Her new book, “Make Trouble,” is part memoir, part call to action for women who have been inspired by political events of late. She’ll appear in Seattle on April 9.
Like millions of Americans, Cecile Richards woke up the morning after the November 2016 election and wasn’t sure what to do.
She quickly learned she wasn’t alone.
“Every single day after,” she said, “there was someone who crossed me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ ”
As the CEO of Planned Parenthood, a lifelong activist and the daughter of the late, wisecracking Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Richards was compelled to do more than make sure women get the safe and affordable health care they need.
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“The ground had shifted,” Richards said. “But there were so many conversations, I thought, ‘Why not write a book instead? If people are moved to do more now than they have ever been before, how do they take their first step?’ ”
Her answer, as outlined in her new book, “Make Trouble”: Get busy and go.
“That has been my mantra for this last year,” she said. “Don’t wait for instructions. Women are self-organizing and that is largely the reason Planned Parenthood was able to stay open.”
She was referring to the Republican health-care plan that — had it been approved last fall — would have cut off the nonprofit’s funding. Punishment for providing abortions, Richards believes.
The successful fight to save the nonprofit inspired women, Richards said.
“It fueled a belief that people can fight back for what they believe in, and maybe even win,” she said. “Nothing begets success more than success. There are a lot of women now feeling more confident.
“So if there’s a theme, it is, ‘You can make a difference.’ And doing something is better than watching it all pass you by.”
Richards will speak about her career and her book at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 9, at the University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle. Tickets to the event, sponsored by the University Book Store, cost $27 and include a copy of “Make Trouble” and entrance for two people.
Richards’ book is not only a memoir, but a call to action for the women who have been inspired by events of the last year or so: The inauguration of the president, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and the upcoming midterm election.
She calls these women, “one of the most political forces in America,” and connects with them every day in the course of her work.
“Their aspirations aren’t being reflected in the current political climate,” Richards said. “I think it’s important that these efforts go deep enough to enter the everyday experiences of women in this country.”
The period after the election seemed like a good time for Richards to reflect on her journey as an activist.
“It was a selective or subjective remembering of so many campaigns,” she said of the book. Her mother’s gubernatorial campaign. Her own work fighting for the rights of farmworkers and finally, for the rights of women to have access to affordable health care.
“It’s self-curated; the things that made an impression on me,” she said. “It became clear that these stories have really formed the work that I do.”
So, too, have the attitudes around women’s health, and abortion.
Richards’ role as the defender of women’s health — and the right to a safe and affordable abortion — reached its peak last fall, when she testified before a congressional committee investigating a series of videos edited to show Planned Parenthood staffers and doctors negotiating the sale of fetal parts.
Richards testified before the committee for five hours about the services Planned Parenthood provides to one in five women in the country — everything from birth control to cancer screening.
The committee adjourned without taking any action against Planned Parenthood. As for those videos, made by an outfit called the Center for Medical Progress? They were shown to be false, and the organization was indicted on 15 felony counts.
Richards will never understand why lawmakers don’t consider their private lives — and not just their political ambitions — when it comes to women’s health.
“What’s incredible is that you know there is not a single member of Congress who hasn’t dealt with or had someone in their family who had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy or had a breast exam with bad results,” Richards said.
But there’s nothing to do when so many members of the U.S. Senate are at an age when their ideas about family planning and childbearing “are so far removed,” Richards said, “that they can’t empathize.”
“Part of the big problem is that men simply do not care because they will never get pregnant.”
Worse, she said, “There are male legislators who think this is an issue of power.” And female lawmakers are afraid that if they go against the right wing of their party, they will get “primaried,” Richards said, and not come back to Congress.
“The number of Republicans who know better are unwilling to call out this administration,” Richards said. “Spending time in Washington, it’s amazing to me how the everyday concerns of women are absent of the conversation.”
In January, Richards announced plans to step down from Planned Parenthood after 12 years, but did so without any formal plans beyond this current book tour and some organizing.
“I don’t know what’s next,” she said. “I just had this need to let someone else do this amazing job.
“But I will be in the fight one way or another.”