What do we do now? Five Strategies for Action After the Recent US Supreme Court Decisions

July 13, 2023 Leave a comment

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou. John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0] <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0> via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re asking the question “What do we do now?” you’re asking the right one.

With the recent plethora of dangerous decisions by the US Supreme Court, many of us were not surprised. As soon as former President Trump added new members to the Court and set them on a course for an anti-civil rights and anti-equity agenda, we knew many of the transformative gains we had made over the last sixty or more years were in danger. 

Civil rights and civil liberties that protect human rights are, and never have been, guaranteed. America has a history and deep practice of white supremacy, control of women’s bodies, and discrimination and violence against Black and Latinx peoples and LGBTQ+ communities, land theft, confinement, and erasure of Indigenous communities, and scapegoating of immigrants. And it is all firmly backed by politicians and their carefully selected court appointees who threaten the rule of law and everyone’s security by dismantling protections to live, work, go to school, and love freely.

We knew the plan and we knew the pain that was coming. Now we need to understand and analyze the decisions. And, most importantly, we need to act and exercise our power – organizationally, collectively, and individually.

Here are five actions to take after the recent US Supreme Court Decisions:

  1. Stand firm and advance racial, gender, sexual orientation, and class equity like never before. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. If you’re a boss, offer your staff benefits and protections that no court can take away. Don’t use vendors, professional services, or companies that do not reflect your values. Sit your human resources professionals and managers down and ask them to do everything in their power to remove impediments to equity and justice in your workplace. If they’re too attached to the law and not willing to be creative or take a few risks to protect the rights of your employees, find the person who will. 

    And take advantage of any loopholes in recent US Supreme Court decisions. For example, even though the Supreme Court restricted affirmative action in admissions programs, Justice Roberts writing for the majority said “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.” At UC Santa Barbara, for example, students still write about their race and ethnicity in college essays. Although the admissions team can’t consider race, they can evaluate how students responded to significant issues that impacted their lives and factor that into their admissions decision. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted in a statement that the recent cases do not “address employer efforts to foster diverse and inclusive workforces or to engage the talents of all qualified workers, regardless of their background,” clarifying that it is still legal for “employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace.”
  1. Own Your Power. Get political! Some people think of politics as an ugly endeavor (or dirty business), but politics – the building and wielding of power and policy to help lives – is, or at least should be, the essence of democracy. Understand what you can do within the confines of your organization. There are fewer limits on nonprofits than you may think. For instance, 501(c)(3) organizations can educate voters and elected officials, and even lobby under a certain threshold. And organizations can set up 501(c)(4) organizations and PACs to do direct electioneering and endorse candidates.  

    And up your personal political game. Participate as a voter if you’re eligible. If not, register voters and campaign for candidates that show up for civil rights and racial justice. Research the legislation politicians are voting on and make sure they hear from you about your priorities. Consider running for local office. Make your voice heard by showing up at school board, zoning commission, city council, and other public meetings. Don’t assume that because you’re in a more progressive state that we don’t have work to do –  it could just be a matter of time.
  1. Reclaim the streets. We have to continue to organize, demonstrate power, and march in the streets at unprecedented levels to protest the perilous actions of the court and politicians. We need a narrative and set of demands that undergird our outrage about how the American people can no longer trust the courts because precedent and human rights no longer matter to them. We must call on Congress and state legislatures to pass new laws that grant civil rights and personal freedoms. 
  1. Vision, plan, and execute for the long-term. Anti-civil rights groups have been planning and building for this moment for decades. They have focused on five crucial areas that have brought them wins: policy, candidates, gerrymandering, courts, and messaging. They laid plans years and sometimes decades in advance to identify policies they wanted to change, recruit candidates, draw political districts in their favor, elect politicians that would approve their court picks, and cultivate messages online and offline that resonate with voters. Those of us who focus on progressive social change need to do the same – unapologetically and now. 
  1. Build and expand community – even those you think are not with us. Anti-civil rights groups and networks have captured more of the working class vote and white imagination than the progressive movement thought possible. They have been digging into white, middle America communities, swing states, and emerging swing states,  spreading misinformation and fear throughout. They have been present and listening to communities that some progressives have abandoned, believing erroneously that they only need each other to make change. 

    We’ve got to reach more people, understand their concerns, find connections, and foster greater love and empathy for others. The people who are opposing affirmative action, reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, cancelation of student loan debt, environmental protections, and reasonable gun restraints are not fighting a single-issue battle and neither can we. They are fighting for a narrow conception of what it means to be the United States and who this country and its resources are for. We will not win the moral battle for justice as discrete communities, but rather together – as a collective so strong and a movement so large, diverse, and inclusive that we cannot be divided!

And, as you take these actions, know you’re not alone. While the forces against justice have gained ground and visibility, there are many individuals, organizations, and networks who are “fighting the good fight” and getting into “necessary trouble.” This is a time to collaborate across traditional boundaries and put your justice values into practice. IISC can partner with your organization or network to help you advance and operationalize racial equity and equity of all kinds at every level of your organization. This is the time to dig in deeper and we’ve got a full team ready to dedicate our services to you.

Knowing that our country needs more political action and organizing, IISC wants to work with more advocacy, organizing, and electoral organizations and networks so that we can support movements for justice by sharing our facilitation skills and tools for collaboration, equity, and network-building. Can you connect us to them? IISC is also available to bring seasoned facilitators to organizations and networks that are eager to clarify their vision for the future and develop a pathway forward to realize that vision. And we can support you in facilitating conversations with people who are nontraditional allies and with whom you may even be at odds. Learn more about our offerings here.

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