Activist Cecile Richards: Women 'most powerful organizing force in the country'

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Cecile Richards, past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, addresses a crowd as the keynote speaker at the Women of Vision benefit held at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills Thursday.

Farmington Hills — Marching in protest, knitting a pink "pussy hat" and calling elected officials are "great ways" to fight for women's rights, activist Cecile Richards said Thursday.

"But voting — that is the whole deal; that is how we will fundamentally change the direction of this country. It's not enough unless we vote as well,” Richards told nearly 430 people at the National Council of Jewish Women, Michigan's annual “Women of Vision” benefit luncheon.

Richards, past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a women’s rights activist, said women are the most powerful organizing force in the country.

"And we have work to do," Richards said. "I think we are on the verge of a major breakthrough in this county. ...Together we are a movement and we are unstoppable."

Richards, whose mother, Ann, was the first elected female governor in Texas, said she likes to point out that women aren’t a special interest group.

They are a majority of the population of the country, make up nearly half the workforce, account for half of college students and more than half of voters, she said.

Yet they are not treated equally, Richards said.

"When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified, she spoke for millions of women in this country who has been silenced or shut out for too long," Richards said of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. "And I feel like the tidal wave of activism and compassion she unleashed is proof that women aren't going to be silenced any more in America."

Women want full equality, Richards said, socially, economically and politically.

"Women want a lot more than just to stop what's happening and just resist. I think what women want is to no longer be an afterthought or an accommodation," Richards said.

"We don't want to have to argue just for incremental achievement or equal pay. ... It would take 145 years to get equal pay in this country and I don't have 145 years left." 

In gender equality and politics, Richards says the United States is behind Saudi Arabia and Sudan. And the number of female governors in the United States has declined from nine to six.

"We know if we are not at the table, we are on the menu," Richards quipped.

Richards told The Detroit News that Kavanaugh's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court is a major cause of concern for the future of women's rights.

"His attitudes towards women, women's issues and reproductive rights are very troubling," Richards said. "There are several cases in line to go to the Supreme Court all over this country where states have tried to undercut the promise of Roe, of having equal access."

This is not just about one case overturning Roe, she said.

"It's about eviscerating the whole promise," Richards said. "The danger of Brett Kavanaugh is that he does not fundamentally support this right. And there are many many ways you can undermine it."

Richards is well-known nationally for her commitment to reproductive health care for women. Her book, a memoir and social activism playbook, "Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead" was published in early 2018 and became a New York Times bestseller.

Proceeds from Thursday's event at Adat Shalom Synagogue will support the organization’s community service projects and social advocacy work.

Rochelle Upfal attended the event Thursday, saying Richards has been a brave advocate for women across the United States at a difficult time in the nation.

"She has been such a leader and advocate really a voice of all women for rights over our own body. Being able to stand up as women for what we believe in whether it's our body, our political views," Ufal said. "We can't remain silent. We can't assume others will speak for us."