John Krull: The dog that caught the car

The signs bob up and down above the heads of the passersby on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The protesters’ shouts and chants carry over the sounds of the traffic.

A group opposed to the leaked US Supreme Court draft ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade has gathered outside Rockefeller Center.

Their handmade placards are on lime green poster board. The handwritten messages are in both English and Spanish and proclaim a woman’s right to decide how her body should be used.

I stop and watch the rally for a time.

Most people glance at the protesters, then go on about their days. Some people pause to chat. Most offer words of support and affirmation.

One man, though, stops to yell obscenities at the rally-goers. The protesters respond by chanting louder. Security personnel — presumably from the Rockefeller Center — step forward to intervene, if necessary, then relax again when the man begins walking past.

At first, I think it’s odd to see such a protest here. Rockefeller Center is in the heart of comfort and privilege, the beating center of one of the bluest of America’s blue states. The leaders of both New York City and New York state have indicated that both metropolis and hinterlands in the Empire State will be a haven for women who need and seek access to abortions.

But, as I listen to the protesters, I realize there is little calculation in their outcry. They are here to give voice to their outrage.

“I thought we were done with this,” one matronly woman says to the younger woman standing next to her.

“I know,” the younger woman says, wearily, and then begins chanting again.

Both hold signs that read: STOP THE WAR ON WOMEN!

This protest, I know from the news reports popping constantly on my phone, is but one of hundreds, maybe thousands, taking place across the country. The anger regarding the likely overturn of Roe has prompted people in almost every city and many smaller towns in America to take to the streets.

Groups even showed up outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to chant and shout. Republicans in Congress reacted by condemning the protests outside the justices’ private residences.

I happen to think protesting at any public official’s home is a bad idea and bad manners. But members of the political party that has spent more than a year trying to either justify or condone the Jan. 6 insurrection and assault on the Capitol lost the right to complain about supposed breaches of decorum when they decided threatening to kill a vice president while smearing feces on the walls of the temple of self-government somehow was acceptable.

I watch the people protesting here on this bustling street in what is still the financial and cultural capital of the nation. There is nothing spurious about their passion. Their anger is the genuine article.

And I think of all the streets in all the cities and towns in all the states across the land where similar demonstrations take place.

I wonder if the conservatives who have spent a half-century maneuvering and manipulating to get to this point really have thought this through — or whether they are, in fact, the dog that finally caught the car and doesn’t know what to do with it.

Until the draft ruling leaked, this election cycle was likely to be an unalloyed triumph for Republican candidates. GOP voters were energized and upset, and Democrats were defensive, dispirited and divided by deep divisions in their party.

If Democrats had nothing to do but discuss an economy plagued by inflation and a political system paralyzed by gridlock, they were looking at a shellacking in the fall.

But this draft decision has given them something other than inflation to talk about and pulled wavering members back into the fold. They, too, now seem energized and upset.

I look at this gathering of protesters. I don’t see any desire to quit written on their faces.

I walk away, heading north on Fifth. A block up the street, I still can hear their chants.