Why Cecile Richards’ New Organization Will Mobilize 2 Million Women in Political Activism

With their newly launched organization, Supermajority, Cecile Richards, Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter, and Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance are on a mission to train 2 million women in political activism. Richards told me that Supermajority was born out of a real concern “that women are treated as if we’re somehow a special interest rather than what we are—which is the majority” and that it will serve to put women’s interests “front and center” in 2020. Read our full conversation below.

Katie Couric: Women are doing so much work advocating for women, but we’re not always doing it together…how is Supermajority your response to that reality?

Cecile Richards: This came out of the work I had done for years at Planned Parenthood. My friend Ai-jen Poo, who worked with domestic workers across the country…and Alicia Garza, who has been working with black women for many, many years—we realized that we were all doing this work, but not necessarily together.

So we spent the last year on the road listening to women about what they wanted, needed, the issues they cared about…I’d say the most overwhelming sentiment was that women weren’t burned out, even though they had been leading the resistance on everything from family separation to getting better public school funding…They actually were on fire, and they really wanted to do more. I think the most consistent question I get asked everywhere is: ‘now what can I do?’

I also think a real, fundamental concern is that women are treated as if we’re somehow a special interest rather than what we are—which is the majority of people in this country. And I think that’s especially true now as we’re facing this really important presidential election…It’s time that we have a New Deal for women if you will, that we have an opportunity to ensure that in these next few months leading into 2020, women’s issues aren’t…sidelined, but actually are front and center to anyone who is running for office.

And this is a non-partisan organization?

It is. Absolutely.

Are you afraid that people will see this as a progressive organization that isn’t inclusive of conservative women because of your background in Planned Parenthood?

Any woman is welcome to join Supermajority, but we absolutely have a point of view, and that is that we believe in women’s equality. I think that is a majoritarian point of view, and [it] means women’s equality in terms of access to health care, being able to make their own health care decisions, being able to access the economy, and being able to work in a world where sexual harassment and sexual assault are no longer tolerated. So anyone is welcome, but we absolutely believe that women’s equality is our fundamental organizing principle—and, as we know, women are not a monolith.

Obviously, women are an incredibly important voting bloc…how do you hope to galvanize them in advance of the 2020 election, especially given that more white women voted for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton?

It’s kind of interesting, Katie. As you know, in 2018, women were 54% of the voters, and we now have the most diverse Congress ever—a record number of both women and women of color serving, so many firsts. And I think that women began to see that when we actually pay attention, vote, participate—we can actually change the direction of the country, and we can influence politics and policy.

A lot of women actually had never done anything before 2016, and civic participation doesn’t come naturally to them—sometimes it’s a little intimidating to them—and so the goal of Supermajority is to ensure that women can get the tools they need, get a constant source of information on the issues that they care about, [and] link up with other women both online and offline. And I believe, if we do that, women will understand their collective power. Our goal in these first twelve months is to enlist 2 million women in this country. If we can do that, they can have an enormous influence on making sure that women vote, and that when they do vote that they’re informed and…can also become stronger advocates in their communities.

We’re just getting started, but I believe there’s nothing but opportunity out there. Women really are waking up and realizing that they can be enormously influential in their own lives and in what happens in America.

Some people feel that the white male candidates have been getting the lion’s share of press. I’m just curious if you feel like there’s a disproportionate amount of attention being paid to Bernie, Beto, Biden, and now Buttigieg?

 I think the most recent estimate is that two-thirds of political reporters are still men, so it’s been discouraging—but perhaps not surprising—that women candidates are not covered as often and that they have to work twice as hard to get half as much coverage. Fortunately, I think that the women running for president in particular have a history of winning elections, and they’re used to dealing at a disadvantage. I think it’s early days still, but I personally am really excited that there are so many women running and that they’re so different. They come from very different backgrounds, walks of life, and perspectives, and that is really healthy for our democracy.

At the same time, I read something that said two-thirds of women don’t think that the United States is ready to elect a female president…

I think it’s early. I think it’s important that this process plays itself out. I think there will be women on the debate stage that a lot of people have never been able to see before. I also think…women are desperately concerned about what’s happening in America. In some ways, I think the panic about this administration is causing some of that. But again, it’s very early on in this election. I think the women candidates are compelling. I think they have a lot to say, and I think that when people get to see them up on stage talking about the issues that they’re ready to fight for if they’re elected president…they will impress the American people, but we’ll see. And that’s one of the reasons we need Supermajority: we need women to feel like they actually can be powerful, that they can be successful, that they can run for office and win, and that they can support other women.

This interview has been edited and condensed.