The Lessons of the Kansas Primary Go Far Beyond Abortion Rights

In 1922, the newspaper editor William Allen White wrote, “When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.” On August 2, voters in Kansas proved him right, going to the polls for the first referendum on abortion since the fall of Roe v. Wade. The state constitutional amendment would have allowed the state legislatures to ban abortion altogether or severely restricted access to it. This was rejected by the voters. The surprise of the nation’s citizens left pollsters in shock.

A few things are notable about the Kansas vote. The first is the polls. reported higher supportThey were wrong to predict that the anti-abortion amendment would pass in the majority-red states. Second, turnout was historically high for a primary, with over 900,000 Kansans voting, rivaling numbers seen only in the state’s general elections. This is because Kansas voters felt energized by the authoritarian and brazen nature of the election. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Third, the voters who rejected the amendment were politically and geographically diverseThis refutes common and incorrectly conceived assumptions about the priorities of ordinary Kansans. Both Democrats and Republicans came out in support for the right to abortion. significant numberIndependents; they voted in big cities like Kansas City, Wichita, as well as in poorer, rural, and traditionally Republican counties. 14 that went for Donald Trump2020. Finally, organizers built a powerful and expansive coalition that was able to reach into nearly every pocket of the state, not limiting the outreach to any one demographic of people and engaging women’s rights activists, doctors, faith leaders, and more.

The Kansas vote is a welcome addition to the reactionary majority that has been smuggled into Supreme Court over the last few decades. It serves as a reminder that there are many people who will stand together against abortion and other issues, despite the media-friendly and superficial narratives we are fed about America’s political divisions. This is particularly true in middle America, according to Sarah Smarsh, Kansan writer. keenly observed. “In a state where registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats, the results reveal that conservative politicians bent on controlling women and pregnant people with draconian abortion bans are out of step with their electorates, a majority of whom are capable of nuance often concealed by our two-party system,” she said. “This is not news to many red-state moderates and progressives, who live with excruciating awareness of the gulf between their decent communities and the far-right extremists gerrymandering, voter-suppressing and dark-moneying their way into state and local office.”

Kansas has much more to offer than just abortion. Just as in majority of AmericansPeople across all parties and regions believe abortion should be legal. They support policies that expand rights and allow access to the essential building blocks of a dignified existence. Recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of women who are able to access abortion. 72 percent of AmericansMore than 70 percent of respondents support raising the minimum wage. 62 percent of Republicans. Kansas is another example. 78 percent of residents support expanding Medicaid despite the state government’s refusal to do so. These and other issues are especially important in a state like California. 34 percent of people are poor or low-incomeThere are hundreds of thousands more who live above the buckling ground that is economic precarity.

When we look at referendums like the one in Kansas, we should see more than just a singular act of defiance — we should recognize the rumblings of a sleeping giantThe possibility of popular opinion being used to influence political action. Over 850,000 Kansas voters were eligible to vote in 2020, with households earning less than $50,000. More than 60 percent of this segment of “poor and low-income voters,” across a range of household sizes, participated in that year’s presidential election. Although the vast majority were white (over 500k), this percentage included Black, Asian and Latinx voters.

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Kansas is a shining example of what can happen when electorates unite around pressing issues that are important to every citizen. This is a lesson for all of us: the type of voting coalitions that can be formed in defense of reproductive rights could also unite people around a transformational vision for the country on everything from climate to housing and labor. In reality, most Americans are hungry for change in an era of rising inflation, deep felt inequality, and looming recession. They are also prepared to fight for it, as long as the stakes are clear and genuine solutions are offered — in other words, as long as there is something to fight for.

This means that we must be willing and able to fight for the support people outside of our comfort zone and the rigid taxonomy our two-party system. We must look past conventional political wisdom and electoral maps and toward a nation that is not so easily divided into “red state” and “blue state,” but instead brimming with states ready to be organized along more expansive lines. Kansas and the organizers who went deep into their state to create a diverse voter bloc strong enough for a disciplined Christian nationalist movement to be defeated, have a lot to teach us. This is what shocked the nation.