Tag Archives: Dobbs decision

It Can Take Years to Recognize Your True Colors

Anyone with grown children surely can recall elementary school field trips to an apple orchard, a local park or a science museum where their kids were assigned to wear matching T-shirts. Decades back, I took it to be a simple, visual way to keep the kids together and prevent the wanderers and rowdies, like my older son, from getting lost, which soothed my maternal anxieties.

But now that I’ve had opportunities to wear my own matching-color uniforms in both professional and volunteer roles, it occurs to me that the T-shirts also provided children with identity and pride, a reassuring sense of place. Like a sports team or a squad of soldiers, the kids felt special. Like they belonged.

My own, more recent experiences with uniforms and matching T-shirts tell a similar story of belonging — and of recognizing our true colors as we age.

Dressing alike at work “builds rapport and makes us feel safe. If there is a sense of conformity, then we feel able to identify ourselves in others, which can bring a level of certainty.”

Dr. Sarah Jane Khalid, METRO.co.uk

Years ago, when I was head of marketing and communications at St. Catherine University, our president had a penchant for morphing the annual launch of the academic year from a standard motivational speech into a stage show, complete with musicians and dancers. I tap danced twice, alongside other game faculty and staff members who saw the assignment as a novel break from our workaday routine.

The president had a canny ability to showcase her subordinates’ creativity while nurturing their loyalty and sense of place. That was most evident the year she ordered hundreds of matching T-shirts, swore department heads to secrecy and then closed campus after her opening-day address so everyone could hop on chartered buses and enjoy a late August day at the Minnesota State Fair.

I still remember the giddy thrill of strolling through the fairgrounds and acknowledging other purple-clad Katies with a wink and a wave. Whether friends or strangers, we felt this unmatched sense of belonging, all because of matching shirts.

Though examples abound about how the potent mix of power and uniforms can be brutally misused, in this case the common colors served the common good. Matching purple T-shirts helped us show the world that we were part of, and proud of, our campus and its women’s college culture.

“It is always an honor to put on a uniform.”

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado

A less happy experience with uniforms occurred recently at the headquarters of Planned Parenthood North Central States when I arrived for my monthly shift to make donor thank you calls. The usual array of protestors was on the public sidewalk as I passed by: kneeling to pray and count rosary beads, pacing and chanting with gruesome signs, yelling at patients as they left their vehicles and before they’d made it safely to the main door.

As a volunteer, you try to tune out the racket. As an older woman, I have learned that temper rarely serves me. But the fall of Roe v. Wade, the misogynistic bills in state legislatures around the country, the sanctimony of Trump’s conservative court that, I believe, will harm democracy even more than the insurrection — all of my simmering resentment boiled over into rage that day when I saw a protestor wearing a hot pink vest, in the exact style and color of Planned Parenthood’s volunteer security team.

I strode past her, toward the building, and then pivoted and marched back. I’d never shouted at a protester, something we are ordered not to do. “Hot pink is our color,” I said, standing inches from her face. “That is the most cynical thing you can do, to impersonate a volunteer and make women think you’re here to help them. You have no idea what people are here for.”

I ignore the woman now when I arrive for my volunteer shifts as an escort or a phone banker, and breathe a sigh of relief when I see someone in the driveway wearing the pink security vest branded with white lettering: smiling, waving, welcoming me inside the gates. Hot pink is our refuge, our code and color — our symbol of collective resistance to a society that increasingly restricts voting, that fears other freedoms and that will not stop with a rollback of abortion rights.

“One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten into serious old age, it’s not nearly as scary when you’re inside it.”

Jane Fonda, “Wiser Than Me” podcast with Julia Louis-Dreyfus

I am 20 years younger than Jane Fonda, one of my icons; and yes, in my darker moments, I do fear growing older, dreading mobility loss the most. Aging is intimidating, and if any person 65 or older tells you differently, take time to ask a few follow-up questions.

Among the health risks for older people, cherry picked from a list of 15: dementia, incontinence, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, depression, hearing loss and cancer. No wonder the United Nations declared 2021–30 the Decade of Healthy Aging, given the exploding population of older folks worldwide.

One can deny aging, as I am prone to do — stubbornly insisting, for example, that the name of my blog remain “The Middle Stages” (“Do you plan to live to 130?” one sarcastic reader inquired). So, it’s no surprise that I’ve resisted participating in what I’ve derisively called the “old people” classes at Lifetime Fitness, the facility I joined for free once I qualified for Medicare.

During my first class in the Aurora “community,” Lifetime’s program for active seniors, I announced to anyone who would listen — and likely more than a few folks who didn’t care — that I’d transferred recently from CorePower, the youthful yoga chain founded in Denver. When I didn’t return to my Aurora class for weeks, the front desk at Lifetime reached out to entice me back with, yes, a colored T-shirt.

In contrast to the industrial black-and-gray shirts pedaled to younger members of the club, the Aurora shirts are a calming shade of blue. Would this relegate me, a former fitness instructor, to forever exercising among slow-moving seniors?

“Healthy, active, social,” the back of my blue shirt reads. I swallowed my pride and wore the T-shirt to an Aurora program full of bald and graying heads, a Pilates class that acknowledged realities like foot neuropathy and shrinking muscle mass. I was one of four people wearing the blue T-shirt in class that day, and like the schoolkids of decades past, that helped me feel at home.

“People eventually show their true colors,” the saying goes. Mine are now hot pink for social action and a soft sky blue for safer, gentler physical activities that encourage both self-acceptance and self-care. All of us 65 and older are journeying toward a future that none of us can see. It’s a different sort of field trip, complete with matching T-shirts.

It is the place where I belong.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Faces of the Resistance

On the bleakest day for American women in my lifetime, the texts and the tears started flying back and forth within seconds of the New York Times news flash on my iPhone.

“It happened,” I texted a friend who is a leader in the abortion rights movement in Minnesota.

A rally at Planned Parenthood in May 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked

Her one-word answer described the swamp I stayed stuck in all day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide on January 22, 1973. I was 15 and a half years old. I am 65 now. That means I had the safety and protection of legal abortion throughout my reproductive years, a right that my two grown sons will not inherit.

“Shit,” my friend responded, placing a period after the single word in her text, as though to emphasize the finality, the inevitability. Then she helped organize a massive vigil in downtown Minneapolis at 5:30 that afternoon, Friday, June 24, 2022.

“Join us in grief, rage, and in loving community,” her email invitation said. Contrary to stereotypes about the godless nature of pro-choice activists, my friend is a minister.

A counter-protestor outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul on Black Friday

Amid the dozens of articles, headlines and notes from radio broadcasts or podcasts that I have saved since June 24 — “Roe Ruling, Remapping Turned Tide,” about the DFL sweep of the Minnesota statehouse; “Democrats Flip Script in Abortion Rights Debate,” from the New York Times; “Covert Network Provides Pills for Thousands of Abortion in U.S. Post Roe,” in the Washington Post; “Court at Odds with Public,” two days after a decision that has stripped a generation of their rights — one quote stands alone.

“Women didn’t talk about it much, they didn’t do a bunch of marches and protests, they didn’t post on social media, they probably didn’t even tell their husbands,” GOP strategist and former Senate majority leader Amy Koch told the Star Tribune after her party’s defeat in the midterms. “But they were ticked off and they went out to vote.”

A day after Roe v. Wade fell, I tabled for Planned Parenthood at the Pride festival in Minneapolis.

She got the last part right. But Koch’s assumption that women were disengaged from the debate — that any woman who cares about the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is, by definition, heterosexual and married — and that many people, of all genders, have not been out marching, protesting, phone banking and strategizing on social media is, to my experience, just plain wrong.

It also helps explain why Republicans fell short in this year’s midterm elections in Minnesota (“State GOP Surveys Wreckage” was the headline for this piece). “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world,” anthropologist Margaret Mead once said. Especially if those people have lost their rights.

I know a 32-year-old man who got a vasectomy within weeks of the Dobbs decision, not wanting to put a female partner through an unwanted pregnancy and certain that he never wanted kids himself. I have a good friend, a lesbian, who came to the United States from Europe as a child; she and her wife are contemplating moving back to her liberal homeland, where she doesn’t have to fear that their legal marriage could be undone.

“What happens to all the babies born into unsafe conditions?” asked a report on National Public Radio the Monday morning after the Dobbs decision was announced. States with the strictest abortion laws also tend to have the fewest social services, the program host pointed out.

My neighbor, like me, is more than a decade past her reproductive years. We feel this decision deeply, especially as mothers — her to three daughters, me to two sons — but we wouldn’t primarily feel its effects. White, middle-class, still supported by the safety net with which I was raised, I could afford to cross state lines for a safe and legal abortion, if I were of childbearing age and wasn’t lucky enough to live in Minnesota, an oasis of sanity and compassion in the Upper Midwest.

A pregnant woman displays her baby bump at an abortion rights rally in July.

Thirteen states have enacted laws banning abortion with limited exceptions since the Dobbs decision. I am hosting a fundraiser for 30 people this coming Saturday for Our Justice, an organization that raises money to house women seeking abortion care in our state. This is what we’ve come to: individual solutions in individual states, as though women’s autonomy were not a national value (which, of course, it’s not).

I saw a woman last summer at the dog park with a T-shirt that read: Pro-Cat, Pro-Feminist, Pro-Choice. “I agree with all but one of those,” I told her, and then I paused before dropping the punchline: “I’m allergic to cats.” The woman told me she’s a teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools and can’t wear political T-shirts or buttons to her job. So she wears a pro-choice T-shirt when she’s out running errands on weekends and notes whether anyone responds.

A handmaid, by definition, is a “subservient partner or element.”

The first time I saw a Handmaid’s Tale outfit at a pro-choice rally was at the Minnesota State Capitol in spring 2019. “Since you creeps won’t get out of our bedrooms, we’re coming for your House,” the woman’s sign read. I didn’t know then that the costume would become contentious, that women of color whose earlier family members had no choices, who had no agency over their bodies, would see it as another symbol of white, clueless privilege. Still, at that time and place, it was powerful for me.

Nearly three years later, in May 2022, the same outfit had a more chilling effect at a Planned Parenthood rally after the Supreme Court’s draft document leaked, once the reality of Roe’s demise felt closer, more real. This Handmaid paused after consenting to have her photo taken, striking the pose of submission that personifies the point novelist Margaret Atwood was trying to make when her book — now better known as a TV series on Hulu —was published in 1985.

A reproductive rights rally at the State Capitol this past July brought out thousands of people who looked more angry than afraid. I shouted out information about the event till I was hoarse on June 25, the day after the Supreme Court decision was announced. I was tabling for Planned Parenthood at the Pride festival in Minneapolis alongside another Boomer woman who had shared her abortion story at a rally the previous day. She left our shift early, emotionally drained and physically spent.

By contrast, I found the energy and support at the Pride festival to be inspiring, a spirited day of action that helped me feel less frightened and alone.

Thousands of people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17, 2022.

“I don’t see the point of going to a rally,” my husband said before I convinced him to join me at Planned Parenthood’s Twin Cities headquarters back in May. Similarly, a letter writer told the Star Tribune right after the Dobbs decision: “I guess the rallies are supposed to send a message to [elected officials], but I believe personal messages have more impact.”

It’s the energy, the camaraderie, the crazy and creative signs, the righteous outrage, the relief of being among like-minded people in a society that has turned right so hard and fast it leaves me bruised: Those are the reasons to attend a rally.

The National Day of Action in Minneapolis in October 2021

At the National Day of Action, dubbed the Women’s March, in Minneapolis on October 2, 2021, I volunteered to get people on the mailing list for UnRestrict Minnesota, a coalition of groups focused on reproductive rights, racial equity and gender equality. Then I started taking photos of T-shirts and signs. Some were provocative (“If my uterus could fire bullets, you wouldn’t regulate it”), others straightforward (“Patriarchy hurts everyone” and “Racist people suck”).

But one spoke volumes by speaking the simple truth. It quoted Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her Senate confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, perhaps the last time a prospective jurist was honest about their views on Roe v. Wade, which declared abortion to be constitutionally protected.

Data show that women of color will be more greatly affected by the revocation of Roe.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity,” the sign said, quoting Ginsburg flawlessly. “It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Donald Trump may never set foot in the White House again. But he will leave behind a legacy of a six-judge conservative majority on a nine-person court that will undo the social progress of my youth. Our downfall as liberals and progressives, in the 2016 presidential election and beyond, was that we failed to see it coming. Instead, we bickered among ourselves, refused to coalesce around a candidate and hated on Mitch McConnell rather than emulating his focus.

Being right doesn’t matter once your rights are gone.