Cecile Richards Is Ready for the Uprising

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. I’m an activist, an educator, and a writer. I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband Reggie. But I grew up in my beloved St. Louis, where I was raised to do justice work—it’s the only life I know, the only life I’ve ever wanted—and I’m so excited to be starting this new adventure with you.

           Toni Morrison The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Toni Morrison made it clear what the most insidious enemy is: distraction. “It keeps you from doing YOUR work. It keeps you explaining over and over your reason for being.” Sister Toni said those words back in 1975—and frankly…the past is always prologue.

Racist political stunts, grossly demeaning attacks on our women leaders, everyday microaggressions…Toni was right: “None of it is necessary.” This is a wild time! Between a global pandemic, a social justice revolution, and a life-changing election, I know many of us are feeling overwhelmed. But imagine how much more we could be doing without all the draining, taxing, even dangerous distractions.

Together with the dope folks over at The Meteor, we wanted to build a podcast focused on the next tomorrow so we can get busy designing it today. We want to spotlight what really matters: gender equity, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, accessible healthcare, reproductive justice, democracy—All the big change, and big stuff—folks tell us is IMPOSSIBLE but we know is necessary.

Over here, intersectionality is how we do it. (Shout out to my girl, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw—the Black legal scholar who coined the term—and the framework.) Intersectional feminism may just sound like a lot of syllables, but it’s really just a lens. A lens to better see the unique experiences that so many of us face. When we do that, we can build better solutions. Listen, I love gospel and trap music, Audre Lorde and Beyoncé. I’m a news junkie, but I still watch way too much reality TV.

This isn’t about forcing everyone into some one-size-fits-all definition of social consciousness, and it’s definitely not about judging who’s enlightened and who’s not. I’m on this journey with y’all—ALL of you who want to ask better questions, find better answers, and finally fully GET FREE.

So, enough with the distractions…the noise…the billions of tweets…We got work to do. We’re going to do it together, and find our joy along the way.

Over here, we’ve got our eyes on the prize. WE are UNDISTRACTED.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham On the show today…Supermajority co-founder Cecile Richards!

I’ll be talking to the women’s rights activist and former president of Planned Parenthood about the Supreme Court, next week’s election, and how we can come together to build a truly equitable feminist movement.

           Cecile Richards It is going to be a mass uprising of women and it’s going to be led by women of color. And if we don’t get right the narrative this time—shame on all of us.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “Untrending News.” It’s news either that has left the trending page or that never trended in the first place but that we know is critical to getting free.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham This past week, a prominent Trump supporter criticized a portrait of Joe Biden kissing his son—and well, the Internet responded in the most beautiful way.

The black-and-white photo shows Biden holding his youngest son—50-year-old Hunter Biden—and kissing him on the cheek. Conservative TV host John Cardillo asked his 270,000 followers: “Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you?” In response our girl Liz Plank—the author of “For the Love of Men: From Toxic To A More Mindful Representation—she invited men to “reply with a picture of their dad holding them.”

The Internet delivered—with men posting hundreds of photos of them hugging their dads and sons. The photos are affectionate, honest, and powerful—and have sparked important conversations about the old-fashioned ideas of masculinity.

Love isn’t gendered… and it should be shared freely.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Scientists have been rushing to come up with a cure for COVID-19, but one 14-year-old girl might’ve found it. Anika Chebrolu, an Indian-American girl, spent the past year looking for COVID treatments from her bedroom in Frisco, Texas.

This week, the high school freshman won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her discovery: a compound that can bind to the coronavirus, and stop its ability to infect people.

 Anika Chebrolu I started with a database of over 698 million compounds.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Anika beat out nine other finalists to be named America’s top young scientist. Her prize includes $25,000….and bragging rights of the decade.
Anika, GIRL, are we grateful for you.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Chrissy Teigen is opening up more about why she shared photos of her pregnancy loss.

A month ago, the supermodel, chef, and TV host and her husband, our friend John Legend, shared heartbreaking images from the hospital room where the family said their final goodbyes. The Instagram post—which resonated with many who’ve experienced pregnancy loss— resulted in weird backlash from trolls questioning why they took the photos in the first place.

Now, in a new personal essay on Medium, Chrissy writes: ”I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this, or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me.”

Look y’all, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. And as far as I’m concerned, choosing to share your grief to free others is as generous as it gets. I needed the photos, Chrissy. We’re sending love to you, John, and your beautiful family as you move forward.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham And finally. Over in Nigeria, protesters are continuing their movement to end police violence.

Demonstrators have been calling for an end to the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad—known as SARS—which has been accused of unlawful arrests, sexual assault, harassment of queer Nigerians, and extrajudicial killings. Circumstances for protesters became increasingly violent last week after unarmed protestors were gunned down in Lagos, leaving at least 12 people dead.

The hashtag #EndSARS has been trending around the world, and celebrities are continuing to speak out, including H.E.R. whose band wore “EndSARS” T-shirts on SNL last weekend.

Here’s my take. We Americans often get too caught up in our own mess to be good global neighbors. Dignity knows no borders.

Love and solidarity to the many people sacrificing everything to reclaim their humanity from state violence.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, it’s been a frustrating, if not devastating week. Republicans rushed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in what many are calling “a total farce.” It’s me. I’m the many. But we still need to stay strong for next week’s election and every day thereafter. My first guest says she hopes Barrett’s appointment will be a “wake up call for women voters.”

Cecile Richards is the former president of Planned Parenthood, and co-founder of the political action group Supermajority.

Her organization has been mobilizing women across the country to vote—as she believes that “We, the people–and we, the supermajority of women–should determine the direction of the country.”

I first met Cecile at…honestly I don’t even remember where I first met Cecile. But once we did meet, it felt like we’d always known each other. I’ve got so much respect for her and I’m glad we’ve remained friends and partners in the struggle.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Cecile Richards! Thank you so much for being with us! I’m so excited to talk to you!

Cecile Richards Same! I know I missed you.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I miss you too. But this is precisely the moment where we need to be having these kinds of conversations.

Cecile Richards What a moment.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Amy Coney Barrett, a changing Supreme Court, a massively consequential election. How are you feeling right now?

Cecile Richards Well, I mean a mixture: one just so ready for this election to be over. You know, for a lot of women, and I put myself in this number, I’ve been waiting for this election since the day after the last one. And so it just could not come too soon. And it’s hard then to also hold, on the other hand, this horrific miscarriage of justice, which is what this hearing, or really lack of a hearing has been around Amy Coney Barrett and just the hypocrisy and frustration that folks feel is…profound.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And it’s frightening, quite frankly, especially given how pivotal a role Justice Ginsburg played. So break this down for us. How do you think or frankly, how do you fear a Coney Barrett addition and the ideological shift in the courts balance will impact US?

Cecile Richards Of course, number one, the attempt by the Trump administration to completely overturn the Affordable Care Act is going to be heard five days after the election. So that’s like front and center, not to mention, whether it is access to safe and legal abortion in this country, which there are so many cases, I think 17 stacked up to come, come to the Supreme Court; LGBTQ rights. I saw a tweet, you know, a couple of days ago, just like “the pope is now more progressive than this new justice on the Supreme Court on LGBTQ rights.” There is a host of things. And the one area that hasn’t been talked about as much, but we were all facing down, is enormous voter suppression. I really worry about long-term voting rights protections, because if they can undermine those, of course, that’s a threat to democracy for decades to come. Is that bad enough?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, it’s pretty bad. But what we’re essentially talking about is power and autonomy. Right?

Cecile Richards Right.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And back to this point about bodily autonomy and your time at Planned Parenthood. Trump has made it completely clear since day one, that he wants to end access to abortion rights and bodily autonomy. Ivanka and Jared pretty much summoned you early in the administration to talk about this very thing.

Cecile Richards You’re exactly right. I can’t believe you remember that! His message to me was, look, we’ve got all the cards, we’ve got all the chips, we’ve got all the power. So you’ve got to make a deal with us because if you don’t, there is no deal. And of course, his deal was Planned Parenthood should just quit providing abortions to anyone…And if we would, “make that deal,” he would get us more money. It was so raw—the lack of empathy and understanding for what pregnant people face in the United States was so profound. But again, I think it’s just been part and parcel of what we’ve seen. This is not a government, this is a deal-making operation. And people’s lives and their futures get traded away every day. And it’s oh my god. So I’m so ready for a change.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’m still stuck on Jared saying to you: “We’ve got all the power.” That one is stunning. But 18 months ago, you co-founded Supermajority based on the exact opposite idea that the power actually belongs to the people. So what is Supermajority built to do?

Cecile Richards Well, that’s right! Right after the last election, you know, I couldn’t walk down the street, without someone stopping me and saying, “What am I supposed to do now? I marched. I went to my town hall meeting, I wrote letters to Mitch McConnell. Now, what am I supposed to do?” And so, along with some other organizers, Alicia Garza, you know, one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter global movement, and Ai-jen, who runs the National Domestic Workers Alliance, along with others, we decided we needed to create kind of a political home for women where women could continue to find their power, lean into it, get the kind of training and information and community they needed, particularly because we knew heading into 2020, that women would be the majority of voters that we needed to call a lot of women in who hadn’t been with us in 2016. And that really is what we spent the last year and a half doing and of course, now we’re right up on this election where THE deciders in 2020—in every election, whether it’s the presidential, whether it’s the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, which is so exciting, or whether it’s the United States Senate or state House races—women are going to be the majority of voters and actually heard, I’ll just, well say Senator Harris, I guess I want to call her vice president-elect but Senator Harris says, it’s so important for us to remember as women, that we have power and that people cannot take that away from us and that we’re not alone. And that is really the animating, you know, sentiment, I feel every single day that women are rising up together, supporting each other, taking joy in our successes and fighting back.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham But there has to be a standard to that power. Right? And you’ve said before that, “White women can’t continue to rely on Black women and other women of color to be progressive voters.” What exactly did you mean by that?

Cecile Richards No, 100%. Because, well, of course, you look at 2016 when Hillary Clinton, well, one, let’s just always remind everybody got 3 million more voter votes than the current occupant of the White House, and got a majority of women’s votes, but not a majority of white women’s votes. And I think that was really a wake-up call for a lot of folks. In fact Hillary talks about the number of women who walk up to her and say: “I just can’t believe I didn’t vote” or, you know, fill in the blank. And yet, of course, Black women always in the lead—the most progressive, most reliable voters in the country, and the most supportive of all the issues that we care about. But they can’t do it on their own. And we as white women can’t rely on Black women to save us from ourselves. Look, we’ll see what happens in this election. But I think the narrative, it really has to be that women banded together on a host of issues and said “We deserve better, if not necessarily for ourselves but for our sisters as well.” And I hope that is what happens not only on November 3rd, but frankly, running into this next administration, because this is just a door opening. It’s not suddenly everything is going to come down from on high. Women are going to have to continue to fight for the things we care about—racial justice, economic fairness, inequality, health care access, and frankly, reforming our democracy so every vote does actually count.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham But I’m so glad you said this, because and we always keep it all the way real with each other, Cecile, I don’t want to be in coalition with people who will use my labor, and then sell me out when it’s convenient, like the 53% of white women who voted for Trump that you’re referring to. So how do we make sure that we build coalitions that aren’t focused solely and exclusively on the issues of women of privilege?

Cecile Richards Right? Everything’s a process, right, Brittany? So this is not like, people just wake up one day and go: “Whoa, I’m a different person.” As my friend Katherine Grainger, one of our co-founders for Supermajority says, you know: “This should be a movement for the woke AND the awakening.” Or as Ai-Jen says: “Building a movement means addition, not subtraction.” So how are we calling women in who may not have been with us on these issues in the past, or just frankly, not doing much, and making sure that now, after an election, we’re not simply going back to the way things were. And I’m really glad there’s been so much conversation about like, this is not a “let’s get back to how things were before Donald Trump,” because quite honestly, things were not great for women, and particularly women of color, and particularly Black women, before Donald Trump. So this has got to be a new reckoning with what is the world we want to live in? And then how do we build it together? And that means also centering the experience of women of color, because on every single issue that I’m sure that you talk about on this show, and that we see in whether it is access to healthcare, access to maternity care—every single issue, and particularly ones that have struck us in this pandemic, are felt more profoundly by women of color, women with low income and so on. That has to continue to be the frame if we are ever gonna really make the kind of systemic change we need.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love this idea of addition and not subtraction—being how we build movements, and calling those women in who maybe weren’t with us in the past— is a beautiful, necessary powerful thing. But how do we make sure that these coalitions we’re building don’t just fall apart once women of privilege get the thing that they want and then decide to move on?

Cecile Richards Yeah, I mean, that’s why organizing matters, I believe. And that’s why organizing multiracial communities matters. Because I mean, I think that a lot of us who’ve been organizers for a long time have to learn from all the mistakes of the past and, you know, pledge not to not to repeat them. Part of this is for folks to just look around the rooms that they’re in that they’re trying to make change and see who’s not there. And make sure that we’re broadening our circles and just trying to change it for the few people we know.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You talked about pledging not to repeat the mistakes of the past, these are mistakes, we’ve seen that kick women out of movements for generations. I’m really curious, though, the conversations that you’ve been having with other white women in your life to this end, because frankly, after 2016, Cecile,—I know I can trust you—but a lot of Black and Indigenous and women of color are trying to figure out if we can trust the rest of these white women.

Cecile Richards Sure, no, I mean, and with good reason. And if we’re really going to be serious about addressing the systemic issues of patriarchy, and racism: one, we got to do both together, because you can’t solve one, these are twins that have, like, grown up together in our country that we were really founded on. And so if we’re not interrogating both of those factors, then we’re not really talking about the kind of change that we need to make. And also, I think we have to recognize that,—not that you should trust all white women, because we’re going to get it wrong. You know, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get on the journey, cause I do think we have a new chance. And it’s going to mean constantly calling people in, myself included, right? I make mistakes all the time. And one of the reasons I’ve loved being able to work at Supermajority is the ability for folks to say, you know what, that’s not right. We’re not actually getting that right. Even talking about what’s happening in this election. This is, may be just a small example. Assuming that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected, and the President finally leaves the White House, historically, the narrative is always, “Oh, well, it was like soccer moms, or it was suburban moms, or it was, you know, fill in the blank.” And the truth is, it is going to be a mass uprising of women. This is the largest gender gap I’ve ever seen. And it is going to be led by women of color. If we don’t get that narrative right this time, shame on all of us. Obviously, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude for the patience that Black women have shown, the perseverance they have shown, while the rest of us get in line. Does that make sense to you?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Oh, it makes perfect sense. Especially the last almost 36 years as a Black woman. You said we have a new chance which by the way is probably an opening line of whatever next book you decide to write cause it is a powerful idea. And at UNDISTRACTED we said that we wanted to build a podcast for the next tomorrow. Right? You’ve said that, “there’s no overstating the power of women to determine the future of this country.” There is so much hanging in the balance right now. Certainly far too much for us to reduce feminism to another women’s empowerment brunch—we had a lot of those.

Cecile Richards Well, we don’t even have those anymore, right? Because we can’t see each other but fair point, fair point.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Women’s empowerment, brunches, all of the above. This is deeper than that. Right? We’ve got to come further than that. So how do we come together and stop accepting the short end of the stick and actually create a truly equitable future together?

Cecile Richards Look, it’s…I mean, boy I wish I completely knew the answer. But I do think women have been doing the work forever to make change. And certainly in these last four years, and now we’re all focused on this election. But things will not change unless we use this newfound power to drive our own reckoning with government, because the issues that we’re dealing with are structural and they are systemic. We have to have aspirations that put our issues collectively at the top of the agenda—not at the bottom of the agenda—and really make government understand they cannot rely on us just as the foot soldiers to be there at election time and then go back home. I think this potential new administration has made commitments around issues of race, of reproductive justice, rebuilding our economy—where women and women of color are in the center of it. And we have to demand nothing less. Because as we all know, change is hard. And especially in Washington, D.C., nobody’s looking for big change. And we’ve got to be demanding big change right now. I really hope that is what we— that we don’t settle for anything less, because, again, elections are just way-stations in this fight for equality. And there is no more powerful force in this country right now than women and women of color. And I just hope we use our power.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Like you said before, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

Cecile Richards Yeah. This is serious. And it’s exciting. And I look at young women who are not only leading, but they’re running for office, and they’re doing it like 40 years before anyone said they could. I think the most important thing right now is like, you know, don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait to be asked. Start before you’re ready. Seeing young women in Congress in my own home state of Texas, who would have thought, I think the Texas democratic delegation is going to be 50% women after this election—and diverse. Like there are historic changes happening because women are stepping up to lead in a just incredibly exciting way.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Because it’s time for big change and we cannot accept anything less. Cecile, thank you so much for the gift of your time, but more importantly, the gift of your solidarity and sacrifice to help us design a better future. We are so, so grateful.

Cecile Richards Okay, well, let’s go do it.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Let’s do it.

Cecile Richards Thank you, Brittany.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Cecile Richards is the co-founder of Supermajority. For more information, you can go to supermajority.com


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Cecile is right. Change is hard, and frankly, nights where people like Amy Coney Barrett are rushed through a sham confirmation hearing and ceremoniously sworn in by none other than Anita Hill’s harasser just so the powers that be can really stick it to us? Those nights make change harder. The truth is, I’m not angry. I’m somewhere past angry. We’ve been enduring injustice and indignity for generations, and the last few years just came in and threw gasoline on an already smoldering fire. My rage is righteous, and so is yours. So be angry, be offended, be pissed off and fed up or be like me: be past all of that. And then sit with it, process it, own it, breathe through it. Because here’s the thing about rage: it can either be the fire that consumes us, or the fire that fuels us. Our rage needs a container that only we can fill. When the right kind of fire burns bright it keeps us warm. It feeds us and protects us. It keeps love secure and danger out. It makes diamonds and lights the way forward. I’m not saying that the fight isn’t hard. I’m not even saying that the fight didn’t just get harder. But I am saying that we can win. We WILL win. Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Think about where we’d be if our ancestors threw up their hands in defeat and despair every time they lost a battle and somebody got in the way of their freedom. I don’t give up easily—not with my ancestors blood running through me. And neither should you. I like the fire. I want the rage. It makes me work harder. And that’s exactly what it’s time to do. So what’s the work this week? Two things and the first one should seem pretty obvious: vote. Vote not just for candidates, vote for better conditions for our freedom, and vote for more open doors than closed wins. Vote early, vote safely and recruit EVERYONE you can to do the same. But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, make a plan to show up after that. Start putting your city council and school board meetings on your calendar. Join up with organizations pushing on the policies you care about. Get your COVID-friendly go bag ready if you plan to head into the streets between now and Inauguration Day. Election Day isn’t the end of the road. It’s the start of the fight. Tag us on social media with the hashtag undistracted and tell us what your plan is for after you vote. We’re just getting started.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s it for this very first episode of UNDISTRACTED. We couldn’t be more grateful to have you with us. We hope you come back and tell a friend.

UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios.
Our Lead Producer is Rachel Matlow.
Our Associate Producer is Taylor Hosking.
Our Executive Producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself.
And our Executive Producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky.

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media, and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.