activism Roe V. Wade Sulma Arias

To Defend Our Rights, Defend Our Democracy

The attack on abortion rights is part of a bigger campaign against democracy. The late John Lewis offers a model to overcome it.
Pro choice demonstrators rally in Madison, Wisconsin, October 2021 (Shutterstock)

By  Sulma Arias / OtherWords

Protesters have poured into the streets following the Supreme Court’s decision to end reproductive freedom. As a mother of three, I share this anguish and anger. I fear for our lives in a country that so easily takes away a fundamental right.

But we shouldn’t be surprised — this far-right court has been chipping away at democracy itself for years. And as Justice Clarence Thomas has made clear, the court’s newly emboldened conservatives want to take away more rights — including your right to family planning and the right to marry the person you love.

This is nothing short of a constitutional coup to impose extreme, minority views on our nation.  But I still have hope. We can restore our rights if we stay disciplined and focused in our defense of democracy.

I lead People’s Action, a national coalition of grassroots groups with a vision of a multiracial democracy with room and opportunity for all.

I believe the key now isn’t just to respond to one crisis after another. When we do that, we follow the playbook of the people who are taking our rights away. Instead, we need a long-haul campaign to defend and expand our democracy — and with it, all of our fundamental rights.

When I think about strategies that win, I think about the late Congressman John Lewis. He was 20 when he led sit-ins to end racial segregation, 21 when he led Freedom Rides through the segregated South, and 25 when he marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights. Each time, he risked his life.

But even at his young age, Lewis was fully prepared. He stood on the shoulders of giants like Thurgood Marshall, whose legal work opened doors for the civil rights movement, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Lewis joined at the White House for the signing of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965 — just six months after he was brutally attacked by police in Selma.

I also think of Gail Cincotta, the fiery Chicago housewife who co-founded National People’s Action with organizer Shel Trapp in 1972.

Gail led and won the fight for the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which forced banks to stop refusing to lend in Black, brown, and lower-income white communities. Gail led hundreds of protests, but she and Trapp also spent many hours training organizers who went on to found grassroots groups all across the country, and to demand the CRA live up to its promises.

That’s why at my organization, we’re doubling down to train a new generation — in both rural and urban areas — to defend democracy.

Through our Organizing Revival project, we’re training thousands in the organizing fundamentals pioneered by Cincotta and Trapp, as well as new approaches like deep canvassing so organizers learn to listen and meet people where they are. Our deep canvassing played a decisive role in changing hearts and minds during the 2020 election and can do so again.

Every fight endures setbacks, because the powerful never give up easily. But if we stay grounded in love and disciplined in our organizing, we can create the hope that together, we can build a democracy that respects the rights and dignity of all people.

When the big banks sought to gut the CRA, Gail helped create a wider national coalition to defend it. Before he passed away in 2020, Congressman Lewis introduced the Freedom to Vote Act to restore the democratic rights the Supreme Court had eroded. And Democrats in Congress now plan to introduce bills to restore reproductive freedom and proactively defend other rights.

We must pass this legislation swiftly. To protect it, we will need an army of Gail Cincottas and John Lewises. Because make no mistake: This is a war, and one that will not be over soon. But if we are prepared, we will win.

Sulma Arias

Sulma Arias is executive director of People’s Action, the nation’s largest network of grassroots power-building groups, with more than a million members in 30 states. This op-ed wad distributed by OtherWords.org.

6 comments

  1. This is a fatuous fantasy.

    First of all, anyone who actually understands the US constitution and how”our” politics work, would not use the phrase “our democracy.” Leave that to the bobbleheads on MSNBC. It’s an oligarchy, its institutions are fraudulent.

    John Lewis’ law is a dead duck, president Manchin has pre-vetoed it, the efforts to improve criminal law died as Tim Scott butt-bleeped Booker the prayerful fool.

    In case anyone has been taking Soma — crucial states are passing voter suppression laws and implanting “vote flippers” to reverse any election that challenges the capitalist white nationalist agenda being implemented. What Trump tried Jan. 6 — is being codified, and the Court will uphold it.

    As if his abject failure to pass any type of REAL economic relief was not enough, Biden just now officially conceded defeat in 2024.

    Biden tells Americans angry about high gas prices that they’ll have to pay up ‘as long as it takes’ to defeat Putin in Ukraine
    https://fortune.com/2022/06/30/biden-tells-americans-angry-about-high-gas-prices-that-theyll-have-to-pay-up-as-long-as-it-takes-to-defeat-putin-in-ukraine/

    There is NO peaceful way forward.

  2. Hmmm, I think this post needs a bit of unpacking …

    Let’s see, while this People’s Action Network no doubt does good and necessary work, claiming “a decisive role in changing hearts and minds during the 2020 election” – precisely what were those “hearts and minds” changed to do? Defeat Donald Trump, period. Were they “changed” to elect Joe Biden – a fellow that quite clearly wasn’t going to do what so many “hearts and minds” said they needed and wanted in poll after poll. So instead of voting for what they wanted in terms of programs and policies – which they could have done, because, contrary to the “common knowledge” that there was no alternative, besides staying home, to this arguably LOTE, there was one – these “hearts and minds” did settle, once again, for a LOTE – so sorry, “hearts and minds” you indeed got what you voted for, but not for what you really wanted …

    As for “defending democracy” – what does that mean – siting Lewis, MLK, et al. is apropos – defending and enlarging the right to vote for all citizens – a laudable goal – but let’s dig a little deeper – a right to vote for whom? Anybody on a ballot? OK – but when the only choices you have on a ballot, are restricted to D/Rs, what sort of choice is that? especially when you need a scorecard, or more accurately a microscope to tell the difference – how do i know who is a D or an R? why the label, of course! Not what they actually, as opposed to rhetorically, stand for – not by what they actually do …

    They, espec. the Ds, are adamantly and rabidly opposed to any other party appearing on the same ballot as they, and do their best to prevent that – latest example is Matthew Hoh, running for the Sen from NC on a GP line – after a monumental effort, achieving success in getting more than enough signatures to qualify for ballot access – he was summarily denied it by a 5 member panel – with all of the Ds, the majority of the panel voting NO
    The guy is a great candidate – but, apparently, his major, if not only flaw, is that he is not a D ….

    So when we talk about “defending democracy” – the right to vote may well be extended – but only the right to vote for a D or an R – and considering both their dismal track records, our democratic rights are truncated indeed ,,,

    So People’s Action – how about organizing and canvassing those “hearts and minds”, not just in the pursuit of “a right to vote” only for another in a long line of LOTEs, but a right to vote for someone who isn’t E at all –

  3. Use your own sovereign debt-free money and all the rest of the freedoms will follow.
    If people can’t take the first step towards freedom, why would they expect a second ?

    Market gold and silver are now being monetized by the individual on the blockchain, 100% fully bullion backed.

    We reap what we sow. Sow wisely.

  4. We must realize that the action is NOT with the D and Rs and forever wars. They are a surface, circus to keep us distracted from the corporate oligarchy that has nearly captured the whole of America. They own Congress and they bought the Supreme Court. This is why we the people can not get what we want. Ever. Because what we want is relief from being harvested for the profits of shareholders every time we need a product or service. It is not a fair trade any longer. Corporate metrics value only profit, nothing else. Not you, not your kids, not the country, certainly not the planet. They are like sharks in the sea going after blood. Anyplace where money flows, they will try to suck it upwards into their bank accounts leaving us with nothing. We need to focus on the true adversary. Corporate oligarchy hides behind every curtain of government and commerce. It might be too late to stop it.
    Bernie Sanders shouted to the crowd one day, ” Be angry at the right group of people. The corporations moved your jobs (with lopsided trade agreements help) overseas. The corporations did this to you.” I add,…The corporations gouge whenever they get the chance (Pig, I mean Big Pharma, Big Food, Big…..everything.) They reduce service, quality and wages. They are harvesting us. That is why we feel ripped off all the time because we are being consumed. They use their control of media to keep us fighting with each other so we will not focus on them. We may not be able to do much. It might be too late. BUT there are things we can do other than march, petition and vote.

    Vote with your money, is one thing. Don’t patronize them if you have a choice. Buy local. Avoid franchises. Withhold your support if you can. Go to Farmer’s markets, join a CSA. Learn to grow you own food. Build whatever soil you have access to. Learn to grow or wild harvest medicinal herbs. Watch the U Tube Herbal Jedi, learn to make medicines. I can cure a bladder infection with herbs. I do not have to use their antibiotics (most of the time). You can too.
    Learn pioneer skills. Withhold everything you can from this corrupt system and hold on to whatever agency you have.
    Yes, we do have to vote for the least evil, but let’s not get confused that the least evil is NOT the good. Maybe, if we are lucky, young leaders who do not use corporate buyouts can make it to Washington, but don’t bank on it. Become aware of the manipulation. Notice how they use your love for your family and friends as a way to sell products. It is disgusting. Don’t buy it.
    Find Skullcap herb in your local herb stores and drink its tea ( it will help you sleep better. The tincture will heal your exhausted nervous system).
    Form neighborhood support groups, or resilence groups and learn how to do things so you don’t have to depend so much on the corrupt system.
    Use the words with everyone you know… “They are harvesting us. We are their crop. We are their source of wealth”.
    Do not allow yourself to be mentally or spiritually enslaved.” Keep your eyes open and your heart protected. Blessings to you all.

  5. Abortion has been a legal option for those who can afford them. Contrast this with fundamental human human rights, codified in the UN’s UDHR. The most basic of human rights are to food and shelter – even for Americans left jobless. Democrats had ended those rights 26 years ago — to the indifference of the broader public. That was the first step toward stripping away what we consider “democracy” itself. We knew more steps would follow.

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