitol Hill, but when we got there what was most striking was how quiet, how “normal” everything was.

Tourists posed for photos and bought ice cream on the Mall. It was a muggy summer day. In one direction the Washington Monument loomed into the sky. In the other the Capitol Dome. It was as if nothing unusual had happened. It was as if America had remained intact.

But America, as it always has been, is a fantasy. At best, it aspires to be an expression of our “better angels.” It should be self-evident that this is burdened and contradictory. When the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written almost a quarter of a millennium ago, they were progressive documents. But what they promise, both practical and idealistic, has always been limited.

Our precious inalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—were initially reserved for white male landowners. In a very real sense, the country’s history has been the history of the struggle for the expansion of these rights. How do we keep the promise? So far, the answer has included the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, women’s suffrage, marriage equality, Brown vs. Board of Education, safe and legal abortion.

A more perfect union must be a work in progress, an extension of freedom and democracy. This concept is now under total attack.

Visiting the Capitol, I couldn’t help but recall the January 6, 2001 riot, the chaos in the crypt and rotunda as supporters of the former President smeared feces on the walls and attempted to close the 2020 election overthrow. We are only now discovering how close they came.

In the Supreme Court, the Dobbs decision, coupled with the judges’ determination to weaken Miranda’s rights and allow the careless carrying of open arms, reveals the sorry state of moral justice in the United States.

My wife and I joined a loose group of people heading east on Independence Avenue. We turned north on 1st Street, past the Library of Congress, to the Supreme Court, where a tall black fence surrounded the building and officers in riot gear stood guard in front of the familiar west facade with the motto “Equal Justice Under the Law.”

A peaceful crowd of several hundred people milled around, chanting and holding signs. When we arrived, many were defiant, although there were a handful of anti-abortion protesters, most of them – how could it be otherwise – men.

Some signs read, “Liberate Abortion,” and, “We Will Not Go Back.” Most moving for me was a troubled-faced teenager carrying a cardboard sign scrawled in felt-tip pen: “My Grandma Already Marched For This.”

And there it was, the whole point, the stunned sense that the story was moving backwards. Standing in that place in that moment felt less like an act of protest than an act of testimony: of the court’s perfidy, yes, but even more of its willingness to dishonor everyone who ever marched and sued, fought and died was acquiring abortion rights.

We have never taken away a right once granted in this country. The Dobbs decision sets a disastrous precedent.

And yet, as Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted Friday, we must “remember that we have never seen the America we fought for.” So there is no need to be nostalgic. Right on the other side of that disentanglement is opportunity.”

Ifill is correct I hope. The story isn’t set, it’s fluid, meaning each moment offers its own crossroads, its own opportunities to go wrong or right. We find ourselves at yet another such crossroads in this country, a crossroads that crosses the barricaded steps of the Supreme Court.

As we sang, my wife and I knew the judges were out of earshot. They had been safely removed from the crime scene. Still, it felt necessary to be there – with the Capitol at our backs and the white marble courthouse in front of us – disheartened but in solidarity with the America we still hope to someday be able to live in.

David L. Ulin is a contributing author to Opinion.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-06-26/supreme-court-roe-vs-wade-dobbs-protest Op-Ed: We watched history go in reverse on Friday in Washington

Alley Einstein

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