America after Roe: Is the West Coast ascendant as we wonder about the United in the U.S.A. this July Fourth?

Scenes from Friday's rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse
Scenes from Friday’s rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The “West Coast offense” pact among the governors of California, Oregon and Washington offers up an immediate and meaningful sense of unity, Wallace Baine writes, and with red states engaged in an enormous and ultimately self-destructive act of “get off my property” purification, he’d much rather wave the flag of that new alliance than the Stars and Stripes.

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Wallace

I don’t live in the “United States of America” anymore. And neither do you.

With last week’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade, we lost something else in the process — that word “United.”

Welcome to the “States of America,” the good ole S-of-A.

It’s time to reprint all those passports, recode all those drop-down menus, make the change on the currency. I’m sure we have plenty of time to redesign new uniforms for our Olympic athletes.

When millions of Americans can lose a fundamental and deeply intimate right — a right that had been established and upheld for half a century — to make decisions about their own health and their own bodies by the edict of a handful of unelected high priests representing a distinctly minority point of view and put in place by gaming an obsolete system, that word “United” just can’t handle that kind of cognitive dissonance anymore. It’s going to seize up like an engine that’s run out of oil.

Unity requires a few things — compromise, tolerance, concession, common purpose. It’s not merely about putting up with the other guy’s annoyances for the sake of social harmony. It’s believing in the nobility of the unspoken contract, that I’ll live my life how I see fit and respect your right to do the same. Suddenly, such a notion — the very essence of what America means for so many for generations — seems antique and out of fashion.

On the day Roe was overturned, I noticed one small gesture of unity. Because it came from politicians, the cynic in me dismissed it as theatrical nonsense, phony statesmanship that panders to our shared pain and outrage. But the cynic in me is often just a big baby. Today, at least, I’m telling the cynic to shut up.

The sitting governors of the three West Coast states — Gavin Newsom of California, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington — issued a joint statement announcing a new alliance among their states to build what they call a “West Coast offense” to protect abortion rights. (Of course, we’ll see how long that alliance lasts once Seahawks-mad football fans in Washington realize that “West Coast offense” is a reference to the 49ers.)

This announcement is remarkable exactly because it is seeking out new expressions of unity at a moment when the old unity appears to have broken. Like millions of Californians, I have, for decades now, looked back over my shoulder at what’s happening in other states, mystified, dumbfounded, and occasionally shocked. I listen to clips of some governors — Greg Abbott of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kay Ivey of Alabama — and I labor to find some kind of thread of commonality to hang onto. And I’m left with nothing but a big old knot of WTF. To be fair, millions of Red State Americans probably have the exact same experience looking our way, especially when they listen to Newsom, who hits some distinctly Clintonian notes to Republicans.

Either way, we are now looking at each other as aliens. And no matter how disgusted you might be at the other side, there is genuine grief in that loss. “United States of America” might not be a fact anymore, but it remains an unconscious desire.

A crowd gathers outside the county courthouse in Santa Cruz on Friday afternoon to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The “West Coast offense” announcement is potentially more than just a gesture of goodwill and a hug of solace. It’s a commitment to establish reproductive-rights protections beyond what citizens of those states already have, to fight out-of-state prosecutions or law-enforcement efforts of those who seek abortions in California, Oregon or Washington, and to “refuse non-fugitive extradition of individuals for criminal prosecution” relating to abortion.

Soon, the Santa Cruz area’s Planned Parenthood’s offices will see 250 to 500 more patients per week, out-of-state...

Wow. It’s a chilling forecast of the kind of “Handmaid’s Tale” future we’re all looking at today. Students of American history will note the parallels of how the Northern states reacted to the Fugitive Slave Act in the 1850s. And we all know where that led.

Essentially, this new alliance is a kind of “give me your huddled masses” call to women in other parts of the country, and that message is going to have real consequences with real costs to and stresses on the West Coast states. What that might look like a year from now is anyone’s guess: massive abortion centers in large West Coast cities? Vigilante groups in red-leaning interior counties guarding their borders? A new “underground railroad” system helping women get to the West Coast?

Whatever weirdness and horrors await, in this moment, this West Coast alliance is still the right thing to do.

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Because of the timing of the Supreme Court decision, we are all in for an awkward Fourth of July holiday. The right wing’s efforts to fundamentally stamp anti-abortion politics with the Stars and Stripes will likely move forward stronger than ever, as will the left’s ambivalence about waving the flag in the first place. That’s a tragedy on both ends of that equation.

In the ruins of our beleaguered nation’s traditional sense of unity, this new “West Coast offense” offers up a more immediate and meaningful sense of unity. The sentimentalist in me — who is often as big a baby as the cynic in me — was moved by the announcement of the three states acting as one in the face of this specific threat.

The Red States are engaged in an enormous and ultimately self-destructive act of “get off my property” purification — that’s what’s behind the extremism on the red-meat issues of guns, immigration and abortion, a relentless urge to expel sinners and strangers, an ongoing theme throughout American history. In this case, it’s the kind of political impulse that’s going to create refugees. And it’s a clear act of courage to create a haven for those refugees.

The states of the West Coast don’t yet have a common flag. And that’s a shame, because that’s the flag I feel like waving today, and maybe every June 24 going forward. I bet millions of other Californians, Oregonians and Washingtonians feel the same.

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