Ashley Allison, host of Pod for the Cause, interviews Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, co-director of Caring Across Generations, and founder of Supermajority, to discuss civic engagement efforts. They discuss a new national activist network that connects women organizers to ignite action.
S01 E03: Civic Engagement – Women Rally for Change
[Music 00:00 – 00:12]
Ashley: Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C.
I have two of my best friends and great co-hosts here, Gabby Seay, Political Director of SEIU1199, and the Managing Director of Color Of Change, Arisha Hatch. What’s up, ladies?
Ashley: This is our segment Pod Squad, where we just digest all the hot topics that are happening in today’s culture, country, and that people care about. Let’s just jump right into it. We just finished a hot election of 2018, electing historical numbers of women, people of color, LGBTQ candidates, and I don’t know if anyone’s been paying attention, but we do have a presidential election, which feels like it might be in a week based on how much people are talking about it, but it is actually over a year from now in 2020. We have a very, very crowded field for the Democrats. We have Trump, who, current president, most likely will be seeking re-election whether you want him to or not.
We all wanna have a conversation today about what is gonna happen in 2020, how we get young people, how we get people of color engaged. You all do this work every single day. What’s your immediate take on what’s happening in the field for 2020 right now? Let’s start with Gabby Seay, Political Director of SEIU1199.
Gabby: A lot is happening right now in the field. I think that – I’m a strong believer in primaries in general, so I think that having a lot of folks jump into the race right now is not a bad thing. I love the diversity of all these 2020 candidates. I love all of their experiences. I feel like Democratic primary voters really have an array of candidates to choose from. It isn’t hard to be like, “Oh, I like this person.” I remember in 2008, I loved Barack Obama, I love Hillary Clinton, and you’re like maybe, I don’t know which one. Here, there is a wide variety.
Ashley: You got A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P.
Gabby: You could find your flavor of candidate, whoever you wanna support, whatever your issues are. I love that.
Ashley: Arisha, what’s your take on what’s going on?
Arisha: It feels like it’s starting early. I feel like it’s just gonna be a long election season, and who knows where it’ll end up, but I think it is exciting that there are choices to be made. Yeah, I just feel like I have no idea what’s gonna happen. I worry that it might be so brutal that after the primary’s over, a more progressive candidate won’t actually win, and that we’ll be stuck with Trump for another four years.
Ashley: Man, that would be really hard to endure.
Arisha: I know.
Ashley: I been saying, I’m gonna just move to an island, go move in the mountains and raise some goats if that happens.
Gabby: I feel like you wanna do that if Trump is president or not, though.
Ashley: That’s true. Let me ask you this: some people say people turn out to vote because of issues, some people say people turn out to vote because of the candidate. What do you think is the most pressing issue for people like us – women of color, young people, millennials – what will get them to show up at the polls through the primary season and then in the general? Arisha?
Arisha: More and more I think it’s economics, fundamentally.
Ashley: What do you mean by that? Can I get paid?
Arisha: Not necessarily can I get paid, but can I survive, can my family survive. Do we believe that candidates or government can actually help us thrive better, and I think there’s a lot of reasons to feel like it can’t, it won’t matter who’s elected, but I think fundamentally it comes back to economics, and having someone – after going through the Obama presidency it was really nice to be able to see yourself in the first family, and so I do think that there are a lot of people that vote on does this person share my values, is this someone that I think, when they’re making a decision at the midnight hour –
Ashley: Will they think of me?
Arisha: Yeah, will they think of me? Will they think like me? That sort of thing.
Ashley: Yeah. Gabby, what’s your take?
Gabby: I really think people don’t go to the voting booth and say, “Which candidate holds my values? Which candidates on right on my issues?” I think most people go to the voting booth and they make a very personal choice on a candidate that appeals to them at a fundamental level. There are some folks that start with issues and then they follow, but I think the vast majority of Americans and people that go out to vote, vote for the person that they feel most connected to.
I think that’s why we have a President Trump – not because of his issues, obviously, not because he’s the smartest person with the best prescription to fix what’s wrong with America. People just felt connected to him, perhaps because he’s been a reality TV show for my entire life, it seems. He’s always been regarded as this uber-successful, uber-smart businessman that everyone could look up to, and so when people were voting for Donald Trump, I imagine a lotta folks just voted for him ‘cause they felt connected to him, not even connected to the things that he’s talking about.
Arisha: I also think we’ve seen over the last couple of cycles, I think people are voting for change pretty regularly on both sides of the aisle.
Ashley: Hope and change was Obama’s thing, right?
Arisha: Yeah, and I think there are a lotta people that went in – even not necessarily Democrats went in thinking, oh, this is something that will disrupt or shake up our system, and I just think maybe we’ve reached a consensus.
Ashley: Let me ask you this: I know you might not think people really are going in to vote for their issues, but there are some things on the table right now. Who thought reparations was actually gonna be a thing? I will say, sister got a lotta degrees and a lotta student debt, and so I did see Elizabeth Warren’s – I don’t know the details of it, but when it said cancel all student debt, I was like, “Sign me up.”
There are issues out there that people are really voting on. If you had to give – you don’t have to pick the candidate, and again, we’re not endorsing anyone or any particular issue. I love the idea of the legalization of marijuana. Some people are saying the people who have criminal convictions for selling drugs should be the first ones to actually get the chance to go into the business of legalized marijuana, which right now they’re restricted from – but if you had to give the 50,000 candidates right now that are actually in the race on the Democratic side – and it’s not 50,000, but it’s about 40 at this point, and maybe 20 that are viable – what would be that one piece of advice that you would give those candidates? Let’s start with Gabby Seay, who is the Political Director of 1199 at SEIU.
Gabby: It’s really hard to think of one thing ‘cause I think there are so many, and I also think that sometimes presidential candidates ask somebody that they really trust this question, and then they just do that thing over, and over, and over. I think the biggest thing that folks are looking for is authenticity. They wanna know who you are and what you’re about, and be able to talk about issues in a really concrete way.
I think recently we’ve seen Elizabeth Warren come out with all kinds of proposals around the mortality rate specifically for black women, around forgiving student loans – and these are really meaty, substantive issues that she’s talking about and presenting real solutions. I think the extent to which you need to say what you mean and then back it up is real, and it makes you a more credible candidate. Not everyone is doing that quite yet. Not everyone is talking about policies in a very specific way.
Ashley: Arisha, let’s go to you. You’re the Managing Director of Color Of Change, that really focuses on engaging black people – young, black people particularly. What is that piece of advice that you would give to these candidates right now?
Arisha: I think Gabby hit the nail on the head in terms of authenticity is really important. Now that we’ve had a reality television president for almost four years, people should feel free to be themselves.
Ashley: Full self!
Arisha: Full self. I agree, having a plan and being able to articulate that plan is incredibly important because even if a Democrat takes back the White House, there are still questions about where the Senate will be, there’s questions about where the House will be, and so right now I think yeah, I’m looking for someone that has actually thought through their agenda and what they’re gonna do. I don’t wanna hear 100 promises. I would love to hear three substantive –
Gabby: Solid ones.
Arisha: Solid, I’ve thought about this. I’ve really thought about Medicare for All, and this is how it’s actually gonna happen because we’ve been through a healthcare debate before, and changes to that system.
I think that’s really important. I think for the people that I engage on a daily basis – Color Of Change is focused on improving the lives of black people, and we believe that through improving the lives of black people, lots of working class folks are impacted for the better. For decades we’ve had candidates afraid to take pictures with black people, afraid to show up in black communities, and so I do want someone that’s gonna speak directly to black people, or speak directly to me as a woman, and how the policies and proposals that they’re gonna be pushing for in the world actually impact me.
Ashley: Let me talk a little bit like this. We’ve had our first black president, and you know people declared racism was over – not. There is this conversation right now – we have a very diverse field, We have a black woman running, we have about four or five women running, we have white men running, we have Latino men running. Can we talk about identity politics right now because there is this thing – after the 2016 election, people were like, “I’m from Ohio. Gabby’s from Ohio. We met on the campaign trail,” – hey –
Gabby: 2011, maybe? I don’t know.
Ashley: Dang, that’s like seven years ago. I didn’t realize I aged that quickly. After the 2016 election, when Hillary lost, quite honestly in some of those battleground states by 40,000 votes, but the conversation was like, we need to forget about our base, and our base are young people, our base are people of color, our base are people like us – and we need to talk to the middle class white dude who voted for Obama, and now voted for Trump. What do you say to someone like that? It makes me wanna pull my freaking hair out because I’m like, just because your base didn’t show up in one election cycle doesn’t mean you forget about them. What do you say to people like that, Gabby?
Gabby: First of all, I think that’s a false choice because there are so many people like, do you talk to working class white people or do you rely up on people of color, and women, and young people, which are the base of the Democratic Party? The answer is you have to do both. That’s my rub a little bit of – what’s the one thing a president should do. There are many things that you have to be able to do, and do well. You have to be able to turn out a base and talk to young people, and black people, and women, and white, working class voters, and suburban women voters authentically.
Ashley: Isn’t it the narrative that they don’t care about the same thing? I think everybody cares –
Gabby: That’s not true.
Ashley: It’s not true, though, right?
Gabby: I don’t think that’s true.
Ashley: People care about healthcare; people care about education.
Gabby: People care about all this. One of my personal crusades right now is to redefine what “working class” means because when we say working class, we usually think of the steelworker, Youngstown, Ohio –
Ashley: Or the mine worker.
Gabby: Or the autoworker in Toledo, Ohio – my hometown – but really and truly, my union is a healthcare union representing about half a million people from Florida to New York, and these are all healthcare workers. They’re majority people of color, they’re majority women, and this is the working class. We’re not talking about folks [crosstalk].
Ashley: They’re starting to skew younger, right?
Gabby: Millennials are the largest part of the workforce right now, and that’s especially true in healthcare because the fields that are growing are fields in long-term care, people that are home health aids and taking care of Baby Boomers as they retire, and older folks. This is the working class that we’re talking about, and we have to expand what it means to be working class ‘cause most Americans are working class, and the working class is diverse. You know what we all care about?
Ashley: What’s that?
Gabby: Having a good job that allows us to live good lives. We do not live to work; we work to live, and if we don’t really consider – this is the one thing. You got me on a tangent now we’re on minimum wage. There’s all this conversation around raising the minimum wage to $15. Great, we should do that, but then the opposition might say, “Well, $15” – they don’t have enough education, and they’re working all these hours, and then they still don’t make enough money. What people forget about the minimum wage is a person shouldn’t have to work – and many of our workers in our union, they have three or four jobs – doing that is not the American Dream. When we are talking about –
Ashley: You don’t get to spend time with your family.
Gabby: You have no life.
Ashley: The quality of life –
Gabby: The orange man in the White House often talks about how the unemployment is at the lowest rates that it’s been in forever. That’s partially true, but that’s partially because – and mostly because – these are low wage jobs. That is not a great thing. I’m on a tangent. I’m gonna stop talking now.
Ashley: Okay, Arisha, what do you think? I would actually pivot to something else, but what would you say to those folks who say after the 2016 election, let’s talk to the middle class folks and forget your base?
Arisha: We’ve become so brilliant on the Left at elections. We know exactly – we have an algorithm of exactly who to talk to. The algorithm is clearly working –
Ashley: Like a Facebook algorithm.
Arisha: Incredibly well. We get into these – I think it’s this data-minded focus where let’s not talk to everyone, let’s talk to a few specific people, and I think that’s really hurting us. Yeah, we spent years talking about white, working class voters in a specific place like Ohio or in other places, but how are black Republicans feeling right now? Should we be talking to them?
Ashley: Or Latino Republicans.
Arisha: How are Latino Republicans feeling right now? Should we be talking – how about black non-voters? Folks that came out and voted for Obama and never came back to vote again.
Ashley: A study just came out recently that youth turnout was up to 31 percent in 2018, which is a midterm election, which is usually when voters do not turn out. Young people are showing up. I do wanna just pivot a little bit. We’ve been talking a little bit about the change, and the last couple of days and weeks we’ve seen something happen with this figure in the political sector that so many people have been afraid of, which is the dun-dun-dun: NRA. It looks like the leadership is starting to crumble with –
Gabby: One can only hope.
Ashley: One can only hope, and there’s this fear in politics of the NRA. I wanna get a sense of why that fear actually exists. What is the root of that fear, when you really start to dig under? It might not be all that we think. Who should candidates fear on the Left? Let’s start with you, Gabby.
Gabby: On the former question, I think that the NRA is not an organization that supports gun rights, per se. It’s an organization that supports white supremacy at a very fundamental level, and it’s demonstrated by the number of black folks that were carrying firearms they had legally –
Ashley: And they didn’t come to the rescue.
Gabby: Right, and they didn’t come from a rescue. I think when we think about the power of the NRA, it is because people are terribly afraid of people of color taking over our country, and they feel like the only way to stop them is to be armed. I think the fear of the NRA comes because white people in particular – some white people – are terribly scared of a country that doesn’t look like them, and the NRA has been the best vehicle for them to be able to express that fear. We say it’s guns, we say it’s the Second Amendment rights – I don’t think that’s the fundamental thing that people are gearing up for. I think people are just scared of change and that’s why we’ve seen a rise in gun sales. That’s also why we don’t really have an NRA on the Left. I used to say that Planned Parenthood, I think, is the most sophisticatedly – that’s a word I’m making up and I’m just gonna go with it.
Ashley: Okay. We do that at Pod for the Cause. We make words up.
Gabby: Go with it. Y’all know what I mean. It’s a organization on the Left that people really seek their endorsement. That’s a real thing, but that hasn’t resulted in the political change that you see in the NRA. We cannot do anything about guns in America, period, point blank, no matter what happens. The worst has already happened – I don’t know what else can happen – and we still can’t change it. That’s not true for reproductive rights and healthcare whatsoever.
Arisha: Yeah. I think the NRA has been able to sustain its power because when they’re giving a lot of money to candidates and elected officials to say the line – and I agree that there’s a lot of white supremacy behind especially the actions of the NRA – the organization. There’s also this thread of just distrust of government. Lots of people on the left and the right, lots of black people, can identify not trusting government enough to hand over their weapons.
Ashley: Especially immigrant communities right now. Goodness.
Arisha: Yeah. I think that there’s white supremacy, and then I think it’s also beyond that. People fundamentally wanna feel safe.
Gabby: Distrust of government is such a part of the American ethos. The Founding Fathers, if you will, were very explicit about a government not having too much control because that’s what they were fighting – that type of tyranny. It’s really hard to divest ourselves of something that has been so fundamentally “American” since America was a thing – this fierce independence and fierce mistrust of government and government acting on behalf of the interest of its people.
Ashley: Everybody, you’re listening to Pod for the Cause. I’m here with my girl, Arisha Hatch, Managing Director of Color Of Change, and Gabby Seay, Political Director for 1199SEIU. I wanna ask this question: 2020 elections are coming up. We actually have some elections in 2019, but the big one that’s everyone paying attention to is 2020. What is the change that you think young people and Americans in general are gonna look for? Arisha?
Arisha: I think it’s connected to student debt and jobs.
Ashley: Amen. It’s real. The struggle is real.
Arisha: Everybody charge a lotta money to get through college, and now there are less jobs that don’t pay as well. People are struggling to buy homes and afford the cost of living, and so I think people want – especially young people – a sense of hopefulness. We actually want to get to experience the American Dream. We haven’t had that opportunity of being actually able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to be able to outperform our parents and earlier generations. I think that’s incredibly important.
I also think with younger folks, we’ve grown up in the information age, we’ve grown up in much more inclusive environments, we have friends that are more diverse than our parents’ generation also had, and so I think folks wanna see a baseline of respect for different types of people, whether they be LBGT, or Latino, or black – or at least the young people that I hang around with or that I like. I think we wanna see folks talking specifically, explicitly to us, to our issues, and to our concerns.
Ashley: Gabby, I’ll let you get the last word here. What do you think is the change that people wanna see and that they’ll actually go and vote for in 2020?
Gabby: People want real, tangible results. It’s hard to do in a presidential level. Anything that a president does takes years, sometimes decades, for us to see the effects of it. I think Arisha’s right. People just wanna be seen, and heard, and respected, and that is so much more important for folks – and millennials in particular – the most diverse generation, the most tolerant generation, and if you are talking about taking away rights from people, if you’re talking about a status quo, if you’re not demonstrating your ability to fight for everyone, I don’t think people are having anything of it, whether you’re a millennial that’s more progressive or more conservative.
We’re a generation that lived through school shootings and we’ve seen nothing happen. We’re a generation that lived through wars that had no real consequence, no real win. We all know folks that have fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and unlike our parents’ generation –
Ashley: And those who didn’t make it.
Gabby: Unlike Vietnam or even our grandparents in World War II, where they were fighting for a larger good, we’ve seen because of the war in Iraq the rise of ISIS and other types. We’ve experienced that so acutely. We just want results and somebody that is gonna do and turn out for us and for our interests in a real way.
Arisha: We’ve also uniquely experienced corporations rising –
Arisha: – becoming more globalized, taking more advantage. You were asking the question earlier, what is the Left version of the NRA – I’m not quite sure there is one, but I do know that across both party lines, corporations are the folks that have control over our elected officials right now. That’s for a variety of systemic reasons – rich people have set themselves up well to do well with key decision makers.
I do think, on the Left, what the presidential candidates should be afraid – I feel like if they can’t win over black voters, if they can’t show that they can win over women, it’s gonna be a problem because I think we saw it in the last presidential election cycle, the discussion about whether saying black lives matter or all lives matter became this “how are you gonna respond to that question.” I think there’ll be other things – reparations.
Ashley: Immigration reform.
Arisha: Immigration reform.
Ashley: Gun control.
Arisha: Criminal justice reform – that candidates better get right. We’re in the middle of MeToo, we’re post the Women’s March, and so a lot of our behaviors, attitudes towards women, the culture towards women I think is also gonna be a very important conversation in that Democratic candidates have to get right if they’re going to be able to show themselves as different than Trump.
Ashley: Thanks again to Arisha Hatch from Color Of Change and Gabby Seay from 1199SEIU. Coming up on Pod for the Cause we are talking civic engagement, so don’t go anywhere.
[Music 20:43 – 21:06]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Listen, I have one of the best organizers in the game on the show today. Ai-jen Poo, who is the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and the Co-Founder of Supermajority. Welcome to the show, Ai-jen.
Ai-jen: Thanks Ashley. So fun to be on.
Ashley: We’ve been talking this whole episode about civic engagement. We know we have a big presidential coming up, and you just launched with some of your other co-founders an effort called Supermajority. Can you talk to our listeners about why you started this effort and what you hope to accomplish?
Ai-jen: Supermajority is a new home for women’s activism. We have this amazing group of organizers who have decades, probably hundreds of years of organizing experience under our belts, and we looked around. We’ve been watching women’s activism on the rise all over the country between marching, and voting, and running for office, advocating, protesting, doing all the things required to make progress in this country. I think it’s just been incredible to watch.
We decided to go deeper and see what was going on with women. We went around the country, and did listening sessions with women from Ohio to Alabama, and just hearing what they’re seeing, what they need, what they want, and what’s important to them. What we found was that women were already incredibly active in their communities, and they wanted to do more. They wanted to connect, they wanted to be able to actually solve problems – not just resist, but start moving towards solutions, and get engaged in advocacy. The idea behind Supermajority is to create a home for women to be able to do all of those things, and do it together.
Ashley: That is amazing. You just said you had over 100 years of experience. We’re talking about Cecile Richards, who used to lead up Planned Parenthood, and Alicia Garza, Jessica Morales. These are folks who are doing the damn thing, basically, and organizing. How do you get a group of women like that together to launch Supermajority?
Ai-jen: What’s amazing about women is that we have always worked collaboratively, and a lot of our organizations are already constantly figuring out how we connect, and align, and work together. Many of our organizations had already been a part of the Women’s March together, we had been organizing around the elections together, and really getting the women’s vote out in 2018. We were already in motion together in many, many ways, and I think what we wanted was to make sure that in this historic moment of women’s activism, that we are able to really – a lotta people talk about what it looks like to be more than the sum of our parts.
We just recognized that women are, by far, the majority of everything, and then looking at the elections, more than 54 percent of the electorate. If we actually harnessed our power together, nothing would be impossible, and that’s, I think, why we were like, “It may not work, but we’ve gotta try.”
Ashley: We have to try. You guys are like the Destiny’s Child of organizing. It’s just the powerhouse crew. In 2016, when the poll results came back, we saw that particularly white women – about 53 percent of them – supported Trump. Do you think there’s a pathway to reach that population of the community through Supermajority?
Ai-jen: I do. I think that, obviously, women are not a monolith, and even within Asian women, Asian-American women voters, for example – we’re not a monolith. Just even thinking about how we break down different constituencies of women in ways that allow us to actually understand what their priorities are. I think the operating theory here is that the values that Supermajority is about promoting, which have to do with equality, and equity, and dignity, and the ability to support your families, and actually offer every generation a better life – these values are majoritarian values. They’re not left, right, Republican, Democrat – they’re actually majoritarian values.
If we start from that premise, I think that we have a path to reach a lot of women, and I think the 2018 elections also had some really interesting results in that we saw rural women swing towards Democrats by 17 points. I think that there’s – when you start to break down what is happening among women in a more nuanced way, you start to see lots of opportunity.
Ashley: You all just finished a organizing call this past week. How many people? It was all on my Twitter feed when you launched, when the organizing call – how many women did you get on this call in just a matter of weeks?
Ai-jen: Thousands and thousands of women are signing up. What’s amazing is, in the first week after the launch, 80,000 women joined Supermajority.
Ashley: Eighty thousand.
Ai-jen: Eighty thousand women joined as members, including more than 50,000 filled out a really in-depth form about all the issues they care about, and what they wanna work on, and what their experiences are in all 50 states.
Ashley: How do you reach 80,000 women? I know y’all are great organizers, but how do you do something like that?
Ai-jen: I think it was a combination of media, social media, word of mouth, and networks. Women are already networked, and between the group of us who launched Supermajority, we each have networks. The domestic workers network is vast and all over the country. The Pantsuit Nation team – that’s already a community of 3.5 million women. The Planned Parenthood community, the movement for black lives – there’s just so many networks where women are active and activated, and I think they were all engaged with us, which is really, really exciting.
Ashley: That’s amazing.
Ai-jen: We had 80,000 people sign up in the first week, and thousands of women signed up for member orientation calls. The call that I did last Friday, more than 1,400 women were on the phone for more than half an hour. I’ve never done a call that big. It was so exciting, but it just goes to show that there really is an appetite and a hunger for this.
Ashley: What were you telling them – it’s my Friday. People are busy. People have a lotta things to do, and reality is we’re still in 2019. We’re not even in 2020, and you get 1,400 women on the phone. What do you say to them to make them come back?
Ai-jen: We talked about what’s coming up and the fact that we’re gonna be looking to hear from them about their priorities this summer, and putting together an agenda – a women’s new deal, so to speak. On the calls we even did some polling of the people on the call about what kinds of resources they’re interested in, and also what kind of issues they wanna work on. It was about getting feedback and getting input, which I know a lot of women wanna be able to provide, which is great, and then it’s about giving people a sense of how they can really help build the organization and get more involved.
Ashley: The thing that’s most amazing about everything that you’re saying is that you’re listening to the people. You’re saying, “Give us your feedback. Give us your input. Build this with us,” and a lotta times in the movement and in organizations, it comes from the top down. It’s like your parents telling you to do something and when you’re a kid you don’t wanna listen to them, so why would you think it would be different when you’re an adult. It’s amazing that you are really centering this work on the people that are joining this effort day by day.
I wanna talk a little bit about – you mentioned the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the movement for black lives, Planned Parenthood – all these organizations that were coming together to form this collaborative, this effort called Supermajority. Some people would say, oh, we had the Women’s March so why do we need a supermajority, but it seems like you guys are all in it together. Can you talk a little bit about how you build the power by bringing everyone together instead of trying to be so siloed?
Ai-jen: I think that everybody has a real appetite for moving away from the scarcity type of model of organization and movement-building. There’s so much hunger and energy. What we have right now in this country – it’s not a resource challenge, it’s not a challenge in terms of courage. There’s no lack of courage, no lack of ambition, no lack of hunger to do the work. What we have is an organizing challenge, and to really meet that challenge is gonna require all of us.
When women are 54 percent of the electorate, and the majority of everything – the majority of college graduates, the majority of the workforce – it means that there’s just a lot of people out there to organize. Even if all of us who are at the top who are game, we still might not be able to meet the challenge. I think that we’re all recognizing that there’s work to be done, and a huge opportunity to do it together in a way that allows us to really organize at scale in a different way.
We are so much more powerful together, and I know it sounds rhetorical, but the truth is, is that there are so many different communities and constituencies of women to organize, and it’s gonna take all of us to do it.
Ashley: People are suffering day to day. People are figuring out how to pay for healthcare, how to pay for their education, how they’re gonna get to work, if they even have a job, and so to think that one group can solve all of it, or that there’s one entry point, is a flawed premise. I really love the fact that you all are doing this together. The Leadership Conference is a coalition in and of itself, and so our whole identity is that we are stronger together than we are separate. That was what our founding is.
If you were to fast forward to the day after the election, what do you hope the headline is about Supermajority?
Ai-jen: That women transformed the political landscape in the United States, and made the priorities of women national priorities that gave whoever became elected up and down the ballot – not just at the top of the ticket – but all of the candidates who were elected in the elections a mandate for governing that is about representing – fully representing – the interests, and the hopes, and aspirations of women.
Ashley: I’m in it. Count me in the 80,000. I’m in it to win it. You guys are doing amazing work. If somebody wants to get involved with Supermajority, what do they do?
Ai-jen: They go to our website, supermajority.com, and they can also sign up for member orientation calls. If you sign up as a member, you will get emails about what you can do to get more involved and how to help, but really what we are trying to do is organize. We would love for everybody to help spread the word and encourage others to sign up.
Ashley: Do you think people are gonna start having little meetings in their homes, like house parties, or meeting at local town – or is that still in the beginning stages of planning all that?
Ai-jen: I sure hope so. One of the things we’re gonna create is a survey tool so that lots and lots of women, thousands of women, can help us get feedback on what should be in the agenda. We’re hoping that people will gather for those, have house parties, and dinners, and playdates, and whatever else to be able to hear from as many women as possible on what should be the priorities.
Ashley: Do you just have the sense yet, based on some of your initial polling, what are the most important issues that women are starting to talk about?
Ai-jen: Issues like childcare and elder care are huge for women, who are still more than 80 percent of family caregivers in this country. Issues having to do with pay equity and wages. Women are still two-thirds of all minimum wage workers, so disproportionately working incredibly hard and still living in poverty. Then there’s everything from mass incarceration and the struggles for women who are incarcerated, to climate change and issues having to do with a planet being there for our future generations. Women are whole human beings with such expansive goals and aspirations for themselves and their families, so everything is coming up in a way that’s really exciting.
Ashley: Yeah, we are complex creatures, and we’re not one-dimensional voters, and for all the candidates from city dog catcher all the way up to running for President of the United States – if you think we are one-dimensional, you’re gonna lose. You’re not gonna speak to our whole selves.
Right before we close out, I just wanna ask you one question. I know that you’re not doing this to elect a specific person. You’re doing this to mobilize women, and if we mobilize women, we will elect someone who actually speaks to our values. If you could say one thing to these candidates that are running for office right now, particularly for the President of the United States in 2020, what’s the thing you want them to know, and they should start paying attention to and doing?
Ai-jen: That women and women’s organizing is the single most powerful force for change in this country, and they have a huge opportunity to tap into that power in order to bring this country and our democracy into the 21st century from a place of strength. To listen to women’s priorities is to actually create a pathway to a healthier, more prosperous future for everyone.
Ashley: Alright, y’all. You heard it directly from the Co-Founder of Supermajority, Ai-jen Poo. I am so happy that we got to talk to you today. This effort is so exciting. Count me in the number. Let me tell you, the women are coming for you, so you better listen, you better be ready because the future is female. Coming up, I’ll hit you with some real talk during our hot take, where I get a few things off my chest in three minutes or less.
[Music 35:59 – 36:23]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. We’ve been talking about civic engagement today, and between our Pod Squad and Ai-jen, I have a couple things I need to tell you.
Fast forward. It’s November 4, 2020, and honestly, I’m a little hungover in the aftermath of what was a long night for the most important election in my life. But luckily, unlike 2016, the feeling of having one too many glasses of red wine is from celebration that Trump is no longer going to be president. He lost! Despite every effort to suppress voters in predominantly black and brown communities, we saw record turnout with young people, Latinx folks, and black people, with especially black women leading the way, #trustblackwomen.
Middle class white voters, yeah. They split 50/50 and that includes white women that still support Trump by about 50 percent, but at least we got three percent of them back. Despite all of this, Trump is out. I’m walking through the airport to get back to DC because I spent some time knocking doors in my home state of Ohio for GOTV. And listen, the pundits heads are spinning. Fox is claiming voter fraud even though we all know it doesn’t exist. CNN has a million smartboards up to show how all the electoral maps came together, and MSNBC, they have a bunch of folks on there explaining how the secret sauce of victory is made.
I’m just relieved that this country has said no to white supremacy, no to homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, and corruption. But who is this mystery person that beat Trump? Who spoke to the people, and that despite their race, their gender, their age, or sexual identity, they were the antidote to Trump? Oh wait, y’all thought I was a fortune-teller? Nah, I don’t know the name of the president-elect, but I do know what they stood for, I know how they showed up, and what they were able to build.
Look, if you’re a 2020 hopeful that believes in civil and human rights, here’s my top five things to do to win.
- Number one: be authentic. People are sick of politics, and they’re worn out by the talking points from four, eight, 12 years of election cycles ago. They don’t work, so stop using them.
- Number two: poor people matter. Yes, we believe in the working class, and the middle class, but people are also poor in this country, and poverty is a real thing. We can’t be willing to talk about folks that are making the most money in this country while in the same breath ignore the people who make the least. Present solutions that focus on the least of these.
- Number three: the robots are here. Artificial intelligence, and automation, and tech is here. If you think you can fight that wave, you need to drop out the race right now. These things add perks to our lives, but only when used responsibly. You need to be able to talk about the future of work and the jobs that they’re gonna take from everyone. You also need to be able to address racist algorithms that hurt people of color. Oh, and while you’re at it, how about you protect my privacy please? Thanks.
- Number four: don’t rely on anything too much. Data is important, polls are important, ads are important, the media’s important – and yes, Twitter does matter, but not one without the other. Don’t bank your whole campaign strategy on any of these things alone, or even all combined. Talk to real people over, and over, and over. Speak to their true experience and they will show up for you.
- Number five: speak to your base. People who believe in civil and human rights – aka progressives, and social justice and racial justice advocates – are people of color, immigrants, young people, women of color. If you write policies that are focused on these communities, everybody wins. Don’t be afraid to speak to them.
The road to 2020 is long and it ain’t paved in gold. Also Trump could still win re-election, but if we follow these five basic things, and we start the work now, we might just have a shot.
[Music 40:47 – 41:04]
Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up @podforthecause on all social platforms. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.
[Music 41:28 – 42:01]