Funding for To the Contrary provided by: Hello, I'm Bonnie Erbé.
Welcome to To the Contrary, a discussion of news and social trends from diverse perspectives.
Joining us today, is Laphonza Butler, president of Emily's List.
Emily's List is one of the oldest and most influential pro-choice political action committees.
It was founded to help elect pro-choice women to office.
Ms. Butler is the third president of the organization.
Before her historic appointment, Ms. Butler was a senior advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris's presidential campaign.
Ms. Butler, welcome to the program.
Thank you for your time and for being here.
Thanks for having me, Bonnie.
I'm excited to be here.
Now you, your appointment is historic as head of Emily's List one of, the oldest, one of the older, I should say, second generation feminist organizations.
It's been around for decades and decades.
What are your goals for Emily's List now?
Well, Bonnie, I, it is such a honor really to be only the third president in the 37 year history of, of Emily's List.
And now you spoke about the historic nature of my tenure.
And I just want to call those out as being the first mom to ever serve in the role of president of Emily's List.
In addition to being the first woman of color, first black woman in this role.
And so what I want to do as I work with the incredible team here at Emily's List is we as we write the next chapter, and I serve my time here at Emily's List.
You know, what's key to me is making sure that we are able to make this incredible asset accessible to all women.
It is important to me and I think important to our democracy, that we really reflect that the people that who we elect to represent us actually represent and be a reflection of the population.
And so, Emily's List was created to change the face of politics.
And I think we can do even more and go even beyond by continuing to break glass ceilings.
I also want to ensure that Emily's List remains a relevant organization to young voters and young women who are preparing to run.
Emily's List has done incredible work recruiting and helping to build that candidate pipeline and communities all over the country.
And I think we've got to do a lot more work to reintroduce ourselves to younger voters, to the next generation of women who are going to be candidates.
And, you know, lastly, we have been able to sustain this organization because of its strategic focus on electing democratic, pro-choice women, helping them to stand up sophisticated electoral campaigns and be viable and competitive in whatever race they choose.
And so being able to do that in a strategic way, that is not just about the races that are in front of us in this moment, but with a real eye towards the future has been a lot of what has been sustaining for for Emily's List.
And so ensuring that it is that the doors are wide open, that we are introducing ourself to the next generation of candidates and that we are strategic and continue to be strategic in our engagement, I think is going to be an incredibly rich part of the next chapter of Emily's List.
Now, you say strategic, which obviously means looking at from a longer vantage point and really setting your strategy, as opposed to just going out there and doing what you think is best to elect pro-choice women, to office.
Looking at it from a strategic position.
But what does that mean to you personally and how will it be different from what Ellen Malcolm, who founded the organization and the other leaders of it, have been doing over the years?
You know, look, when when Ellen and her band of Mighty Warriors got to join together in her basement 37 years ago, there was there was so much ground to cover.
Women who were running as, pro-choice women who were running as Democrats had no ability to break through the Democratic infrastructure they referred to as the good old boys club and the first woman elected to Senate in her own right, Barbara Mikulski, that work was done by a very young, youthful Emily's List.
We now have different we have greater challenges to changing the representation of and influence in their representation.
And so what strategic means to me, Bonnie, our, our landscape is very different from the 1985 landscape.
Not only is the election of Democratic pro-choice women about continuing to break down the structural barriers for women being successful in being elected to politics, but we also have seen by the very presence of leaders like Barbara mikulski, the difference that women in leadership make.
And so we are we have to ensure again and again for strategy what strategic means to me, it's not only electing those women doing it in places that are not, that are about the change, making the changes in government that that working families need all over the country.
We expect our government to work on our behalf.
And so it is and will remain a clear strategic imperative for Emily's List to elect Democratic pro-choice women.
And, you know, can we go deeper in states to really build out that pipeline?
Is, a part of what that means to me.
So not just electing Barbara Mikulski to the US Senate from Maryland.
Maryland has also never had a a woman run statewide to be I mean, or does not today have a woman running statewide to be to be governor.
There's literally only one woman who's running right now statewide in in Maryland and in Emily's List, the influence, the story of of changing leadership, changing the face of leadership started in that in that very state.
And so I think that that there is clearly more work that we need to do.
Look at a place like Michigan where we have not only Governor Whitmer, but we also have Attorney General Nessel and Secretary of State Benson.
We have legislative majorities, Democratic, pro-choice women, who are leading legislative majorities in states like Nevada and New Mexico.
There is and the laws that are being passed, the work that is being done is is substantively different in those places and in those states.
And we want to make sure that women and women of all walks of life are able to be engaged very deeply in these states that are critical to the protection of our democracy and our fundamental freedoms.
And so that's a bit of what strategic means to me.
It means being very focused.
It means being deep and wide on purpose.
It means having intentionality about in being inclusive and and fundamentally, it means.
But let me ask you this.
Have have prior regimes at Emily's List and all the other major and long term, NOW NARAL, AAUW, go down the list, Have they been inclusive enough of women of color?
Look, I think all of us can do all of these organizations should be saying that they need to be doing better by women of color.
And it's not to name anyone in particular.
I represent Emily's List and I think the board of Emily's List recognizes that while the history of Emily's List being involved in electing women of color is rich.
We have way more work to do.
You know, this, Bonnie, Emily's List was was there in the in the election of Carol Moseley Braun as the first black woman senator from Illinois and Who was, who was on our show many times.
And so the history of Emily's List is is very, very rich.
And there is more work to be done.
You know, we shouldn't we shouldn't still we are still celebrating women of color as firsts.
And we're still we still we have yet to elect a black woman governor of any state in this country.
Today, in 2022, there is not a black woman in the U.S. Senate.
Even as we're having conversations about voting rights and child care, we have a lot more work to do.
And every organization is responsible, in my opinion, for doing that work.
Do you think Stacey Abrams has a shot at becoming the first African-American female governor of Georgia?
And and what are you doing to help her up?
Look, I of course I think Stacey Abrams has a shot at being the first black woman elected governor in this country when she wins in Georgia this cycle.
What Emily's List has stood with Stacey Abrams since she was running in the legislature.
And that's the kind of relationship I think it's important for people to understand about the work that it takes to really change the face of politics.
It's not about running with someone one time.
It is being willing to stick it out and fight it through, learn the lessons when we lose and move forward.
And so because we have been with Stacey Abrams, we know how incredible of a candidate she is.
We know how deeply she carries the stories and the dreams and the pains of Georgians every single day.
And what are we doing to help her?
We're investing in her race.
We have endorsed her.
Our community is supporting her by sending resources to her campaign.
And, you know, I was there and have been there with her and done several events in Georgia.
She has been here in D.C. and done events on behalf of of Emily's List.
That is, you know, how this whole operation, I think, has to work.
We don't just elect women and women of color in particular because we want it to happen.
We have to roll up our sleeves and do the work, and that's what we're doing.
So what is that work?
Because quite frankly, about a year ago, one of our African-American panelists, I asked her if young women of color were going to we're going to get out in the midterms and vote for Democrats.
And she said, I don't think so.
And I said, Why?
And she said, Well, we did it for Biden.
And look, we haven't gotten anything.
I mean, she didn't take into account that we have a very narrowly divided Senate, 50/50 with the vice president, Kamala Harris whom you worked for, breaking a lot of tied votes, and two Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and the one from West Virginia who are, who split from the part all the time.
And very few Republicans.
Murkowski of Alaska and Collins of Maine, sometimes.
Who's, who, where early, much less often than the Democrats split from their party, will, they split from their party.
So do you think what's your message to young people in the midterms, which are in many ways just as important as the 2024 presidential election, will be?
Bonnie, you're making such an incredibly important point.
We the the truth about time is that we don't get to 24 without going through 22.
And to young voters out there who are thinking about what's the next presidential election going to be and who's going to be running?
I would call their attention to what is happening in front of us right now.
And I want to call young women to pay attention to what is happening and the role that that elections play in terms of the freedoms that they that they have.
And, frankly, the ones that that are poised to be rolled back.
We saw some of the most horrific gun violence in in Texas, in Buffalo, in Oklahoma.
It matters who we vote for in these elections because these are our communities and we should be make we should make sure that the people who are representing us in these communities, you know, stand with protecting them as opposed to protecting their relationship with the NRA.
It is clear this cycle and in my opinion, every cycle, who is standing with the will of the American people?
And I think young voters are right, all voters are right, to demand exactly the, to demand the best government can do on their behalf.
And they should lift their voices and should be holding to account every single person that has, you know, that made commitments to them, who have turned their back.
And I think they they should take an opportunity this midterm cycle to send a very clear message about what they expect for 2024.
And so I called them to engage and to be a part of and to be a part of this midterm.
Now, tell me, you as a PAC, the job of most PACs is to fund candidates who support their for their political philosophies.
What besides funding and possibly funding, a whole lot of young women of color to run for office.
What are you doing besides that?
You say you're reaching out.
Are you holding a town hall meetings with them?
Are you running voter registration drives?
Which is, of course, how Stacey Abrams became so powerful in Georgia and across the country.
So explain to the audience, if you would, please, what it is you are doing in that direction.
So so I think it's important for the audience to understand what Emily's List is.
It is, as you noted, Bonnie, a political action committee.
A lot of the activities that you just enumerated are activities that happen in different types of of organizations.
But I but I think that it is important for people to understand the comprehensive nature of the work that that Emily's List does as a political action committee.
And what we do is soup to nuts start to finish the most comprehensive.
We are the most comprehensive organization that works to get Democratic, pro-choice women elected.
What do we do?
We, one, recruit candidates to run for office.
It is has been well-documented that women that it's harder to get women to to feel confident about running for office.
I think the Barbara Lee Foundation characterizes it as on average seven times have to be asked.
Women on average have to be asked seven times before they say yes to run for office.
And so it is.
It is amazing that is.
And that is not the same for our our male colleagues.
And I think we we know that to be to be the case.
But but we do the work to recruit candidates.
And the what it takes to recruit those candidates is about partnership on the ground, being engaged with organizations that have the credibility, that have the infrastructure already, that that have, you know, not recruiting in nonprofits and and community organizers and parties and lawyers and and unions all over the country.
There is a lot of work that goes into recruitment.
And you can imagine, Bonnie, if you were a teacher yesterday and you want to run for city council, you have no idea necessarily how to put together a campaign.
And so we move from recruitment to training and campaign services.
We help the candidates find campaign managers, find fundraisers, making sure that they have budgets that can be supported for the duration of of the campaign cycle.
We work to make sure that they are prepared from a digital fundraising perspective, which is a new, you know, fairly new component of the fundraising and early money that is that is so related to to Emily's List.
We move from recruitment to and training and campaign services.
And depending on the level of your the level of race that you're running for, we actually work to help people, help Democratic pro-choice women win.
And so we run independent expenditure expenditures through our women vote entity that actually helps to find messages that work within particular districts that are directed at particular voters that move margins for those women to win.
So, yes, we start at the very, very beginning.
We ensure that the campaign is running and fully operational and at peak performance, and we do the fundraising to actually move people into winning winning elections the best the best way we can and that independent expenditure race.
So why did Emily's List, of course, before you came on board, I think maybe not, Why did the why did Emily's List exclude Kyrsten Sinema as a someone they would give money to the senator from Arizona.
It was not before I joined.
It was, I was, a part of that decision making with our leadership, our, our board.
And what it is that where things were with Senator Sinema was that she, as you noted, it was a part of the very slim majority of Democrats who could actually do something to protect voting rights for millions of Americans in this country.
Fair and equal access to the ballot is an essential part of our democracy and an essential part of the execution of the mission of Emily's List.
And when we have when there is a candidate that has been that has benefited from the work of Emily's List, who would choose to use their position to not ensure that other women can benefit as well.
We can't support it.
There's it makes it very difficult to be able to put together the kind of coalition that can help that candidate win and so that is why we made the announcement in a decision that we did about Senator Sinema and, you know, having equal and fair access to the ballot is an essential part of the execution of the mission of Emily's List.
We both know that the very sad, in a way, history, well in any way, history of the suffragist movement was when there were was an important parade down Pennsylvania Avenue pushing for passage of the 19th Amendment, that black women were sent to the back of the parade.
They were not allowed to walk with the white women at the front of the parade.
And you would think women who had been discriminated against so badly could understand why they shouldn't have done that.
Now, we come to today and as as I mentioned earlier now Emily's List, the American Association of University Women, Planned Parenthood, NARAL they all have.
And as you said, including yourself, first women of color running those organizations, does that mean the prejudices that were suffered by women of color, a century ago have now been put to rest?
Or do they still exist?
Of course they still exist just because the person in the in the seat changes, it doesn't change or erase.
The history of those organizations doesn't change the harm that that might have been experienced or and created by actions and decisions, however well-intended they might have been.
There is a distinction between impact and intention, Bonnie, and the impacts of those who were in charge.
Of course, still exist.
There is work to do, as I noted, and I think all of us are, you know, in the organizations that you mentioned, but but other organizations as well are committed to continuing to do that work on top of acknowledging the histories and the realities that that have been.
We have to remember what those experiences were.
So that we don't repeat them.
What percentage of women of color has Emily's List?
Their campaigns has Emily's List funded in the last decade or over the history of the organization?
And what percentage or ballpark area should it be for the future?
Emily's List has done some work to track this number, and I will say, when it comes to members of Congress, we have tracked this number, 40% of the women that Emily's List has supported to to be members of Congress have been women of color.
And that is throughout our organizational history.
But I and so it is it is not lost at Emily's List that our response ability is not just to elect Democratic pro-choice women, but that that that we have the responsibility to contribute to the diversity there in.
And, you know, I don't have a number in my head in terms of what it should be.
I think that's the wrong way for us to think about this.
I think it has to be really about the communities that these women come from.
It has to be about ensuring that there is a voice to every experience.
I think that it has to be thought about in that context and ensuring that there is a place and belonging for us all.
And the moment we start to think about numbers is the moment I think that we get into a very divisive place.
But but the numbers are important.
Look, women are more than 50% of the of the electorate.
That's just true.
And we are 25% of the House and of the of Congress.
And I think 30% of state and local representation that is nowhere near the 50% representation of the elected that electorate that we are.
And so, look, I and the numbers get even worse when you dig into into specific communities the AAPI representation, the native representation.
We have a lot more work to do.
Thank you so, so much for your time and elucidation of these issues for us.
Laphonza Butler, thank you again That's it for this edition.
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And whether you agree or think to the contrary, see you next time.
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