Planned Parenthood leader: Women are America’s unstoppable force

Women Who March The Movement
Women Who March: The Movement
01:34 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Cecile Richards is president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

One year ago, I took a flight from Miami to Washington, hoping to arrive in time for the Women’s March the next morning. Our flight attendant leaned over to me and asked, “Do you think it’s going to make any difference, this march?” She wore a pin commemorating her 20 years of airline service, and I could hear the skepticism in her voice. I understood her uncertainty – was the anger and passion shared by so many women across America in the wake of the 2016 presidential election enough to inspire real change?

The truth was, I had no idea.

Cecile Richards

As we found out, no one could have predicted the magnitude of the next day. Marches erupted across the country and on every continent. Several reports said it was likely the largest demonstration on record in the United States, dwarfing the inaugural crowd the day before. By some estimates as many as 4 million people just felt they had to march. So they picked up their signs, left home and spoke with their feet.

So many people remember where they were that day. In Washington, marchers packed the National Mall for as far as the eye could see. And it wasn’t just women, either. Folks from every walk of life came out to say, “This is my issue, too.” A young man carried one of my favorite posters: “I’m proud to be marching with the future president of the US – I don’t know who she is, but I know she is here!”

Beyond Washington, thousands of people held up signs in Salt Lake City, record-breaking crowds gathered in Texas, and Alaskans of all ages weathered subzero temperatures in Fairbanks to show their support. The best part is that these marches were just the beginning.

In the 12 months since January 21, 2017, women have been organizing and agitating like never before. The “pussy hat” has become an international symbol of the resistance. Homegrown women’s groups are popping up everywhere, from Phoenix to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Tried and true political organizations such as Emily’s List have seen record numbers of women expressing interest in running for office – more than 26,000 since the 2016 election, according to Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock. And women have been a driving force behind scrappy startups such as Swing Left and Run for Something, which are changing the electoral landscape by bringing in new candidates with fresh perspectives.

Fueled by the energy of that day – and this administration’s unrelenting assault on the rights of just about anyone not deemed white or male or straight enough – women are feeling their power in ways unimaginable the day before the marches.

The first test came when President Donald Trump and Congress pledged to repeal Obamacare and “defund” Planned Parenthood. House Speaker Paul Ryan promised it would happen by early February, just days after Trump would take office. Any other year, with Republicans controlling both chambers and the executive branch, that might have happened. But women and young people led the revolt, knowing that Trumpcare would take aim at maternity benefits, family planning and affordable health care.

Women in pink hats and T-shirts flooded town hall meetings, demanding answers. Members of Congress couldn’t handle the heat and started avoiding their own constituents. An avalanche of angry callers bore down on the congressional switchboard. An analysis by Democratic pollsters Lake Research Partners examined the usage of the popular app Daily Action, which directly connects people to their representatives, and showed that 86% of calls made to lawmakers in the months immediately after the march were coming from – you guessed it – women.

The idea of “defunding” Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare was so unpopular that, just before the legislation came to a vote, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that only 12% of Americans supported Trumpcare.

Twelve months after this fight began, not only are Planned Parenthood’s doors still open across the country, but millions in America have kept their coverage. It’s no coincidence that two Republican women, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, held strong with the entire Democratic Senate caucus (and were then joined by Sen. John McCain) to stop the legislation that would have ended affordable health care for so many.

Women aren’t only affecting policy; they are determining election outcomes. In the two most closely watched races since the 2016 election, women of color turned out and made history. The Democratic sweep in Virginia and the election of Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama – after a race in which his opponent was accused of sexually abusing young women (allegations he denied) – defied what many believed was possible a year ago.

Democrats flipped 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Eleven of those races were won by women, including the first openly transgender state legislator, the first Vietnamese-American legislator, and the first two Latinas to serve in the House of Delegates.

More broadly, women are shaking the foundations of our culture. Since day one of this administration, women have been persisting, reclaiming our time and saying once and for all that #TimesUp. The radical power of the #MeToo movement has demonstrated that we are done accepting the status quo. It’s time. An America where everyone has an equal shot at success means our country is more likely to live up to its promise.

A year after the Women’s March, I wish I could find my flight attendant friend and ask her what she thinks. I hope she’s seen for herself the power of women standing up and taking charge. I hope she exercises her own power to vote. And I hope she knows that when she does, she won’t be alone.

Today, women are the most potent political force in this country. The Women’s March sparked a movement, and an unstoppable one at that. We’re changing everything: our policies, our culture and our media – and come November, we’re going to change our representatives in office.