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OPINION

The Supreme Court wants to abolish abortion rights. Republicans want to quash protests to save them.

Demonstrations have driven every halting step of progress this nation has made. This is not the time to block them.

A hanger symbolizing abortion was drawn in chalk on the ground outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last weekend as abortion rights activists protested in Chevy Chase, Md.Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post

“Silence never brought us anything,” Audre Lorde, the great Black lesbian feminist author, once said. And there should be no silence with millions on the edge of losing the right to govern their own bodies and reproductive choices.

Since the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, many have taken to the streets. That includes in front of the homes of conservative justices Samuel Alito, who wrote the scathing opinion, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts, the court’s chief justice. There has been no violence, no vandalism, and no threats of bodily harm to the justices. These protesters are loud but peaceful and orderly.

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Yet Republicans aren’t content with the probable demise of a longstanding law. They want to quash the right to demonstrate against the abolition of abortion rights.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Republican Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia claim the protests are violating a federal statute against influencing judges’ rulings by demonstrating “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer.” They also requested “adequate resources” to safeguard the justices and their families.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the letter came days after Youngkin was roasted by right-wing agitators for not immediately sending troops to shut down protests at Alito’s home.

How this nation feels about protest seems to hinge on who the demonstrators are and what they support. Mark Esper, a former Trump administration defense secretary, recently revealed that Trump wanted to deploy the military to shoot demonstrators during protests after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

Not long after quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee against racial injustice and police violence during the national anthem at NFL games, he was effectively blacklisted by the league. Some of the same people who condemned him praised white supremacists as “patriots” for storming the US Capitol in a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

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Every Democrat who claims to support reproductive rights should be leading the call to action, especially since an attack on settled law erodes the moorings of all human rights. That’s what many of the party’s women legislators are already doing.

But there’s also that self-defeating centrism that discourages so many Democratic voters. In a tweet, David Axelrod, a former Obama administration adviser, tried to compare threats against Dr. Anthony Fauci and his family during the COVID pandemic with protests outside justices’ homes. “Violence threatened on all sides as righteous,” he wrote. “Is this the path we’re going to take? The new normal? I hope not.”

Axelrod needs to take a seat and stop trying to “all sides” this issue. There’s no comparison between death threats Fauci has endured during this pandemic and people peacefully protesting outside the homes of the high court’s justices.

Throughout the pandemic, health officials and school board members have faced so many physical threats that some resigned out of concerns for their safety. Pro-Roe protesters haven’t threatened the justices or breached their property. But with Republicans demanding nothing less than acquiescence, even polite opposition is being met with backlash.

Written in chalk on the sidewalk, a message outside the home of Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine was straightforward but friendly: “Susie, please, Mainers want WHPA [Women’s Health Protection Act]. Vote yes, clean up your mess.”

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Collins, who vigorously supported Kavanaugh’s 2018 nomination on the premise that he would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, called the police. On Wednesday, she voted against codifying abortion rights, which, as expected, failed in the Senate.

In a BuzzFeed News interview, a woman identified only as Jane said, “Susan Collins hasn’t held a town hall meeting for her constituents in over 20 years.” Frustrated by Collins’s lack of response, Jane and a friend wrote the chalk message. She said, “We’re sick of being ignored and dismissed and thought that we should try a more creative approach.”

Jane and her friend won’t be charged with a crime. But Collins’s actions are meant to send a message that dissent of any kind will not be tolerated.

So long as protesters don’t spew racist or misogynistic invective or devolve into threatening behavior or property damage, the homes of public officials — including Supreme Court justices — shouldn’t be off-limits to demonstrators. Arguments have been made that this violates the law; so did sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the Jim Crow South. Protesters understood the risks and took them to thwart codified racism. Asking anyone to stay silent as their rights are stripped away adds to the trauma of being treated as unworthy of protections afforded others.

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Protest is a response to the pain of injustice. It has been a driving force toward every halting step of progress this nation has made, and that’s why it’s usually one of the first rights stifled by authoritarian regimes. With lives and autonomy at stake, we cannot surrender to the dictatorial creep of Republicans eager to silence opposition, whether it is expressed with signs, bullhorns, or a polite message written in chalk.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.