Don’t Abandon People in Red States
Let’s build an Overground Railroad instead

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 26 June 2022

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I overhead a couple of high school students this morning talking about their college options.

“I don’t think I’m going to apply to Grinnel, anymore,” one said.

“Or Rice,” the other chimed in. “Screw them.”

They were looking at the map of US states that are either implementing or likely to implement bans on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade. The kids were eliminating schools within imperiled states from their lists of college application candidates.

Other folks I know are looking into moving from red states to blue states, or out of the United States altogether. As one writer friend put it, “I was thinking to go to Canada when Trump won, but didn’t want to lose hope. Now, I can’t see raising my daughter here.”

I get it. It feels like America is moving backwards. Where we used to lead the world in granting human rights, we are now the sole outlier among developed nations denying a national right to an abortion. Let’s not even get into our unique and ever-worsening denial of national healthcare, or our inability to deny weapons to those who shouldn’t be carrying them.

But I’m not so sure retreat is the answer — especially for those of us who have the privilege of doing so. I got an opportunity to move to Canada the very week that Donald Trump was elected President; I turned it town because it felt unethical to have enjoyed everything America offered only to bail when things got rough.

I can see the logic in “boycotting” schools or refusing to take jobs in states banning abortion. It could put a certain pressure on legislatures not to succumb to theocratic rule by demonstrating that conducting business in the modern world depends on remaining not more than 100 years behind global human rights standards. Plus, I can see why a young people in particular may not want to spend their first years of independence without full access to reproductive healthcare.

Still, most college kids will retain access to abortion pills, or be able to travel home or elsewhere to get care. There are better options than retreat for those of us concerned about the impact of abortion bans on people in red states who can’t afford to pay for illegal care (just watch the rates of “D& C” procedures for removal of “abnormal tissue” increase for the wealthy over the coming years).

I imagine many colleges will become central organizing hubs for political action and practical assistance as their host states ban reproductive healthcare. If I were a socially motivated person looking at colleges today, I like to think I’d choose not to retreat but to advance. What better opportunity to do something constructive in the current environment than to organize transportation for women who need procedures in legal states, education about what zygotes are, or constructive conversations between those with opposing views?

It may not be instinctual to run into a burning building to save the people inside, but we’re not there yet, and there are many of us still in a position to assist others at virtually no risk to ourselves. I’m not talking about an Underground Railroad, here, but an overground, public, demonstration of political support and practical aid.

In short, if you have the option of alternatives, then you also have the means to offer them to those who don’t.