About five weeks ago now, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, a ruling that effectively allows closely-held for-profit corporations to be exempt from adhering to a law on the basis of religious beliefs. You know the case: Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to cover certain forms of contraception for its female employees as would be mandated under the Affordable Care Act because apparently the Christians running the joint don’t understand science and conception and how IUDs don’t actually cause abortions.
The three female justices (and Breyer) all sided against Hobby Lobby and Bader’s incredible dissent has made her a totem of strength for young and old feminist women. In the wake of the decision, women were ANGRY. They were FIRED UP. On blogs and opinion pieces and online magazines and Twitter and Facebook, they raged against a system that allows a corporation to dictate access to women’s health care.
I was one of those quietly raging women. My friend L and I texted each other the night of the decision: missives filled with fury and indignation and outrage and impotence. What the fuck was WRONG with our country? Why this war against women? What could we possibly do about this?
Then two days later, after reading an article listing other companies that had signed up to deny women health care after Hobby Lobby’s win, I had an idea that was (oddly for me) full of capitalist fuck-you:
What if we could create a way for women to boycott these companies by withholding their spending dollars?
After all, women are shoppers (amirite?!) and women are mad so why not create a searchable and informative site that lists a constantly updating feed of the for-profit companies that deny women health care in the name of religion. Why not let our lady dollars do the talking?
I called L. She was TOTALLY on board. I explained my initial idea; she added tons of amazing ideas of her own. Because she has a 9-5 day gig and I am more flexible, I got to work immediately. I developed a basic site and refined it. We emailed back and forth on what our community of women would look like and how to best reach them. We refined our site plan one beautiful summer Friday in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library, where we sat under a cloudless sky listening to the soothing bubbling of a marble fountain.
For that two weeks, there was motivation. TONS of motivation. We were energized. We were passionate.
And then it went away. Slowly. It’s been weeks since I looked at the site. I can tell you that I’ve been working on other projects (I have) and that I applied to a writing program that sucked up a couple of weeks (it did) but the truth is that the prospect of spearheading the site feels like a Sisyphean exercise in futility.
Why is it that political action feels like that now? Is it because I am older?
I would like to say that I was a politically engaged 20-something but that would be somewhat disingenuous. Sure, I’ve gone to rallies and protests and (honesty, gulp) I’ve sometimes left with the feeling that we were all playing a role in a movie. We are angry 20-something protestors! You are greedy corporate overlords! More often than not, I left protests feeling vaguely embarrassed and not at all sure why.
However, I have always been politically informed. I read voraciously and I am proud to say that I’ve never been a person who “doesn’t have time to know what’s going on in the world.” (Ew, right?) Though I may not be able to tell you intricate political details of a conflict, I can usually give a broad explanation of the major points of contention and am always happy to learn more.
A side effect of knowing what’s going on is an overwhelming feeling of impotence and an increasing sense of futility. What’s really going to change because of our actions? Certainly not a political system that seems increasingly built on greed and in deference to money. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s paying attention that this year marked the first time that millionaires made up the majority of both houses of Congress. It’s almost comically pedantic to mention how much less of their overall income the rich pay in taxes compared to the rest of us.
All this deck-stacking against values I hold dear (gender equality, separation of church and state, marriage equality, the provision of a well-functioning and compassionate social safety net, equal access to education) leaves me exhausted. Why bother with little protests when the problem is SO much bigger than what any of us can do?
This is the point in this essay when I’m supposed to reach deep into my soul and say, “If not me, then who?” or quote some line about how the Holocaust happened because people didn’t stand up to the oppression of others because it didn’t affect them (lesson: apathy is evil). This is the point where I’m supposed to have a change of heart about the little website-that-could and get to work (!) and create a resource for WOMEN WHO WANT CHANGE and to STAY STRONG and all of that good earnest stuff.
But this isn’t that essay. Because more than mad, I’m just tired. I have no idea what the solution is to address these hugely systemic problems we have in our country. I do know that our system respects money and I don’t have it or the will to raise it. I don’t like the idea of cultivating anger at an unchangeable system. I’d rather spend my time attempting (sometimes also an exercise in futility) to understand my world, to keep my gaze as unflinchingly honest as I can (especially on myself), and to take pleasure in the many moments of beauty that my day-to-day life sometimes offers.
Perhaps I am apathetic after all.