The 2016 election spurred a new wave of feminist activism with the rise of #MeToo, Time’s Up, the Women’s March and an unprecedented number of women running for public office. The policies of the Trump administration — as well as the recent Kavanaugh hearings — have further fueled this activism, and some hope that this energy translates into higher voter turnout among women in the November midterm elections.
In a sit down conversation with Urban Policy Professor Mitchell Moss on Tuesday evening, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards talked about her engagement with such political activism.
Richards served as President of Planned Parenthood and its Action Fund from 2006 to 2018. Before that, Richards worked as a labor organizer and was the deputy chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Currently, Richards spends her time as a speaker and advocate for women’s rights, reproductive rights, sex education and progressive politics.
Richards said she felt optimistic about the current state of women’s activism and hoped that it could lead to significant changes in politics.
“I think that this is something that is not going to be a momentary blip,” Richards said. “Women’s expectations have changed. My goal is to make sure that this isn’t temporary, and that this includes not just change in the workplace, not just change in culture, but a change in politics.”
Despite her long tenure at Planned Parenthood, Richards felt it was important to leave in order to focus on activism after the 2016 election.
“[The 2016 election] is partly why I decided to leave Planned Parenthood,” Richards said. “I wanted to figure out what we were doing wrong. I was just looking at a poll in Texas, and it said that a majority of women preferred to vote for Ted Cruz in the upcoming election. There is something going on with women that we need to break through with. I’m not sure we’re doing a good job with that. We’ve always thought that they are voting against their self-interests, but we really need to change our language because we don’t know what people’s self-interests really are.”
Anita Mathews, who works at the Women’s Club of New York, a nonprofit organization that advocates for economic, gender and racial equality, saw Richards as an inspiring figure for women.
“I thought she had an incredibly inspiring perspective on her goals for Planned Parenthood and the country and politics,” Mathews said. “It was really interesting to hear from someone who actually has been in the trenches of this.”
Kathryn Gonzalez, a 2016 alumna of Wagner, admired Richards’ ability to relate to all people.
“She’s not speaking to the upper echelon of folks; it’s like people on the ground,” Gonzalez said. “I love that she has compassion, empathy and a genuine interest for our experiences, especially in this fraught time that we’re in.”
Despite feeling uncertain about the future, Richards believes that, regardless of the outcomes in the upcoming midterm election, the best thing everyone can do is to get involved in political activism.
“I think that for people who are particularly privileged, like those who get to choose what they do for a living or in their spare time, there has never been a better time to be an activist,” Richards said. “Just get going. Don’t think there’s a perfect solution. Anything that you do is probably better than just sitting [at] home yelling at your television.”
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