This week has been incredibly difficult. From Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s unexpected death last Friday to the Kentucky grand jury decision on Wednesday that brought no charges against the three men who murdered Breonna Taylor, I know I personally reached a point where I just could not read the news.
I simply don’t have the words to talk about Ginsburg’s passing. (Riese wrote a beautiful tribute to her last week.) In terms of the political implications, well the headlines alone are enough. McConnell is unsurprisingly immoral. We liberals were a bunch of fools for briefly pinning our hopes on Mitt Romney. And I cannot even bear to get into the long list of policies that are about to be gutted. The consequences of this are monumental. At the same time, a woman I really admired and respected also just died.
And then there was the verdict in Kentucky. Again, I find myself at a loss for words. Truly, all I can muster is, “for shame, America, for shame.” As I’ve said before, every single time this happens I think about the endless list of names that I do not know, people who were killed wrongfully at the hands of the police and vigilantes, who never, ever get anything even close to resembling justice. Breonna Taylor’s case was stunningly clear. A woman was killed in her sleep. How hard is it to recognize that this was wrong? But, as Fabiola Cineas writes for Vox, as Black people know all too well, “This is how the system was designed.”
So this week’s Extra! Extra! turns to other areas of the news. Not because RBG’s death and the verdict on Breonna Taylor’s murder aren’t important. But because sometimes things are so strongly felt, no words could possibly capture their lasting consequence. We turn instead to several trans rights issues, reproductive rights, some disturbing trends on the far right and an update on how COVID-19 is upending this country. To close out, a few stories of small wins, a little bit of hope.
Himani: This summer saw a landmark ruling for trans rights. And at the time, Natalie, quite presciently, wrote:
I’ve heard from a lot of people — far more adept at these issues than me — that the Court’s decision in Bostock undermines the administration’s anti-trans efforts, including last week’s rule change by the Department of Health and Human Services. I suppose my question then is: what does that look like, in practice? Will HHS or HUD withdraw their efforts on their own accord or will groups have to prepare for years of litigation to ensure that our lives are free from discrimination?
Well, here we are, just three months later and as Natalie foresaw, there’s no way that ruling alone will stop a government that is hellbent on denying trans people civil rights. As Melissa Gira Grant writes for The New Republic regarding the Bostock ruling, “A win there can’t provide trans people the resources to take on multiyear anti-discrimination cases. Oftentimes, as we have seen with abortion rights, a big win just emboldens the opponents of a given right to escalate their attacks elsewhere.”
Betsy DeVos is the latest in the Trump administration to take up the anti-trans mantle. Squarely defying the implications of the Bostock ruling, her administration is arguing that schools that allow trans girls to participate in sports are breaking federal anti-discrmination laws. Citing the pending case between the Department of Education and Connecticut, state officials in South Dakota are now pressing the South Dakota High School Activities Association to reverse its policy on allowing trans students to compete in the sports activities that align with their gender identity. And is far too often the case in America, where a few Republicans strongarm the majority into the corner, over 80% of school administrators who participated in a 2019 survey support the current, trans-inclusive policy.
Meanwhile, coming in from the Congressional side, Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia put forward a bill that would explicitly state that allowing trans girls and women to compete in women’s sports is a violation of Title IX. That’s repulsive enough but, in a further violation of trans women’s and girls rights, the bill even allows for schools to require students to undergo “genital exams” to prove they aren’t transgender. This is beyond horrifying. Earlier this year, a bill just like this passed in Idaho.
As if all this weren’t repulsive enough, the transparent hypocrisy and bigotry of all of this is glaringly obvious when, less than three weeks ago, Caster Semenya lost her case in the Switzerland supreme court. Semenya won’t be allowed to compete in women’s track and field (including upcoming Olympics, whenever those happen again) unless she medically reduces her natural testosterone levels. All of this — the verdict affecting Semenya, the anti-trans sports policies making their rounds — is about policing who gets to be a woman and what it means to be a woman, and it all fits hand in hand with the ongoing violations of reproductive rights that Rachel discusses below.
Earlier this week Xoài wrote an incredibly powerful call-in to TERFs like JK Rowling, making an irrefutable case that shouldn’t have needed to be made in the first place — that cis and trans women’s liberations are inextricably intertwined becuase we are, in fact, all women being repressed (in different ways, to different extents) by the same patriarchy. As anti-trans legislation continues to gain momentum around this country, we cis women must fight in solidarity.
Rachel: The juxtaposition of these articles with each other seems like such an effective (and dark) way to highlight what we were talking about last week. As reproductive rights continue to be chipped away at, we’re seeing increasing efforts at exerting control over reproductive freedoms both in the form of restricting access to abortion and birth control and in reproductive violence like nonconsensual hysterectomies, police violence, zero or inadequate care for pregnant people, especially pregnant Black and indigenous women, and more. This is already happening, no doubt about it, and it is horrifying; the top article, however, does have some direct and concrete guidelines for action. They’re applicable not just to reproductive justice, but to what our communities will need in general now more than ever: look at who’s doing the work on the ground and locally, figure out what resources they need and help them access them; look at what individuals around you need to make it through and redistribute any resources you can toward them directly, rather than trusting big bureaucratic orgs or government agencies to provide for them.
They’re Being Empowered Even More and Becoming Emboldened
Himani: This one is beyond horrifying. Drivers can already get away with a lot in terms of severely injuring or even killing people with very, very little liability (if any). Now that’s been explicitly enshrined into Florida law by DeSantis.
Rachel: I’m reading these stories about “people’s rights organizing,” QAnon mailings, and thinking about stories a few months back about the FBI’s fumbling attempt to start enacting Trump’s orders that “antifa” be treated as a terrorist group, namely this story. There’s the somewhat obvious parallel that the federal government is positioning antifa, which is… not even actually a group, as a terrorist group while glossing over what are quite literally and undeniably actual domestic terrorist groups. But I guess it feels like something more layered to me – maybe I’m thinking of how often the GOP mirrors the tactics of abusive and manipulative individual people in terms of how it accuses its opponents of not just things they aren’t doing, but the exact same things the GOP itself IS doing. (Think of the security accusations against Hillary while Trump was taking sensitive international calls on his personal cell phone, or the far-right handwringing over ‘freedom of speech’ while they remove historically accurate curriculum from schools for its honesty about chattel slavery and genocide.) I feel glumly like in the perpetual debate over whether the government is being intentionally evil or just stupid, this is a place where it feels increasingly like intentional malice, and I’m truly concerned about the propagation of what are unfortunately more and more like far-right terrorist cells, ones that are separate from but not uninvolved with the far-right police state – as an example, this chilling piece on just last night in Louisville, where riot police were filmed giving detailed instructions to armed MAGA militia on how to avoid their crowd control.
Himani: Domestic violence has been a quietly accepted reality in many Asian American communities since long before the pandemic started. This in-depth feature takes a much-needed look at how the pandemic exacerbated an already-tenuous situation. I highly recommend this article.
Himani: This is one of those times where I can’t help but say, “who’s surprised?” Reopening schools was an incredibly fraught decision, and I know that simply keeping schools and universities closed would also do irreparable harm to many, many communities. But the problem is that this country prioritized reopening the economy and trying to return life to normal at the expense of schools.
Himani: This is yet another round of things everyone has already been saying for a long time but Raj Chetty comes in to verify the story and now, suddenly, it is irrefutable fact. I have nothing against Chetty, but it is somewhat infuriating how beholden to quantitative data and big analyses people are. This story isn’t new. It’s been reported on since the pandemic first started, and we’ve included just a fraction of those articles in this column. If more people in legislative offices are willing to take the issue seriously now that Chetty has weighed in, that’s ultimately a good thing. But I do wish we as a society thought about data and policy a little differently and stopped being so infatuated by the cult of genius.
And a Little Bit of Hope
Rachel: This is extremely worthwhile reading, for a variety of reasons, but I want to emphasize especially the link here between police violence, gentrification, and Breonna Taylor’s murder — it’s not an exaggeration to say that a scheme exactly like this one is why Breonna was murdered in her home.
From this Mother Jones piece on gentrification in Atlanta:
On my beat, they started telling me: “We really want you to start policing this section of Boulevard and Ponce de Leon Avenue, basically the Bedford Pines Apartments. We think there are dope boys in there. We think there’s a lot of illegal activity happening and we want to really focus there. So we’re gonna put up signs that say you can’t park on the street. I want you to go and write tickets on every single car that’s on the street and I want you to get those cars out of there; if they don’t move, tow ’em. I want you to start running checks on everybody standing on the street; if they have got warrants, I want you to lock ’em up.”… “The only way you can evict or do anything like that is if the person who owns the apartment is convicted of a felony. So the Bedford Pines guys just went to the police department and said: “We want you to police in here, and we’re going to give you a section of Bedford Pines to actually have office space. And I want you to lock up as many people as possible so we can make these apartments vacant and we can knock ’em down.”
Breonna Taylor’s shooting was the result of a Louisville police department operation to clear out a block in western Louisville that was part of a major gentrification makeover, according to attorneys representing the slain 26-year-old’s family. Lawyers for Taylor’s family allege in court documents filed in Jefferson Circuit Court Sunday that a police squad — named Place-Based Investigations — had “deliberately misled” narcotics detectives to target a home on Elliott Avenue, leading them to believe they were after some of the city’s largest violent crime and drug rings.
I know it can feel overwhelming and defeating to keep up with and even consider working against all the forms of violence and oppression we’re dealing with right now – it may or may not make it feel more manageable to remember that they aren’t actually different forms of violence and oppression; many of them are arms of the same tree, and remembering the end goal of felling the trunk (roots? This analogy got away from me a bit) is the way to keep focus and perseverance.
Himani: One of the activists involved in making this happen, William Bear Shield, said, “I think whatever happened, happened in the past. I don’t know that there’s any changing that. All I know is that at some point, you can right a wrong.”
Those are words to live by, now more than ever.
Extra! Extra! will be moving to a biweekly schedule for the month of October, starting next week. We’ll see you in two weeks!