The supreme court, thank heaven, finally adjourned on Thursday, after a week of decisions that blew up much of the framework of American policy and politics. And a key thing to notice about that assault on American norms was how many of their targets were adopted in a few short years in the 1960s and 1970s.
Roe v Wade, of course, dates to 1973, the fruit of many year’s work by committed feminists. Thursday’s attack on the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases guts the Clean Air Act, which in its strong form dates from 1970 – indeed, both that law and the EPA itself were the result of the first Earth Day protests in April of that year, which drew 20 million Americans (10% of the country’s population in those days) into the streets demanding action. Even firearms sanity, badly weakened once more in last week’s decision on concealed carry permits, reached its zenith in 1968 with the passage of the Gun Control Act in response to the assassinations of that turbulent year.
It’s pretty clear that some on the high court have other gains from that era in their sights: Justice Clarence Thomas singled out the 1960s protections for contraception, and the drive for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people that broke into the open at the Stonewall protests in 1969. And the court and conservative legislatures have worked steadily to undermine the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, restricting the franchise that the civil rights movement had once worked so powerfully to extend.
This is an attack, in other words, on the epic social, political and cultural transformations of that remarkable period (a stretch of years that should remind us that with committed effort change really can come fast). We pay particular attention to those dates because, at Third Act, we organize the people who helped create that era. Our colleagues include heroes like Heather Booth, who went south in 1964’s Freedom Summer and then went on to form Citizen Action for local organizing across America, or Sam Brown, who coordinated 1969’s massive anti-war moratorium before a career in public service that included working with John Lewis to run Vista and the Peace Corps. Many others of our supporters – who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s – played less prominent roles, but all of them bore witness to these transformations. And now they watch with some combination of sorrow, anger and incredulity as they are washed away. [Continue reading…]