Dear Joe, What about Us?

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Commentary, Featured

You say that the state of the union, SOTU, is strong. That our democracy is working. Really?

It is my birthday today.

I promised my friends I was taking the day off. That means no writing or calls to action.

But then I kept stewing over your talk last night. All the pundits say you were great — energetic, testy, and I guess, manly? Before I can celebrate my birth today I need to get this said.

I am 75 years old on this day, the day after you told us all that democracy is alive and well. Do the math. When I was in college (1964-68) abortion was illegal. I found illegal abortions for several of my roommates. It was scary and brutal, even though none of my friends died. But I knew girls who did. And we had trouble coming up with the money. But then, through huge mobilization and years of struggle, the right to abortion became law in Roe v. Wade. So, how can you say that the state of the union is strong when more than half of us have lost our citizen rights to control the decisions about our bodies? How do you say democracy is winning when there is a rogue right-wing Court that rails against us and our right to choose and access an abortion?

I keep wondering: what about us, Joe? Us women, Black, Brown, LatinX, Native American, South Asian, Chinese, non-binary, transgender, every single one of us, rich and poor and middle class who might need an abortion? If we have no control over the decisions about our bodies and our reproductive health how can you say we live in a democracy?

How do you cut out more than half the population and ask us to pretend that losing Roe v. Wade is not a crisis? Reproductive justice is about the right and need to choose whether we want to have a child, or should have one, or can have one. It is a decision that impacts whether we can work, whether the size of our families should grow, what our needs are. Reproductive rights expand into all parts of our lives. Without a right to decide and choose and have access we are not full participants nor is this a democracy.

So, I was not expecting much from you, but then you went too far and have asked us all to accept your erasure of us as part of the polity, and part of the people that matter when we assess our democracy.

And, yes, of course there are many that can feel that way about your talk. Any person of color feeling the racism of the police, and person suffering the loss of a loved one to gun violence, any poor person, anyone who is houseless, anyone incarcerated in our prisons, and on and on. But it is also true that any one of these people could also be someone who has lost the right to reproductive freedom. The sheer numbers of us makes it unfathomable that you just pushed us all aside.

And one last thing. How do you not get that it was people, and most of them were women identified, that voted Democratic in the mid-terms because of the overturning of Roe. Women voting for reproductive rights is what saved whatever slice of democracy exists in this country. Why is it so hard to recognize and see this?

I just cannot abide this on my birthday. You are not allowed to talk about saving democracy if you do not center reproductive justice as part of that vision because this is about democracy for all of us. There is so much else to say, but so many of us have already said it. I have written many books and articles on the subject so I know how much more there is to say. But like I said, it’s my birthday so I am taking the rest of the day off.

I have lived through decades of fabulous struggle and camaraderie among women of every kind and sort, standing together, fighting for a fairer and kinder world. You need to see all of us.

OK, now I will go celebrate that I have lived through the 75 tumultuous years of struggle and solidarity, and especially now where women are showing their courage in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and the U.S. We will create democracy with or without you. But do not ask us to pretend — that is just too much.


Zillah Eisenstein is a noted feminist writer and has been Professor of Politics at Ithaca College. She is the author of numerous books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998) and, most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).


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