As she left her post as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Cecile Richards authored a book with Madison native Lauren Peterson called "Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead." Richards describes the book as "part memoir, part call to action," and she and Peterson will discuss it Saturday evening at the Madison Public Library's central location.
Both Richards and Peterson spoke with the Cap Times ahead of their visit.
Q&A with Cecile Richards
You wrote this book after Donald Trump was elected president, and it offered some answers for people on the left who were asking "What now?" Has that question gotten even louder since the book came out?
It seems like somehow the universe is all colliding in this kind of perfect way —when I first wrote the book it was because so many women, just folks were coming up to me and saying, "What should I be doing?" It seemed rather than just try to talk to every individual in America I would put it in a book. It’s part memoir, it’s part call to action. So now going on book tour has been ... so inspiring to meet people, to hear their own stories, to have them say "This is what I needed, I just needed to know that people could make a difference," that there is something they can do.
Is that maybe, for you, a silver lining to the 2016 election?
I've been an organizer my whole life. I’ve never seen this kind of outpouring, this kind of energy, folks saying "I need to participate more, I need to vote."
I don’t know if I would say anything would be a silver lining, but I do think one of the most important pieces of what’s happened over this last year-and-a-half is clearly that people in this country do not agree with the direction this government is trying to take us. It started with the women’s marches the day after the inauguration. That to me is saying that women are not only not going back, but we want to keep moving forward, and do so together, along with our brothers and sons and husbands and partners. It isn’t just about women, it’s about this entire country.
Your book is called "Make Trouble." What is making trouble about for you?
I’m trying to kind of make light a little bit — you really can’t make a difference in the world unless you make trouble — like our friend, Congressman John Lewis would say, "make good trouble."
I also realize making trouble is a privilege … a lot of people in this country don’t have (the opportunities I've had). So to me a little bit of this is, it is a little bit of a call to action particularly for people who can do more, to say to folks that making trouble, making social change, it’s not jut an obligation, it’s actually something that can bring enormous joy to your life. You meet amazing people along the way. It does feel better than sitting at home and wringing your hands or throwing things at the television. Being part of this is the best antidote.
How has making trouble changed for you, throughout your life?
Everywhere I’ve gone, in every job I've had, I've looked for someone who could teach me something new. I’ve had the real honor of working for a lot of troublemaking women and being raised by one of them. A constant theme was women who were challenging convention, from my mother who became the first woman governor elected in her own right in Texas and challenged all conventional wisdom about women’s proper roles, to working for Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. I’ve always sought out those opportunities, and learned so much from women who were disproving any notions that women couldn’t do anything that a man could do.
I think now the exciting thing is to see women everywhere not waiting their turn, not waiting to be asked or waiting until they have the perfect resume or the perfect qualifications. They're starting before they’re ready. That’s the whole energy everywhere. We’re seeing that in Wisconsin, there's a woman running for state Senate in Wisconsin, Lori, who I met last year as a Planned Parenthood patient. When I go around the country and women ask me what they should be doing, I say be more like Lori Hawkins. Someone needed to do it, and why not her?
You talk in the book about your decision to take the job at Planned Parenthood. How did you know this was the right time to step away?
You never know if it’s the right time, but I never thought I would be there more than 10 years, and of course I stayed 12. I felt like the organization was as strong as it’s ever been. We have more supporters, this enormous wave of activists … it seemed like if there were ever a good time to step aside and make room for someone else, this was it. I felt like I could do it and feel good about letting someone else have this big opportunity.
What's next for you?
I’m just relentlessly focused on increasing women’s civic participation, voting and political power in America. It’s not that women want more than men, they just want equity, and it’s really time for that. I think a lot of the issues that women care about, mothers who care about affordable child care, access to heath care, equal pay, these are issues just frankly not being talked about.
What changes when more women are in office?
I spent a lot of time working in Congress trying to get things done, and frankly the one group that could get more done than anyone else was women. I think it just changes the conversation. And to be blunt, most women run for office because they want to get something done, not because they want to be called congresswoman. And once they get in office, they get busy.
You'll be campaigning for Sen. Tammy Baldwin when you're here.
Tammy has been an amazing senator and not only because she's a woman, but that certainly hasn’t hurt. I just think she represents the kind of, to me, really nonpartisan, really focused on making progress for her state and she’s just such a refreshing member of the United States Senate. I think she represents the state well. She’s a voice for women all across the country. I’ve really admired her forever.
Would you ever consider running for office yourself?
It’s not in my plans right now, but it’s not like I would never consider it. I just think right now there’s so much good work to be done to actually support the women who are running. Never say never, but I always have found I've been able to make a difference by lifting up others, and I’m honored to do that.
Your co-author, Lauren Peterson, told me you go out of your way to help other women succeed. Why is that important to you?
I learned that from my mother early on. There’s really nothing that gave her more joy than seeing other women succeed. I think that's a big theme, what we’re seeing now across the country is women coming out in solidarity with women — whether it’s telling their own stories, standing up and saying, "me too." I think women are beginning to feel their power in a different way and realizing that a lot of their power is in solidarity with other women.
That’s what the whole Me Too/Time's Up movement has been about: we should listen to women, we should trust women, we should support women.
Q&A with Lauren Peterson
Peterson, a 2005 graduate of Madison West High School, dreamed of reporting for Wisconsin Public Radio as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But after realizing she was too passionate about politics to report objectively, she applied for an audio production job with Barack Obama's presidential re-election campaign. When the campaign and the job came to an end, someone asked what she'd like to do next.
She said she'd like to write for someone like Cecile Richards, and it happened Richards was hiring. She traveled with Richards for three years, writing her speeches until taking a job on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. After Clinton's loss, she went straight to the Planned Parenthood headquarters and told Richards to put her to work. The two started traveling again, and realized everywhere they went, people asked what they should do to make an impact — and they decided to offer some answers in the form of a book.
What's it like to write for someone else?
Writing for anyone else is a little bit daunting. It’s kind of presumptuous to think that you can anticipate what they’re going to want to say at any given moment, especially when you’re writing for such amazing women.
Cecile has always been someone who really believes in lifting up other women, especially young women, and giving them the chance, and that’s what she did for me. I feel really indebted to her in some ways for giving me my first job as a speechwriter, for writing this book with me, for letting me follow her around for the last five years.
As high profile as she is, she could've used a ghostwriter, but your name is very prominent on the cover.
That’s her style. That was not something I had to fight for or really go to bat over. That was just, for Cecile, taken as a given from the beginning of the process, that we were doing this together. She would make sure that I got the recognition for my work.
That is just her leadership style, really, and she’s also someone I think who knows that the future of the women’s movement, the future of the fight for reproductive rights, the future of politics for this country is younger women — which I was when I started working with her, but now we go to these events and I hear, "What can a seventh-grader do to make a difference?"
What's next for you?
For me, I am going to continue to take every chance I can get to write for and work with women leaders who are, in lieu of the kind of direction I’d like to see from people in the administration and in Congress, really providing a vision for our country that speaks to what it can and should be. I'm also working on a couple other projects. I just started working on a young adult novel about the coming of age of a high school student who works on a presidential campaign headquartered in Wisconsin.
We’re really looking forward to being back in Wisconsin where my family lives — I’m getting married in Madison in October. I'm also looking forward to campaigning for Tammy Baldwin. She’s someone who has meant so much to me — when I was first coming out, she was the one example of an openly LGBT politician, and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for being out front on issues of discrimination and women’s health. We’re really eager to hit the trail for her.