Action Is the Antidote to Despair

Canvasser Lorie McLain, 61, leaves a pamphlet in a door while canvassing a neighborhood ahead of the general election in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 5, 2023. (Megan Jelinger / AFP via Getty Images)

This article was originally published in Pat Mitchell’s blog and weekly newsletter.

As Joan Baez, one of my favorite songwriters/performers/activists from my political ‘coming of age’ era, once said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

Tuesday, Nov. 7, is Election Day in the United States, and voting is one action we can all take as U.S. citizens—and a privilege for every person living in a democratic country—to fend off the despair so easily experienced given the wars, the violence and the rollback on rights in so many places today.

In this country, we will be voting tomorrow on future governors, state legislators and judges and various ballot initiatives. Find your polling place.

And looking forward to next November’s election, we’ll be watching closely to see if a recent national poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), publisher of Ms., predicted correctly that voter actions and levels of engagement for this election and November 2024 elections will be driven, in large part, by two main issues: reproductive rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of all voters support a person’s right to make their own reproductive decisions without government interference, including about abortion, contraception and continuing a pregnancy, the poll also found only 17 percent were opposed.

Notably, half of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents said they support an individual’s right to make their own reproductive decisions.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade has lit a fire under voters, and continues to be a powerful turnout issue, especially among younger women, college-educated women, Latinas and voters ages 30-39,” said Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine, at a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C.

One referendum that I’m watching closely as perhaps a harbinger of voter action next November is the proposed state constitutional amendment being voted on tomorrow that would establish the protection of a woman’s right to an abortion in Ohio.

The current law on the books bans abortion after 22 weeks, but a new bill that places further restrictions on abortion procedures—at six weeks with no exceptions for rape and incest—was passed by state legislators and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) in 2019. That bill is on hold and awaiting a decision by the state supreme court, which has a conservative majority.

“If it passes, next week’s ballot measure would obviate that ban, protecting the right to abortion up through fetal viability—or about 24 weeks of pregnancy—as well as medical providers who perform abortions,” according to ABC News.

Polling indicates that the amendment has public support, but anti-abortion advocates, including Gov. DeWine, are doing everything they can think of to turn public opinion against it. Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is a staunch anti-abortion advocate, quietly removed 26,000 Ohio voters from the rolls in late September, departing from the “usual practice of alerting groups before removing registrations from the rolls.” And the state Ballot Board (that LaRose oversees) changed the language of the amendment on the ballot, replacing words like “fetus” with “unborn child.”

In the Ms. poll, voters also overwhelmingly expressed support for the Equal Rights Amendment:

“Seven in 10 voters support the ERA being placed in the Constitution, with a majority (57 percent) strongly supporting the ERA, compared to 12 percent who oppose the ERA.”

“Now that voters, especially women voters, know that rights can be taken away, they want an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that rights cannot be ‘denied or abridged on account of sex,’” said Eleanor Smeal, president of FMF and long-time Equal Rights Amendment leader. …

ERA advocates have laid out a strategy for final recognition of the ERA: 

  • a joint congressional resolution to remove the timeline and recognize the ratification of the ERA: House Joint Resolution 25 was introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Senate Joint Resolution 4 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in the House and Senate, respectively. “Constitutional law scholars carefully crafted this resolution’s language, modeled on the congressional resolution recognizing the 14th Amendment, in order to prevail in any future legal challenges to the ERA,” reported Carrie Baker in Ms.
  • a separate congressional resolution, called the “ERA Now” resolution, instructing the archivist to publish the ERA as the 28th Amendment: Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for the Equal Rights Amendment, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation. (The resolution is meant to work in concert with the one above.)
  • “discharge petition,” which seeks to compel the House of Representatives to vote on H.J. Res. 25 to remove the arbitrary deadline for ratification: Under House rules, if a discharge petition to compel a vote on a particular piece of legislation is signed by 218 members of the House, it must immediately be brought before the full chamber for a vote, regardless of any objections or attempts to block the legislation from being considered. Now that Pressley has filed it, the petition will remain open until it garners the necessary 218 signatures necessary to be called for a vote.
  • a petition drive to show widespread support for the amendment: Public support for the ERA is around 85 percent. (Sign the petition here.)

Thinking about tomorrow’s U.S. elections and the 2024 elections ahead as referendums on reproductive rights and women’s equality is important but not the whole picture of what is at stake of course.

When you add in the threats to democracy, the need to end the wars and sufferings in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and South Sudan, and the urgent need for action to address a global climate crisis, it’s clear that all upcoming elections are critical—not just for women or any one constituency, but for the planet we live on together, hopefully one day soon, more peacefully.

Yes, voting is an antidote to despair and an act of faith in a future that is still, for those with the privilege of a vote that is counted and counts, in our hands.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Pat Mitchell is the editorial director of TEDWomen. Throughout her career as a journalist, Emmy-winning producer and pioneering executive, she has focused on sharing women’s stories. She is chair of the Sundance Institute Board, the chair emerita of the Women’s Media Center board, and a trustee of the VDAY movement, the Skoll Foundation and The Woodruff Arts Center. She is an advisor to Participant Media and served as a congressional appointment to the American Museum of Women’s History Advisory Council.