Don’t wait — there’s no better time than now

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Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

The Daily Texan: It’s hard to get people who are not directly invested in politics to get energized. Do you have any advice on how to get them out there?

Cecile Richards: I was surprised at the Women’s Marches. I know there were a record number of people who marched here in Austin —  the number of brothers, and partners, and dads and grandfathers, even, who marched. So I do think there are a lot of men who are showing up. I think the important thing we should remind men is that we need you not just to march with us and hold signs, but we need you to vote with us. We need you to hold accountable people in office for respecting women’s rights, respecting women’s access to healthcare, in the same way you would on any other issue you care about, because ultimately, that’s what has to change. Obviously, disproportionately, women vote on these issues, and men do not. But I will say that at Planned Parenthood, the fastest population coming to us as new patients are young men, and so I think there is an opportunity to turn young men who are patients into young men who are conscious voters and activists.

DT: So, you’ve been an activist your whole life, basically. Speaking of activism, people are becoming more energized now, especially these past few years. Do you have any advice for young women and young men who are just getting introduced into that sphere?

R: Absolutely. I think there is, for folks who have never been involved in politics, and a lot of young voters — this will be the first election they can vote in — it seems maybe a little mysterious and daunting. I think the most important thing that you can do is just jump in. Whether that is volunteering on a campaign — there’s obviously a ton of campaigns in Texas right now that need your help, they need door-knockers and phone-bankers. I met a young woman in Austin the other day who had never been involved in politics, and she did her own “Beto Days Ahead” fundraiser with some bands she found. The motto right now is “Start before you’re ready.” Don’t wait to be asked, don’t wait for instructions. And if campaigns aren’t your thing, there are organizations like Planned Parenthood, like the ACLU, so many organizations that need supporters. Being an activist, it’s not drudgery, it’s not painful. It’s actually the way you change the world and you meet amazing people along the way. 

DT: A lot of young people are paying attention to what’s going on in Washington now, especially with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Can you speak a little to how you feel like women are being represented there, or how they’re responding to that?

R: I think, first of all, I have to say for the record, that I think Dr. Christine Blasey Ford really went into the lion’s den for a lot of us. I just think there’s not a person I know who saw her who wasn’t moved by the fact that she was brave, she was honest, she told her truth, and she has nothing to gain from this. It was one thing when the Kavanaugh nomination was just his attitude towards women, toward reproductive rights, wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade, all the things that I’m deeply concerned about, but now it has become deeply personal. I’ve seen most women I know reliving their own stories, some of which they’ve told before, many of which have never been told before. So I think the anguish many women are feeling is not just for Dr. Ford and the other women who have been a part of this story, but for the millions of women whose stories have never been acknowledged, maybe never been told, and absolutely have not been respected. For me, it was one thing for our president to disregard women, and he made such disrespectful statements about women during his campaign about being “pigs,” and “dogs,” and all the liberties that he took with women — it’s been another chapter to see Republican male senators disregard this woman, and other women, with so little empathy, and that’s a sad state of affairs.

DT: What would you say to young women and people who feel discouraged?

R: I think we have to just not focus on the past, but focus on the future. And I try to remind everyone, including young women, that millions of women are not going to vote in this election unless someone talks to them. In fact, I was just on a panel with Samantha Bee, and they had done a poll of her viewers, many of whom were probably young women, and half of them were not registered to vote. And so, I just think we make the mistake of thinking there are some other, bigger solutions to our issues. I believe marching is important, knitting your pussy hat is great, showing up to a town hall meeting is great, but voting? That’s the way women can actually begin to get equity in the political space — that’s what’s really important — and we have a really important election coming up in just a few weeks. 

Richards is a women’s rights activist and former president of Planned Parenthood.