EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was produced as part of The Puffin Nation Fund Fall Fellows Program.
As a powerful storm rolled across the Cincinnati hills, the Langsam Library at the University of Cincinnati was eerily silent. The library served as one of many polling locations across the city for Ohio’s midterm primary elections. Only a day before, Politico released a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade, suggesting it will be overturned this summer. The polling place—located in a glass-lined conference room on the library’s first floor—was vacant, aside from the workers who were trading anecdotes and discussing summer vacation plans. One, who was hunched across a desk and had his baseball cap pulled down, had fallen asleep. Although the poll workers declined to be interviewed, they directed me to a piece of paper taped to the door: “No voters have checked into this precinct.”
As I wandered around the mostly empty halls, I spoke to the smattering of students gathered there and asked if they were planning to vote. A woman named Jeya Kannan said she’d “completely forgotten” about the primary. She believed that apathy toward electoral politics was a common feeling among her generation right now. “A lot of people feel that their votes don’t matter,” she said, and later told me that democracy was “going out of style.” Jack Romey, a UC senior majoring in Business administration, made reference to the Politico leak and opined that young people would “think about it if and when they go to the polls.” Others were completely unaware of the leak and uninterested in casting a vote. “I have no idea what it’s for, or about,” said Hailey Mason, when asked if they were casting a ballot today. When I returned to the polling station later that day, the paper on the door had changed. Three people had now voted.
On Cincinnati’s Main Street downtown, things were more lively. A protest had formed in opposition to the leaked opinion, one of hundreds occurring in cities across the United States, organized by local groups Cincy Socialists, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Democratic Socialists of America. Waving placards that read “abortion is healthcare” and “legalize abortion once and for all,” the protesters said they felt the United States has reached a crisis point because of the Supreme Court’s prospective ruling. “This might be that tipping point,” said Carrie, who preferred not to disclose her last name, wearing an “I Voted” T-shirt after returning from a polling station only moments ago. She was “pissed off.”
Although she had voted, Carrie, when asked if electoral activism mattered, said it was “becoming less and less so,” with community organizing gaining more importance. “I don’t think a two-party system is going to save us,” said Genevieve Culbertson, a member of Cincinnati Socialists. “I don’t have faith in electoralism in the frame of a capitalist economic system.” Even less trust was given to the Biden administration, and the Democratic Party as a whole.
A day after the leak, Biden released a statement saying he believed “that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental” and suggested that saving Roe was critical for “basic fairness and the stability of our law.” But nowhere did he mention eliminating the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court to achieve that goal. Genevieve called Biden’s statement “lukewarm” and said it helped show “the weakness of the Democratic Party.” Paul Vine, a member of Cincy Socialists, “wanted to believe” the Democrats’ promises that they would codify Roe, but on the topic of abortion rights, Paul felt they had “done nothing” his entire life.
On electoralism, both Paul and his partner agreed it could only go so far. As the night went on and election results from the state rolled in, their pessimism appeared to be vindicated. Nina Turner lost another campaign for the 11th district to Shontel Brown, who was endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC and President Biden himself. Democratic Party grandee Tim Ryan trounced progressive challenger Morgan Harper with 69.7 percent of the vote. In the Republican races, the Trump-endorsed candidates all won. That included J.D Vance, the Peter Thiel acolyte who said the 2020 election was rigged and that Trump should “fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state” and “replace them with our people” if he were to win in 2024.
Fear—of the inhospitable future being created by the far right and the liberal political class’s inability to substantively address it—was the one thing that connected everyone gathered on Main Street that night. “Gay marriage is under attack,” said Kaylee Silva, attending the rally with her two children by her side. Justice Samuel Alito, in his draft opinion, said the “inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions,” leading some to believe that more recent rulings—like Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage—may be next on the chopping block. Joelle Reed was not a member of any socialist groups around Cincinnati, but attended the protest because of her outrage at the Supreme Court. “We can’t keep living like this,” she said. Asked where she imagined the United States would be in a 10 years, Reed responded darkly, “I don’t see it in a decade.” Yet she still insisted on making her voice heard, despite believing the country as we know it is destined to implode.
Erica Henry, a member of women’s rights group United We Stand, said that her experience getting an abortion at 19 had made her a strong advocate for abortion access. “I don’t know what the future holds,” Henry admitted, “or if we can stay in this state.” But whenever she considered giving up, Henry thought of her children. “I’ll fight for them until I don’t have any breath in my body.”