New booklet on Defending Abortion Rights: Lessons from American History for Resistance Now

By NANCY LINDISFARNE and JONATHAN NEALE

March to defend abortion rights, Washington DC, 1989

May 3, 2022. The news has just leaked that the Supreme Court is planning to overturn Roe v Wade. This is appalling, and enraging, and Americans have a massive fight on their hands. This booklet looks back at abortion politics in the United States since 1964, to show how Roe v. Wade was won in the first place, and how it was defended.

You can download the booklet as a pdf here.

Our main points are:

Roe v. Wade, the right to an abortion, was won in the first place by a mass movement of activists who did two things. First, they gave aid and help to women who needed illegal abortions. Second, they defied the law, sometimes openly, but more often semi-openly. For some the help and comfort they gave was most important. For others, the political struggle was. And the Supreme Court ruled for Roe against Wade because it was becoming clear that otherwise they would have to imprison tens of thousands of people, who had the support of tens of millions.

We need to build that kind of movement again.

In 1989 an anti-abortion Supreme Court threatened to overturn Roe v. Wade. Nearly a million people marched in Washington. The scale of that opposition made the Chief Justice think again, and Roe v. Wade was saved.

We need to do that again.

After 1989 the abortion rights movement made two mistakes. There was a debate between the feminist activists from the grassroots of the movement and the political operatives from the Democratic Party. The operatives won that debate. After that, the mainstream of the movement campaigned mainly on gender, for a woman’s right to choose, in any circumstances. Fair enough. But they stopped campaigning on class, for racial equality, for abortion justice, for people on ordinary incomes to have an abortion they can afford.

Opinion polls, then and now, show that the argument for fairness has a lot more support in the country than just the argument for a woman’s right to choose.

This time we have to make class and racial equality fundamental to a campaign for fair access to abortion.

The mainstream movement made another mistake. Their strategy focused on the courts, on congress, and on who got onto the Supreme Court. The reasons are understandable. But that’s why we are where we are now.

Of course Congress matters, elections matter and judges matter. But a massive grassroots campaign matters far more. That power can force the politicians and judges to protect abortion rights.

The last two last points we want to make are about the timing and energy of the campaign.  

First, this struggle is going to unfold on two timescales. One is immediate – we have to react massively now.

The other is long term. We have to learn from the example of earlier abortion struggles, from Black Lives Matter, from the fights for unions. The struggle will go up and down. At certain moments it will be national, and these moments will be decisive. But much of the time it will be in states and cities.

Sometimes protests will be crucial. But the day by day provision of help will be more important – help with money, medicines, procedures, transport, accommodation, phone numbers, procedures, comfort and human kindness.

Every level of these struggles matters. The decisive national struggle may well emerge from a myriad of small struggles, one of which suddenly becomes a flash point.

 Second, don’t get lost in arguments over tactics. Different people will want to do different things. We will need them all – petitions, marches, occupations, civil disobedience, walkouts, the lot.

This booklet brings together three articles we published on Anne Bonny Pirate (annebonnypirate.org) in October of 2018, when Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court was confirmed. At that point we were pretty sure that eventually the court would overturn Roe v. Wade. We published two articles on the history of abortion politics, thinking that sooner or later people would need that history.

We also include here a third article published that October, on five insights about sexual violence drawn from watching the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford and Brett Kavanaugh before the senate. That moment reminds us that the fight against sexual violence is closely linked to the defense of abortion rights.

On a simple level, the court has acted only because Justice Clarence Thomas got away with the sexual harassment of Anita Hill and Justice Kavanaugh got away with an assault on Blasey-Ford. On another level, though, both abortion and sexual violence are about a woman’s right to her body. And on a deep level, both fights are about sexuality, class and patriarchy.

            We hope you find this booklet useful,

            Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

LINKS

You can download a pdf of the booklet here.

You can read the first article on the history on this website here.

And the second article on the history on this website here.

And the article on Blasey-Ford, Kavanaugh and Sexual Violence here.

And you may find our article on Harvard, Sexual Politics, Class and Resistance useful too.

You can email us on Lindisfarne.Neale@gmail.com, and on Twitter we are @JonathanNealeA1

Putin, Modi and Trump: Ukraine and Racist Right-Wing Populism

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

The invasion of Ukraine is appalling. The resistance is heroic. The situation is moving fast, and each step is politically revealing. There remains a great deal of confusion about Putin and Ukraine in the United States and Britain. This long read aims to unpack some of that confusion and to explain Putin’s rise, how he fits into the global racist right, and his reasons for invading Ukraine.

Americans are often puzzled by Donald Trump’s admiration for Putin. The reason is that Putin is one of the two leading figures in new global movement of right-wing populists. Modi, the Prime Minister of India is the other. Trump too is part of that movement.

We start with an explanation of the politics of that movement, by looking at the masculinity of these three populist leaders: Putin, Modi and Trump. We explore the ways that each leader has mixed racism, sexual aggression, violent bullying and Islamophobia with working class pain and anger to support a right-wing project and a murderous fossil fuel future.

And though we do not take our discussion further here, these three are not alone. Their populism characterizes the governments of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte of the Philippines and Netanyahu in Israel, among others – all men with ugly biographies of their own.

Along the way we aim to answer questions that may be of interest to you. For example, why do some American commentators say they supported Putin’s invasion because he has done so much to stop the onward march of LGBT agenda? Why does a CBS reporter make a deal about the whiteness of people in Ukraine? Why did so much of the Republican party support the invasion, as have others on the notional ‘left’? What is it with Modi’s 52-inch chest?

An exploration of masculine styles may seem an unusual way to unpack the new racist right. But this is what we do on Anne Bonny Pirate. In Part One, we look particularly at gender and sexuality, and we ask how this lens can illuminate politics, class and empire.

In Part Two of this long read, we outline our understanding of Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine. We look at the threats he sees in the global wave of uprisings for democracy. We look at how the threat of climate activism and the changing energy market have made his hold on power increasingly shaky. And we describe the changes in superpower politics after the American defeat in Afghanistan which led Putin to believe he could invade Ukraine with impunity.

We should make clear at the start that we are against Putin’s invasion. We support the Russian protesters for peace. We believe the armed resistance of the Ukrainian army and civilians is the right and proper response to the invasion.

But we do not side with the governments of the United States or the NATO countries of Europe. They have invaded too many other countries and installed too many other dictatorships. They too are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Because there is a lot to unpack, we’ve also packaged this post as a pdf which you can download here.

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Harvard, Sexual Politics, Class and Resistance

A long read by Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

As we write, the case of alleged sexual harassment by John Comaroff, a professor of anthropology at Harvard, is exploding. The Harvard case is particularly egregious, not least because of the elite status of the university.

In this piece we treat the Harvard case as part of a much wider set of problems concerning class, sexual politics, inequality and resistance. Our focus initially is on universities in the United States. But we need to remember that academic enterprise today is utterly international. Everywhere the industry relies on similar economic models, has similar intellectual concerns and fosters the considerable mobility of professionals and students from workplace to workplace around the globe.

We are particularly addressing anthropology and other graduate students in the United States and across the world. Our aim is to try to answer some of the difficult questions that come up again and again in online discussion of the case.

[You can download a pdf of this long read here.]

First: Why did Caroline Elkins, who wrote such an important book about the brutal suppression of Mau Mau in Kenya, sign the dreadful Harvard letter? And why did so many other people whose work you admire sign letters like the Harvard one?

The second question is one people seem to avoid asking directly, but it is behind so much of what is being said.  At Harvard, and with other abuse cases, a strange fact stands out. Most men are not abusers. But almost all male managers cover up and enable abuse. And so do almost all female managers. Why? What is going on here?

Third: The people who write the open letters, and others who want to defend abusers, go on about due process. But due process works as a Catch-22. Why should well-educated men accused of sexual harassment be the only ones to enjoy due process, when the apologists know full well that is exactly what we want for the victims of sexual abuse? Instead of banging on about due process for abusers only, shouldn’t we all be asking how can to build a genuinely fair process for everyone?

Fourth: Harvard, Columbia, and other universities in the United States and across the world go to extraordinary lengths to cover up abuse, protect abusers and thus enable further abuse. They do so even when most of the people who run those institutions don’t abuse. Why? Why does this matter so much to them?

Fifth, and finally, how can we do good work in the toxic environment of these institutions? Or to put it positively: what can we take from the struggles against sexual violence at Columbia and Harvard to help us do good, creative intellectual work as scholars and teachers?

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EURIPIDES, WOMEN AND SLAVERY: GENDER TRANSGRESSION IN ANCIENT GREECE

The Trojan Women at the Flea Theatre, New York, in 2016

Jonathan Neale writes: We start with a theatre, and two moments of astonishing gender transgression. One happened in a theatre on a hillside in the center of Athens on a spring day in late March of 431 BCE. The second happened there sixteen years later, in March of 415 BCE. Both took place as the audience watched tragedies by the poet Euripides. These plays were about gendered oppression, sexual pain, rape, slavery and the horrors of war.[1]

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#MeToo and Class Struggle at Work

Rachel Maddow Friday night

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Yesterday we tuned in to watch Rachel Maddow’s nightly one-hour show on the US cable news network, MSNBC. Something extraordinary happened. Twenty minutes into the show Maddow began to talk about the Harvey Weinstein case. Over the next forty minutes she set forth, in powerful and coherent detail, how her bosses had attempted to protect Weinstein from the exposure of his sexual harassment and rapes on NBC News. Maddow accused her bosses, her bosses’ bosses, and her bosses’ bosses’ bosses, of lying, and of actions that were illegal and immoral. On live TV. Continue reading

The Roots of Sexual Violence

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale  write: Lurking behind any discussion of men and masculinities is a deep presumption that men are aggressive sexual predators disposed to raging violence, while women are passive victims good only for reproduction. If this binary construction is ‘natural’, if it is our DNA as a species, then what is the point of asking ‘Why are men and women unequal?’ ‘Why are lesbians and gays oppressed?’ ‘Why are many men violent?’ ‘Why is sexual violence so common?’

Yet these are old, very important questions. For thousands of years the most forceful answers have come from the people who dominate society. Continue reading

Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh and seven useful insights about sexual violence

Protest in St Louis, 2 October 2018

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the judiciary committee of the US Senate. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court, had attempted to rape her when she was 15. He denied it. She told the truth and he was lying. Everyone in the room knew this, including all eleven Republican senators.

What happened next was something else. The Republican senators rallied to defend the right to rape. Sure, class also mattered, and abortion, and Trump, and the midterm elections. But centrally, they did not want Kavanaugh to pay a price for his sexual violence. An extraordinary moment of #metoo resistance had provoked that Republican backlash, and they closed ranks fast and hard.

When a system is working smoothly the mechanics of power are hidden. But when there is a breakdown, a ‘breach case’, we sometimes have an opportunity to see how the system works. And the links and deep loyalties that keep inequality in place become visible. The hearing has offered such an opportunity. It gives us a chance to formulate seven useful ideas about sexual violence. Continue reading

Covering up abuse – We are all gymnasts

 

Rachel Denhollander at the trial of Larry Nasser

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: In the wake of Metoo, collective movements are now exposing cover-ups from the top. The target is no longer just one individual, a Strauss-Kahn, a Bill Clinton or a Clarence Thomas. These movements are shouting: it’s a whole system. The class inequalities that protect abuse are being exposed. This is a cause for joy, and hope.

The Larry Nasser case provides a brutal example. At Nasser’s trial last month more than 160 survivors of abuse testified about what he had done to them. Nasser was a doctor for the athletics department at Michigan State University, and for the United States national Olympic team in gymnastics. The stories the survivors told were moving, and horrific. Nasser abused thousands of girls, some as young as six, by fingering them vaginally and anally for his own pleasure, over a period of more than twenty years.

Nasser was only able to do what he did because dozens of people  covered up for him. This fits with what we have seen in the many cases the Metoo movement has begun to expose. Only a minority of men abuse. Most men do not do those things. But the men who do it, do it over and over again, so almost every woman suffers. Continue reading

The Five Chinese Feminists

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:  Five Chinese feminists have been arrested for planning to protest against sexual harassment. They face five to ten years in jail. This post explains the background to the case, and suggests ways that other activists around the world can show solidarity.

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