In Conversation with Cecile Richards
Interview by Erin Dixon
Photography by Marc Pilaro
In early 2012, the United States Congress convened a commission to review women's healthcare and access to contraception. The panel consisted exclusively of men. Then, Rush Limbaugh elevated the bad behavior with the shocking-if-in-character public proclamation that women who considered birth control basic healthcare were sluts and prostitutes. What seems an archaic throwback to a Mad Men era of whiskey-swilling boys’ clubs and metaphorical glass ceilings is the logical evolution of a sexual counter-revolution that began with Ronald Regan, the first president to strongly and openly oppose abortion, and swelled under George W. Bush. Given carte blanche by a “pro-life” president, the Christian right embraced galvanizing rhetoric—partial-birth abortions! selective genocide!—and newly empowered minority evangelical groups employed inflammatory counterfeit statistics to lay the groundwork for the anti-abortion, anti-contraception legislation that has flourished following the 2010 midterm elections.
Today, it is nearly impossible to open a newspaper, website or Twitter feed without encountering a new statute asserting governmental authority over women’s most fundamental personal liberties—a collective attack that has been dubbed the “War on Women.” As in any war, there are soldiers, casualties, manifestos, and, as evidenced by Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s fleeting decision to defund Planned Parenthood, shifting loyalties. In this war, Planned Parenthood would be the front-line brigade and its major general, Cecile Richards, the organization’s national president. The daughter of the famously feisty former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Cecile’s roots are evident in her politics, her predilection for terms like “folks,” and her Teflon tenacity, which has been regularly tested during her tenure at Planned Parenthood.
Despite its impressive achievements—Planned Parenthood serves 30 million patients a year, 76% of whom live 150% below the poverty line—the organization’s very existence is under attack. In 2011, during the federal budget-balancing debacle, the only concession that Speaker of the House John Boehner asked in exchange for a bi-partisan bill was that all governmental funding to Planned Parenthood be cut. President Obama’s reply was, “Nope. Zero.” Less than a year later, the issue is again on the table. In February, the House of Representatives voted to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, a move every Republican presidential candidate has vowed to uphold. But as Cecile has clarified with her regular appearances on national television and activation of Planned Parenthood’s expansive grassroots base, the 95-year-old organization isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, in addition to continuing to provide essential healthcare services, Planned Parenthood has launched the 2012 Women Are Watching campaign, which aims to educate American women and their allies about assaults on women’s health and where candidates align on these critical issues.
Erin Dixon: Beyond your mother’s influence, what about growing up in Texas impacted your political viewpoint?
Cecile Richards: I was born in Waco and my parents both went to Baylor [University], where my mother used to joke that everything was either against the rules or a sin. Then we moved to Dallas, where my parents were against everything. It was a time where the farm workers movement was big in Texas. My dad was a labor lawyer and my mom used to drag us to the grocery store to look for the union label on the head lettuce. Then, there were the fights within the Democratic Party. Everything was the Democratic Party [in Texas] then; there were no Republicans. There were the right-wing Democrats and the not-right-wing Democrats. My folks were always involved in party fights. Eventually we moved to Austin, which was a much more hospitable place for my family. I was still in elementary school and that was when my mother got really involved and actually ran for office. [My parents] had always been agitators. My dad gets the short stick somehow in the family bio. He was not only a labor and civil rights attorney, but he also defended conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War. At a very young age, I was a part of war vigils and all kinds of stuff. That was how I grew up. We were raised to think you were supposed to get up there and make something happen.
Erin: In choosing a career, then, was there anything that your parents told you that shaped your path—or any advice that you hold on to today?
Cecile: It was learning through experience rather than any particular words of wisdom. I went away to college and there was a big labor strike on my campus, and I naturally got involved because I just thought that was what you did. I remember calling my dad and I said, “I really think I should be involved in this.” I was struggling and torn, and he said, “You always have to support the working people.” That was, for me, a big political moment. When I graduated from Brown University, I actually became a union organizer for several years. [My parents] were about helping the little guy, whoever had the short end of the deal. That’s why I think I got involved in labor politics so early.
Erin: And when you were approached to become the president of Planned Parenthood, what made you take it?
Cecile: Well, my mother had a lot of advice (laughs) and she had an enormously huge influence on me, and she always said, “Never turn down a new opportunity…even if you’re not sure if you can do it.” Women spend most their lives thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t have the right clothes to do that. I don’t have the right degree. I haven’t done enough other things before.’ We never push ourselves to just go and do it and she said, “Just do it.” I think that’s why she ran for office.
When they came to me with this job at Planned Parenthood, it was like nothing I had ever really imagined but I felt like I heard my mother saying, “You don’t ever want to look back and say, ‘God, I wish I had tried that.’” Obviously, it was such an important organization to millions of women in this country and continues to be. It was where I got birth control in college. So whatever hesitation I may have had, my mother trumped and I am grateful.
Erin: What would you say—from when you began at Planned Parenthood to now—is the biggest misconception surrounding the organization?
Cecile: What we do, really. That’s the biggest misconception. That’s actually why this year has been so interesting. We finally had a big enough megaphone in the public because suddenly we were the target of the United States House of Representatives. It was a time in which people checked back in on Planned Parenthood for the first time---for many of them, probably—since they had been in college. It was an incredible opportunity to teach the American people about who we are and what we do, and perceptions changed. [People learned about] the broader array of services we provide, the number of women we see every year—the fact that one in five women [in the United States] has been to Planned Parenthood. There was an incredible mainstreaming of this organization as really a vital part of the health system in America.
Erin: In doing research for this interview, one of the things that was amazing to me was how far from President Nixon’s tenure to today this battle against women’s rights has gone. Why is that? There are some obvious answers, but why do you think we have gotten to this point—what has really lit the fire under the pro-life movement in the last five years?
Cecile: This has always been a fight and this is an organization that was born in struggle. 95 years ago when Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood, she was thrown in jail, not for giving out birth control but for literally giving out information about birth control. So I like to think that despite all these political battles, we do make progress. Last month about 3.2 million people got information about Planned Parenthood on our website. On one hand we do make progress, but this continues to be a battle. The ongoing struggle is that women, women’s health and women’s healthcare access have been used as political battering rams. There are a small number of people who are fully committed to ending women’s access to reproductive care, but there are a lot more who just use women’s health and women’s rights for political purposes—to try to achieve a political edge, to agitate voters. I still feel like no matter how you ask the question about reproductive health and rights, the majority of people in America feel like these are settled issues. They really want to move on, but there is obviously a group of people who find that [the issues] have short-term political value for them, but they really haven’t moved the country. That’s why I think this Republican primary is extraordinary. It used to be one side was anti-choice and one side was pro-choice, but now we have every serious contender for the Republican nomination for president saying that they are going to end the National Family Planning Program and that they are going to defund Planned Parenthood. They’re now taking after birth control, which is, politically, one of the stupidest things I think they could possibly do.
Erin: Are there enough people who really want that—is there this galvanized base or do you think the motivation is that short-term political gain?
Cecile: I think it’s a really risky strategy for them. They’re not asking my advice, but I’d say this is: 99% of women in this country who are sexually active ever in their lifetime use birth control. There’s the great statistic that the average woman spends five years having children and 30 years trying not to have children. This is a lifelong pursuit; it isn’t just young people messing around and trying to not get pregnant. It’s a fundamental health issue and it’s an economic issue. Birth control, if you’re taking prescription birth control pills, is around 50 dollars a month. That’s not insignificant, particularly for women who are making minimum wage or are in school. So when you have these guys saying, “We’re going to get rid of the National Family Planning Program that provides five million women in this country with birth control,” that’s an economic issue.
Erin: Is there a real threat of that coming to pass?
Cecile: There is a real threat. It used to be you’d have these primary fights, where candidates would maybe go a little further than they meant to go and say some extreme things—now it’s all on YouTube. Mitt Romney in ten years has gone from trying to get Planned Parenthood’s endorsement to saying that he wants to put the organization out of business. He wants to completely end family planning access in America. These are issues that have concerned women. That’s why we launched our Women are Watching website, to say: Women are paying attention.
When this new Congress was seated, Mike Pence introduced a bill to end Planned Parenthood’s access to funds for all services, including birth control and cancer screenings. We see three million patients a year and, for a lot of these women, we are their only medical provider. [That legislation] lit a fire around the country for women who had no political agenda—they’re just living their lives. So many women we heard from just couldn’t believe that women’s access to basic healthcare was being politicized. That is where I think they have made a huge mistake. That’s not what this country is concerned about; they want jobs.
Erin: And as far as the actual tenants of the law, do we have reason to be concerned about Roe v. Wade?
Cecile: Absolutely. If you count votes on the Supreme Court right now, it is a very tenuous five to four split. Whoever the next president is will most likely put two judges on the court and they will replace two judges who have been friendly to women. Just the other night during the debate, Governor Romney said that he believes that Roe was incorrectly decided—even though he signed a pledge ten years ago that he supported it. He said that he believes there is no right to privacy. That is the Supreme Court’s intellectual underpinning of not only Roe but also, frankly, the fact that birth control is now legal for married couples. There was time in which birth control was illegal.
Erin: That was 1965, right?
Cecile: Exactly. That’s what’s really frightening; the Supreme Court is just within a hair’s breath of no longer protecting [our right to birth control] and throwing it back to the states, where you would have states that were safe for women and states that are not. I wasn’t around for those early days before Roe was decided, when women were dying in emergency rooms all over America from unsafe abortions, but that’s a very real concern.
Erin: If a lot of the legislature gets pushed through to defund Planned Parenthood, and some already has, how does the organization plan to continue serving underprivileged communities? Where will you try to make up that funding—or where will you make the cuts?
Cecile: It’s very hard. Our doors are open to everyone. That’s our mission. If you look at our patient population, many of them are uninsured, a lot of them are young women who come to us for birth control and that will be the only doctor visit they get all year. So they come for birth control, they get their breast exam, they’ll get their pap smear, they get their check-up. We’re really the entry point into the healthcare system for a lot of women. We are a non-profit, so we are supported by private donations but a lot of our patients rely on public programs. We have a very loyal supporter base and always will, but I think what we’re looking at—and what Mr. Romney and others are proposing—is really dismantling an entire public healthcare system that has been around for many years. You mentioned Richard Nixon; he signed the National Family Planning Program [Title X] into existence, and five million people in this country get their basic healthcare through the National Family Planning Program—some of them at Planned Parenthood, but a ton of them at other places. So while Planned Parenthood will survive, my concern is: What happens to the millions of women who no longer can get to Planned Parenthood or for whom their program is cut off? I was just back in Texas, my home state, where Rick Perry and the state legislature ended a huge part of the National Family Planning Program. I was out in Midland in West Texas, which is very rural, where for a lot of folks Planned Parenthood is it. For years, we’ve been doing STD testing for young men because it was a confidential place. Now that program has been completely wiped out and they have nowhere to go. And I was in Austin. It’s a very progressive community and our East Austin clinic has served teens for a long, long time. Well, they wiped out the teen program. On the Rio Grande border, we had to shut health centers. Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider, we’re an institution, we’ll continue on. The people who are really getting hurt are the women who depend on us for services. In this political fight, there seems to be not a single thought given to what are women going to do if they can’t come to Planned Parenthood.
Erin: Where does religion or “morals” come in to the whole debate? As you said, there is a disconnect, in that the pro-life movement says, “We’re going to shut down Planned Parenthood because it’s morally corrupt.” But they’re not saying, “and in doing so we’re going to, ostensibly, put these women’s health at risk.”
Cecile: I don’t think the battles that we’re having are religious at all. One of the interesting things that we’re in the middle of right now is ensuring that women get birth control access under the new insurance plans and the Affordable Care Act. Some of the [Catholic] bishops are saying, “Women who work at Catholic hospitals shouldn’t get birth control access because they are working at a Catholic institution.” Well, surprise, surprise, 98 percent of Catholic women in America use birth control at some point in their lives. I don’t care which religious group you look at, they use reproductive healthcare. So it’s not a religious issue. The fight that we’re having here is about control over women and it’s about denying women the ability to get the healthcare that they need. This religious piece is really a red herring. I don’t want to deny that people have their own individual religious beliefs; that’s absolutely their right, but most of the women who work at Catholic hospitals are not even Catholic and most of the ones who are use birth control. So at what point does a religious institution have the right to tell women what they can and can’t do?
Erin: In discussing this as a battle about women being able to control their own lives and the history behind that fight: Why are so many women (those spearheading pro-life organizations or conducting “sting” operations against Planned Parenthood) against giving women access to reproductive rights?
Cecile: That I don’t know. I wish I could tell you. I guess a couple of things come to mind. One is: Women and men, when you take the big political figures out of the way, understand that women, couples, families, partners, etc., have to make decisions all the time. They will be faced in their lifetime with difficult medical and ethical decisions, but at the end of the day they are better suited to make those decisions than the government is. You look at Mississippi, you look at South Dakota, a very, very politically conservative state, a state that by its own definition would be an anti-choice state, and yet when the legislature tried to ban abortion and it was taken to the voters, twice in a row the voters overwhelmingly defeated it. When you break it down, the American people believe that we should judge less and care more. When it comes to reproductive healthcare, when you ask: What is the problem that we’re trying to solve in America? [The American people] will uniformly say, “We have too many unintended pregnancies, too many teenagers who don’t get sex education and are getting pregnant before they are ready to be parents, and it’s too hard to access birth control.” These are things that are within our control. There’s so much we could do if we would just actually get together and try to do it. This year, more than 700,000 teenagers will get pregnant in the U.S. and in a lot of these states we have no sex education, or virtually none. And, by the way, with fewer unintended pregnancies, there will be less need for abortions.
Erin: During your time at Planned Parenthood, what has surprised you the most?
Cecile:What’s been surprising and just totally moving is the number of people who we touch every year and the difference we make in their lives. I’ve had the great fortune of going around the country and getting to read the journals that women, real Planned Parenthood patients, write in. [I’ve been able to] meet people who didn’t know anything about sex, didn’t know who to talk to but who found Planned Parenthood as a confidential, big-hearted place to talk about relationships or sexuality. It’s really amazing and surprising, too, the number of Planned Parenthood alumni who I run into. I’ll be at some big fancy dinner with a bunch of CEOs and I’ll meet a woman and she’ll ask what I do. I’ll say I’m at Planned Parenthood and you can just see her face change immediately. She goes right back to 25 years ago when she was in college and she went to Planned Parenthood because she had nowhere else to go. It’s an organization that people just don’t forget. I remember the first time I went to get birth control in Providence, Rhode Island. Planned Parenthood has had a profound impact, and still does, on so many folks every day.
Erin: And those people, those CEOs, do they tend to be your foundation of donors, your biggest donors, or is it a mix?
Cecile: It’s a total mix. For every non-profit, the last few years have been very tough because the economy went south and people who relied on really, really big donations and donors had a really hard time. The people who kept Planned Parenthood going were the little check writers. The people who sent in 20 dollars and said, “You know, you helped me and other women will need help now too.” That’s what’s been so unbelievable. In fact, this last year when the House of Representatives basically tried to shut us down, we had more than one million new people join Planned Parenthood as activists—and half of them were young people, a lot them were Planned Parenthood patients, current and past. There’s enormous grassroots support, financial, emotional, in every way, which has been just amazing.
Erin: To touch on that other point: Planned Parenthood is one of the few places that women and men can go and speak openly and learn about sex, why as a culture, as opposed to other Western nations, does America still have such a problem talking about sex in a realistic, biological way?
Cecile: I wish I could explain that. Sex is everywhere in this country but it’s not really real. It’s stylized; it’s used to sell products and yet we have very little honest, open conversation about sex. I experience this with my own kids. Here they are growing up in a time in which the most popular TV programs are Gossip Girland shows where everyone is having sex, young people are having sex. It is the same with every movie, musical lyrics—you name it. Yet we have people fighting until to their last breath to keep sex education out of the schools. We are all about young people being responsible and yet we absolutely abdicate responsibility for having open and honest conversations about sex. If there were one big dream I have, it would be to make this generation the healthiest ever in terms of being able to get information and services, and also just being open. We’re making progress there, but there is a long way to go.
Erin: That kind of leads to one of my other questions, which is: In your remaining tenure at Planned Parenthood, however long that may be, what is on your to-do list?
Cecile: Definitely expanding access to services, because we see three million patients a year but there are a lot more people who need services. In the last month we’ve seen 3.2 million [visitors] online. This last year, we saw more than 32 million people online, who came to us for information, wanting to know what kind of birth control they should use. We have a little widget that helps you figure out what type of birth control would be best for you. We have a little widget that helps with tests. We’re trying to encourage stuff like mainstream testing and treatment for STDS. We’re now piloting this text and chat program to replace the old 1-800 number. It basically allows young people, or anyone, to text and chat with someone at Planned Parenthood. What we’re finding is that if you built it, they will come. That, to me, is the biggest opportunity we’ve had. This marriage of Planned Parenthood and the Internet is incredible because we are a confidential, safe, trusted, provider of information. What I would love to do is take the politics out of reproductive healthcare and say, “Hey, this is something we have got to do better. We’re doing a pretty bad job as a country. We could do a lot better.”
Erin: And to speak internationally, this has obviously been a huge year, seemingly, for women’s reproductive rights around the world. There has been a lot of change and in the past you have spoken about women worldwide coming to the Planned Parenthood website. Do you see changes happening following the Arab Spring?
Cecile: The rest of the world is a bit like the United States; we’ll take two steps forward and then we’ll take a step backward. If you look at the countries where we have less poverty, less lack of education, more stability, these are places where women have rights and girls have rights, and they go to school and they can be an equal part of society. Obviously a big part of that is you can’t be equal in society if you don’t have reproductive rights, so I have to give a huge nod to Nicholas Kristof and other folks who’ve spent a lot of time mainstreaming what a vital role that women’s reproductive care plays in their daily lives. That makes me very hopeful as we are beginning to see some serious attention paid to the roles that girls are going to play in the future.
Erin: Given that, how do you feel about President Obama’s tenure on reproductive rights for women.
Cecile: He’s been a fantastic president for women. He hasn’t done everything, but I wouldn’t have expected him to do everything. That’s why we’re here, to make sure that we push and push and push for women’s healthcare access and young people’s healthcare access. It’s so hard when you’re right in the middle of it, but we’re going to look back and realize the Affordable Care Act was a radical reshaping of access to healthcare for women in this country. Even if you just look at the top line: insurance companies can’t gender rate anymore, they can’t deny us coverage because we’ve been pregnant or we had breast cancer and then, of course, the fact that birth control is now going to be considered basic preventive care and covered by new insurance plans. This is enormously important.
Erin: Do you think that piece will stand in the final legislation?
Cecile: It’s so hard to predict, but I think that as more and more of these things happen and take effect, it’s just much harder to undo them. As a very concrete example, health insurance now covers children until they’re 26. Any parent understands how invaluable that is. It’s hard to put it all back in the box. There are going to be some steps backward and we are going to have to keep pushing forward, but it’s been an enormous change. This is a president who stood for Planned Parenthood. He is a twenty-first century president. And I love the fact that he has these two fabulous daughters and he understands women and the incredibly important role that they play in this society. Kathleen Sebelius, who is the Secretary of Health and Human Services and who was a very courageous on these issues when she was Governor of Kansas, has been an amazing cabinet member as well.
Erin: Speaking of the secretary, why did Health and Human Services overrule the FDA on their recommendation to make Plan B available over the counter? Who were they speaking to there?
Cecile: It’s a decision that we very strongly disagreed with and I’ve spoken to the secretary and hope to speak with her again because we want to get whatever it is that they need to get to make Plan B more medically available for women. We’re going to get it done. It was the wrong decision [to restrict accessibility to Plan B] and we are going to work and do everything we can to make sure that it’s available. This is a classic example of where political rhetoric completely obscured what was really at stake. The problem is that Plan B is emergency contraception, which of course means you need to have it available in an emergency. If it’s behind the counter, you can only get it from a pharmacist. If a pharmacist is not at the pharmacy, you can’t get it. And also for a lot of women it’s humiliating to stand there and ask.
Erin: And in some cases, pharmacists have denied women their prescription on personal religious or moral grounds.
Cecile: Right, absolutely. We just need to make it, like other medicines, available to women right on the shelf. The right wing really did a number on making this about 11-year-olds looking for emergency contraception. So we’re going to double back on this and continue to work and get whatever it is that the agency needs to get it approved.
Erin: What are some of the focuses of the Planned Parenthood Action Plan for this upcoming year, beyond the elections and including the elections?
Cecile: The elections are incredibly important to us; they are why we launched Women are Watching. Women are going to be a majority of voters in this election. The gender gap in the 2008 election was about 13 points between President Obama and Senator McCain, and that was because women understood the two positions that the candidates had, I think, on women’s issues. Women trust Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider to one in five women in America. So when, through the Action Fund, we’re able to explain the positions that candidates take from the presidency on down, they pay attention. Our main focus is going to be making sure by whatever means—online, through the mail, through all the volunteer networks of folks we have across the country—that people know the difference. Certainly the presidential race is going to be very important and, unfortunately, I think there are going to be some more personhood ballot initiatives, so we’ll be working very hard to defeat those as well.
Erin: Among the Republican candidates, is there a lesser evil when it comes to women’s reproductive rights? What should women know about those candidates?
Cecile: I feel like [this campaign season] has been this race to the bottom. It is a competition to see who can be the worst on women’s healthcare. Any differences now between the major contenders are so small that it wouldn’t make a difference. We see people who have prided their entire political career, certainly Mr. Santorum, on being as far to the right as possible on women’s healthcare. But, honestly, Mr. Romney has pretty much matched [Rick Santorum] in every arena. I was really stunned when Governor Romney wrote an editorial in USA Todayand said, “I would eliminate the National Family Planning Program. “ This is supposedly to balance the budget. I don’t know if he knows what unintended pregnancies would cost in this country, but in any case he said he would end the National Family Planning Program and completely eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. So whatever his positions were ten years ago, he has now gone completely off the deep end.
Erin: And as far as the personhood initiatives go, do women understand what that really means?
Cecile: No one really does until they are facing it on a ballot. In Mississippi, as the medical community figured out what personhood meant they opposed it. It was the first state where the medical community actually came out and said, “No.” Because personhood literally meant oncologists couldn’t treat pregnant women. It would have also threatened the availability or legality of certain common forms of birth control. There was a lot of conversation in Mississippi, too, about what it would mean for in-vitro fertilization for couples trying to have children. It’s a sound bite, “personhood,” but when people find out what it would mean and how radical it is, they won’t support it. That’s why I was stunned to see Mr. Romney supporting it. He told Mike Huckabee on his TV program that he supported it. I’m actually not sure if Mr. Romney understands or paid attention to how radical this would be. It just kind of kills me that all these guys want to say, “Oh, we’re not against birth control. We just want to make sure it’s not available to anyone. “
Erin: I was lucky enough to read your editorial recommending the book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved Americaby Christina Pageand, in turn, learn how birth control really works and how the rhetoric around contraception and things like “partial-birth abortion” has really misled us. In it, the author also talks about how we are in the midst of a culture war. What does that mean to you, right now, as far as women’s rights go—not only in terms of reproductive rights but also women’s role in America today?
Cecile: This is one of the most complicated issues that we deal with, because some of the anger that we’re seeing in the political realm right now is so hot that it’s obviously about a lot more than reproductive healthcare. We’re going through a time in this country where a lot of people have a fantasy about how the world used to be. They go back to some sort of illusory idea that everything was fine because moms were at home baking and dads were out working and all the kids were playing, and if we could just take back all of these abilities that women have now—to have a career, a family if they want, marry or not—we could return to that time. There’s a whole basket of these issues that are undergirding these angry men picketing our clinics and yelling at women. There’s something much deeper going on there. That’s part of the reason I’m really focused on this next generation because, and I see it in my own kids, there is so much of this that they don’t even understand. Whether it’s issues of sexuality or sexual preference and identity, it’s a whole new world. We are in the midst of this period—I don’t know how much longer it will last—where folks want to drag us back into a time in which folks were a lot more repressed. Yet I see this generation, these young men and women who are working as volunteers at Planned Parenthood or activists, and their vision of the next world is completely different. Obviously that’s very threatening for some folks, but history is on our side. It’s not going to go back, but there are going to be some painful times between now and then.
Erin: So what can we actually do to ensure we move forward?
Cecile: Well, taking action is critical because it’s about what you do and what you inspire others to do. This year is a perfect year for people who care about reproductive rights, care about birth control access, care about the issues that Planned Parenthood acts on to sign up to Women are Watching and be part of the process. They can post content, be part of the conversation that’s happening around this election. They can volunteer in the election, register folks to vote, let other people know. I think that women and young people are going to determine this election, so there is an enormous opportunity. I really believe that when we get our chance, the American people will show that we don’t want to live in the society that is being painted by some of the folks running for president. To me, there’s never been a better opportunity.
Erin: You briefly worked as the chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi; would you ever enter that arena again, the governmental side of it?
Cecile: I think not. I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to always get to work for things I feel passionately about and to really not compromise. There are people who are cut out for public service in government, but I feel like I can do so much more good where I am and that’s incredibly gratifying. I feel like this is the right place for me to be, but I also believe that folks in government—my mother included, when she was governor—are only as good as those of us on the outside force them to be or support them to be. That certainly has been my experience with President Obama and he famously said when he was elected, “If you want me to do something, make me do it.” We spend a lot of time doing that and that’s a really important role.