This Saturday, Cecile Richards—president of Planned Parenthood, daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, prominent feminist and activist—will appear at Market Block Books in Troy to sign copies of her memoir “Make Trouble Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.”
The Alt spoke to Richards about her book, her advocacy, getting women involved in politics and the abuse scandal that recently felled New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
David Howard King: As I’m sure you know, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stepped down this week after revelations that he abused a number of women, and we are in the midst of political jockeying over his replacement. The N.Y. state legislature is also home to a prominent culture of sexual harassment and no one appears to be in a hurry to address it. I know this is not exactly your political backyard, but do you have thoughts on how people who are outraged by this situation could be effective, make a difference, or just be heard?
Cecile Richards: I think it’s not on women to change the culture. I think, frankly, it is on men to look up and recognize that until half the elected officials are women, we are not going to be able to change things. It’s not because women are better, it’s because we see things differently, we experience them differently. I welcome the day when men are as concerned about the political participation of women as women are. This is a problem across the country and it is not going to change just because one party takes over Congress.
DK: As the leader of Planned Parenthood, you must be used to being in the target of right-wing organizations. We’re now seeing more young people get involved in activism. Do you have advice for folks who are joining the fight during such a turbulent time?
CR: The reason I wrote this book is that so many people were asking me what they could do. Over the past 16 months I’ve experienced an outpouring of interest from people looking to get involved, whether it’s through traditional organizations like Planned Parenthood or others. Yes, it’s a scary time and place but we can’t be telling people to go to ground and hide. They need to come out and they have been, like never before, and it is so inspiring. To see folks in NY texting each other about actions happening at the airport, or even getting together at these big marches, people are looking for ways to get involved even if they aren’t sure what the outcome will be.
DK: This represents a very dark time in our country for many people and they seem to be looking for heroes. What’s it like to find yourself serving that function?
CR: I wouldn’t call myself a hero. Folks are looking for a platform and people with the ability to break through do have to do just that and they may find themselves in the crosshairs of this administration but it is even more important to have those platforms to do it. It is absolutely a privilege that I can speak up for folks who can’t. Who this isn’t possible for. We need to be there in solidarity with them.
DK: What’s it been like to commune with these people who are inspired by you on this book tour?
CR: It is really animating for the spirit. I am fully aware they are not thanking me, they are thanking the organization that I had the privilege to be a part of.
DK: What are you plans after this book tour? Do you have a strategy to capitalize on this energy?
CR: I’ve been spending time along the tour talking to women across the country. We have to leverage this moment. I believe that women are the most important political force in the country. We have to make sure they are engaged and registered to vote in November. We have to make them feel connected and engaged. I’m not sure what formation it is going to take but I am 100 percent committed to channeling this energy.
DK: You said you aren’t a hero but I’ve spoken to a number of women who are directly inspired by your leadership and volunteered with you at a number of Planned Parenthood events. What’s it like to know you’ve had that kind of impact?
CR: People are more and more looking for ways to be connected, to work together for change. Women are looking for ways to connect to other women. If they are looking for a place to start Planned Parenthood is a great place. It was my family, it was my day, night and weekend job for years and I’m proud of it.
DK: You grew up with an outspoken, larger-than-life mother. How did that impact you?
CR: There is no way to overstate the influence my mom had on me. But she wasn’t always larger than life and outspoken. She really was a Medea housewife before she became a feminist icon. But you don’t need to be raised by a woman who was larger-than-life to be involved. There is no magical thing you learn. However, one of the most important lessons she taught me was the importance of standing with other women. The #TimesUp movement is about recognizing this massive sisterhood and its made me feel braver than I’ve ever felt before. Whether you are calling out sexual harassment or running for office nothing has brought me more joy than the success of other women.
Cecile Richards will appear at Market Block Books on Saturday in Troy at 3:30 PM to sign copies of her memoir “Make Trouble: Standing up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.”