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Mother's Day March

Updated: May 13, 2022


photo credit: Therese Huhtala

Disclosure: This post isn't a recap of Sunday's Mother's Day March (5/8/2022).


I'm also not using the Mother's Day March as an opportunity to introduce you to our amazing team (though there is some of that at the end because they are amazing).


I won't talk about the march and then quickly pivot to a meme-rich listicle of "Five Ways to Support Local Candidates Right NOW!", either.


I'm not even going to use the timeliness and importance of the March to promote our upcoming Community Cookout—even though you are totally invited to it and I hope you'll attend.


This post is an I-am-almost-50-&-am-mother-to-two-young-daughters-who-are-growing-up-in-a-post-Reagan-and-post-Trump-America post. It is a post that I hope will help progressive Utahns feel that the work they are doing is important, needed, and timeless. It is a post that I hope will remind people that our values and principles are held in the service of real people, not to service our own self-concepts or emotional needs. Politics has a touch of the philosophical to it, of course, but in the end (and in the beginning), it should only be about helping the people in our communities. And right now? Women need help. Girls need help. Trans-men and all people with a uterus need help.



If you're wondering who I am, I am Eleanor, one of the founders of Utah Alliance Coalition. As I mentioned above, I’m almost 50 and I’m feeling every minute of it. The May 2 leak (Politico) revealing that the Supreme Court of the United States is ready to overturn Roe v Wade prompted a deep, personal need to organize the May 8, 2022 Roe v Wade Mother's Day March because I am a mother who desperately wanted to be a one and who thinks motherhood is an option for women, not the default. Every woman is perfect as she is.


The march was sponsored by Utah Alliance Coalition (obvz) and the Women's Democratic Club of Utah with support from the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah. My interest in women's rights is centered in the fact that I am a woman. This isn’t a passion-project of mine. I was born female and have lived my entire life bumping up against the sides of the wire cage patriarchal culture keeps women in. Being a person with reduced expectations, opportunities, and freedoms is my lived experience. My life has been difficult, dangerous, life-threatening, and expensive in such a sex-specific and relentless way that I can’t sleep at night unless I am working in some way to help women (and girls) to exist and to be heard.

I have been told I am not angry enough about what is happening in America right now. I have been told I don't get it. I do get it, actually. And, becauses I get it, I understand that kind of accusatory rage—I understand assuming a lack of compassion, depth, or lived experience when observing people (like me) who aren't screaming obscenities, collecting bricks to throw through windows, or chanting a prayer to manifest a conflagration large enough to cleanse the world of womens' sorrows.

So. This is a long one; grab a cup of tea.




The leak of the Supreme Court’s draft majority ruling against Roe v Wade on Monday, May 2 was not a surprise.


People who have been following the obstruction of Merrick Garland's appointment to SCOTUS at the end of Obama’s second term (and the flurry of originalist appointments during Trump’s single, ignominious term) have been watching the approach of this storm system for years—but that isn’t to say the first air-to-ground lightning strike didn’t hurt.


It hurt.


I’m tempted to admit to still being in shock but it would be an irrelevant confession because I have been in a crescendoing state of shock since the evening of November 8, 2016. The official results weren’t in, yet, but I didn’t sleep much that night...and haven’t slept well any night since. The worst part of it was (is) that Trump won the presidential election despite losing the popular vote and the right wing still acts as if it is under attack by nefarious global forces. The electoral college—a democratic-adjacent election system designed by white men to favor white, male enslavers of Black peopleonce again proved to be a robust tool for protecting the self-interested minority from the tyranny of the community-minded and wealth-generating majority. Racism was (and still is) central to debates about the electoral college and all things American “democracy,” but it’s about the women, too.



Obviously.




But before I talk about women, let me talk about my bro.







I was a devoted Bernie supporter in early 2016. I stood in line for hours at Bonneville Junior High in Holladay, UT before casting my vote in the Utah Democratic Party Caucus.


It was cold outside but the atmosphere was charged with excitement. People were smiling—cold, but smiling; impatient, but smiling; tired, but smiling! I may be exaggerating the intensity and duration of the smiling (memories are notoriously faulty) but the prospect of ending the neoliberal policies shared by the GOP and establishment Democrats was thrilling. I envisioned a future wave of policies that value people over profits washing our government and our nation clean. The halls of our junior high school were filled with hope. With excitement! And, in case you’ve forgotten—Utah crushed it for Bernie.


Of course, we all know how that turned out: Clinton may not have won in Utah but she nabbed a majority of pledged national delegates by June 7th and went on to be nominated by the DNC as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate on July 27th.


On June 10th, after two days of mourning, I signed up to phone bank and volunteer for the Clinton Campaign. She wasn’t a progressive but she was and is a highly qualified and solidly competent person. She was a solid candidate with impressive credentials and experience. She would also nominate pro-women, pro-family, pro-habitable-planet SCOTUS candidates. I had no hesitation dumping Bernie for her: there is no time for sentimentality when the stability of the country and women’s rights are in danger.

 

Bernie and his followers held on, though. The thinking was that Bernie deserved to stay in the race just because of who he was. He had earned it! He was a legit progressive activist back in the day with pictures to prove he has always been on the right side of history. Unlinke Hillary, he wasn't an establishment shill. He held on to his admirers (and his insistence that it wasn’t over yet) with a white-knuckled grip until July 12—more than a month after Hillary’s advantage had become insurmountable..

Bernie had—and stoked—a devoted base. They were passionate. About what, I still don’t know. Well, I have ideas, but none of them has to do with the country, progressivism, or principles. How could their passion have been for one of those things?


Well before an election takes place, parties (and municipalities and states) have codified their election processes. Popular opinion may have a role to play in the formation of these rules, but the time for public engagement is well before any election—even primary elections. The work of establishing rules is done by people consistently involved in the mundane work of organizing and building political systems, not by people filling comment threads or city streets with rage-filled declarations and demands. I am not suggesting that the organizational work of political parties is always done well or honestly but the work of improving our government is accessible to people who believe healthy societies depend on doing more than waiting for candidates to announce their entry into a race and then selecting the most exciting one. And, as with any properly bureaucratic system, party and/or election rules are available for scrutiny for anyone interested enough in the country, progressivism, and the principles of democracy to learn what they are. But, of course, being a fan of a candidate is not the same thing as being a fan of democracy, our country, our communities, or our disenfranchised and at-risk populations.






Going into the election in November, it was clear that our nation and its at-risk populations weren’t the primary focus of American voters. The vitriol leveled at Clinton was overwhelming; unfortunately, some of the cruelest and least nuanced comments I saw came from progressive women. When reading comments by strangers, it was nearly impossible to discern Berners from Trumpers whenever Hillary was the topic of conversation. She was just plain old unlikable, amirite?


Of course, Trump is unlikable. Bernie seems unlikable, too. Maybe Hillary is unlikable, but I doubt it. One thing I don’t doubt is that once a woman is described as being unlikable, she’s a goner: there are few insults against women more damning than unlikable. It takes a lot of nerve for a woman to behave as if she exists for any reason other than to make other people feel comfortable. It takes a lot of nerve for a woman to behave as if she has personal and bodily autonomy independent of the needs and opinions of other people when that is clearly not true.


As I watched the dynamics of Hillary Hatred unfold online, I couldn’t help but think that it must be luxurious to vote for a candidate based on their affability or on their imaginary appeal when staged in an idealized, alternative reality where their vote share could be set to 89% in a head-to-head race instead of realitiy’s 32% or 17% or 4%. It must be an expansive, peaceful feeling to have such security in life that gut feelings, party loyalty, or unwavering principles are enough justification for a vote that will endanger the lives people with less security. Or maybe it just saves time to vote based on a feeling. Putting effort into researching candidates takes time. Engaging in thought experiments to assess how a refusal to vote (or an insistence on voting for a 3rd party candidate, a cartoon character, or chaos) might affect the institutions that allow our government to exist, at all, takes time.






No one really needs another post-mortem of the 2016 election, but the historical moment we are in has context—and that context matters.




It matters that an old, white, progressive man who felt his years of progressivism had entitled him to run for president refused to immediately and graciously step back when his qualified female opponent had met the delegate threshold to be nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. It matters that an old, white, progressive man waited for more than a month before endorsing the woman who had bested him. It matters that an old, white, progressive man delayed even further—until the convention, itself—before calling for party unity. It matters that an old, white, progressive man decided that his progressive idealism was more important than reality. It matters that there is so much room within the rank and file of the Democratic Party and other “progressive” circles for openly misogynistic language—let alone for the more subtle forms of institutionalized sexism that make it look like men are better at politics or more deserving of adoration when their skill or invested hours are just their having had fewer family and caretaking responsibilities, their having better paying and more flexible jobs, or the easy confidence they acquired after having been told from a young age that the world is theirs to command.


It matters that a woman had to spend any of her time doing her hair, applying makeup, choosing the right outfit, and keeping track of how often she smiled to increase her chances of appearing likable, attractive, and capable while all Bernie ever had to do was roll out of bed and talk policy. It matters that Bernie was able to claim unearned space from June 7 to July 12th with minimal resistance while Clinton was framed as being complicit in shenanigans because the DNC sent late June and July emails expressing support for her already-successful campaign.


It matters that, when Bernie did finally call for unity he wasn't happy about it.




It matters because when the Constitution was written, women didn’t matter. When the Bill of rights was written, women didn’t matter. And women haven't mattered enough, ever, for their rights to be added to the Constitution as an amendment. Women have not mattered because men have maintained control of public spaces. Women have not mattered because their child-rearing, home-making, and care-taking (all economic) responsibilities tether them to more private endeavors. Women have not mattered because our nation has built myths around the sanctity of women’s work in a way that women have almost ceased to be people at all because, as women, they serve as holy vessels and transcend worldly concerns. It’s a great trick, really: remove women from the public realm by elevating them above it. Talk about women as if they are too valuable to be burdened with the unpleasantness of governing and then write them out of civic processes, entirely. In a system like this, any power a woman holds will depend upon how well she pleases her husband—which many on the right (including women) will explain is just the way things should be. Besides, when women know their place and behave well, they won’t have any problems.

When Roe v Wade was passed in 1973, women were acknowledged to have the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. Suddenly, women were granted the most fundamental of human rights. Suddenly, women mattered. Even if cultural norms (and practices) are not always in alignment and the change wasn’t enshrined in the Constitution, Roe v Wade opened the world to women. The world stayed open to women even after the rise of right-wing religious extremism in the wake of Reagan’s courtship of evangelicals— because of Roe v Wade.



But June 2016 was an inflection point.

After June 7th, 2016 there were only two viable candidates for President of the United States: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump.


After June 7th, 2016 there were only two possible futures for voters to choose from: a future in which women would continue to matter and a future in which they would not.


Because of the instability within the Supreme Court, it was essential for Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 election. That November, a vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for a woman and a vote for all women. Because Clinton was the only candidate in a position to defeat Trump in November, a vote for any other candidate was not only a vote against her but also a vote against all women.

If you’re thinking that it was more complicated than that, it wasn’t. (The topic of working to slow climate change was similarly simple and easy to think through, js.)



A whopping 10% of Bernie supporters didn’t just not vote, they switched their allegiance to Trump. Yes, Clinton still won the popular vote (65,853,514 votes (48.18%) v 62,984,828 votes (46.09%)), but she did not win the by-white-men-and-for-white-men electoral college. Women weren’t even given 3/5 personhood when representation was being calculated so her being able to run for office at all is pretty cool, right? (lol jk—that was me speaking in Originalism, again.)


Stepping down the rankings a bit, third-party votes went at a ratio of five to one in favor of men. Given how rare it is for women to run for president (even though it is totes legal—even for steadfastly unlikable women), the breakdown of third-party votes isn’t a sign of overt sexism as much as it is a sign of systemic misogyny—though one could argue that any vote for a libertarian is fundamentally sexist and misogynistic no matter who the candidate is because no one will suffer more than women (and children, the disabled, the medically at-risk, the poor, the minority, and the already systemically disadvantaged and disenfranchised) from libertarian rule. Sure, Libertarians can (sometimes) have a very free attitude about social issues, but libertarianism, in practice, is not so much about freedom as it is about freedom for the already advantaged. The already advantaged are overwhelmingly white men, in case that needs to be pointed out. But I digress.




So, here we are.







The Supreme Court of the United States of America appears poised to overturn Roe v Wade. In the absence of a miracle, nearly 50 years of federally protected reproductive rights for American women will soon end and the personhood status of women will be determined by the states in which they live. No longer subjected to the tyranny of the federal government, women will be free to be defined and diminished by their state governments.


The instant Roe v Wade falls, trigger laws in 13 states will severely restrict women from accessing important reproductive health care. In an instant, women in 13 states will lose bodily autonomy. Variations in the states’ laws allow for felony charges, a decade of prison time, or thousands of dollars in penalties for women (and enablers) who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Some states are busy entertaining ideas of how to further limit reproductive rights—and how to further punish women (and their existing children, families, and communities) for seeking basic health care and family planning services.



The Court is arguing that, because women‘s rights are not specifically delineated within the original language (or Amendments) of the Constitution of the United States, they are not entitled to protection under federal law.


Women’s rights are a matter of state law.


Women’s rights are, apparently, neither inherent (as are a human’s rights) nor subject to legal principle (as are a human’s rights); instead, they are something external to women—a matter of public opinion, like the latest fashion.



I am a woman; I am not a person.


My rights are not are indivisible from my body nor from the idea of me; my rights are decals available at each state's personhood-valuation office.


Because I am a Utah woman, my body’s value is decided by a right wing religious-extremist political party that believes in its own Constitutionally-granted freedom to practice religion unmolested while using its political supermajority to deny that right to others.


This is okay because my soul has also been valued by Utah’s theocracy and I have been informed that “everything” will be made clear to me in the afterlife (that I don’t believe in), if I die from Reduced Access to Health Care Following Legislative Action (a frequent cause of death during the pandemic).



Photo: Me. My oldest daughter, who wasn't supposed to be possible, almost didn't make it here, and almost left once she did. Every day with her and her little sister is the best day of my life.

I am a woman who happens to be a mother of two girls.

My daughters will enter their reproductive years as citizens of a country whose highest court seems ready to establish that the only acceptable role of the federal government is the role of delegating all lawmaking duties to individual states. My daughters are entering a time in their lives where they are particularly vulnerable to male-supremacist boys and men—while living in a state governed by theocratic authoritarians who are, by definition, male-supremacists no matter what pronouns they use.


My daughters and I will lose our right to full personhood under federal law when Roe v Wade is overturned. My daughters will have fewer legal protections and will be less safe, physically, mentally, intellectually, and economically as women of childbearing age. But one thing they will not have less of is inherent value. The fact that the religious right places living women lower than corpses on the hierarchy of human value does not alter the great worth of my daughters—or the worth of all women on earth.


Women are people who have the right to make decisions for themselves. The body of a woman is hers and hers, alone. Each woman has the right to decide when to become a mother, whether to become a mother, or when she has had enough children.

Some people may wonder how we got “here” but we only have to look six years behind us (yes, we could look farther back, but it’s a short, straight line from “here” and 2016). We know exactly how we got here—and we can resolve to never choose personal emotional comfort over the literal lives of other people. We can resolve to never choose party loyalty over human values and reducing losses. We can resolve to never allow the persuit of perfection to be the enemy of the good.

I will never stop working to protect my daughters from voter apathy, religious intolerance, misogyny, and authoritarianism. I will never stop working against the supremacy inherent in the white patriarchal colonialist traditions that define America.


There is a great deal of work to be done. To show my appreciation for women and my respect for the right of every person with a uterus to choose when, whether, and for how long to reproduce, I organized the Utah Alliance Coalition's Mother's Day March.


Juliet Reynolds found herself the surprise Leader of the March on Sunday; I am eternally thankful to her for her grace under pressure. Cj Wilkinson wasn't able to make it, but she is our social sorceress and got the word out! Therese Huhtala kept an eye on our table, engaged passers-by in lively conversation, almost got a British woman lost, and took some great photos. Frank Brannan was our banner-delivery service and community liason, always ready to help and to put to work. I appreciate the opportunity to work with such wonderful people. I am especially grateful to everyone who attended this event and the events held earlier in the week by Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah (PPACUT) and Red Hive Collective. The next PPACUT event is Saturday, May 14 at 11AM.


There will be more protests, rallies, marches, and events of all kinds. We must attend them all and we must become an informed and active electorate.


We must work to support politicians and political movements that have true pro-LIFE platforms. We must vote in ways that will establish enduring equality and provide support to every citizen in Utah.





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Eleanor Sundwall
Eleanor Sundwall
May 12, 2022

Related (and always on-point, though pointier than usual, this evening): https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/may-11-2022?s=r

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