The Ms. Must-Read: “If They Don’t Give Us a Seat, We Bring a Folding Chair”

Every Friday, Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar breaks down the week’s biggest stories, offering commentary. This weekly letter from the editor recaps critical developments in U.S. and global feminism—alongside the latest Ms. must-reads—right as they unfold. You can also get The Ms. Must-Read sent directly to your inbox every Saturday morning.

(Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

All eyes are on Congress as it races to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan before enhanced unemployment benefits expire in just over two weeks. This week in Ms. we explore how the provisions of the Rescue Plan that support working parents will speed the country’s recovery. The package includes hundreds of billions of dollars to support vaccination efforts, $1,400 stimulus checks, money for school reopenings and support for child care programs, among other critical provisions. 

Americans overwhelmingly support the relief bill; a Quinnipiac poll conducted in early February found 68 percent support, compared to 24 percent who oppose. Women support the rescue plan at even higher rates than men: 75 percent compared to 61 percent—a gender gap of 14 points. 

But the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling late Thursday night that the increase to $15 in the federal minimum wage could not be included in the rescue package under budget reconciliation rules means that 27 million workers will be denied a desperately needed and overdue raise. In the same national poll, support among Americans for the $15 minimum wage was 61 percent, compared to 36 percent opposed. Among women, support was even higher; at 70 percent compared to 52 percent of men—a gender gap of 18 points. No surprise, since the majority of minimum wage workers are women, many the sole support of their families. 

In the ongoing series, Table for 12 by Pat Mitchell, we’re continuing to celebrate the unprecedented number of women nominated for Cabinet positions by President Biden. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed as the second Black woman to represent the U.S. at the United Nations. And former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, was confirmed as energy secretary—two of the record number of women Biden has nominated for Cabinet positions. 

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But with Republicans in the Senate continuing to slow-walk hearings and votes on many of the nominees or launching sustained attacks on their qualifications, never before has a president been forced to start their term with so many Cabinet positions still vacant. Republicans have directed their most pointed criticism toward some of the women nominees. Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee for interior secretary, faced harsh questioning by Republicans in her hearing, and awaits a confirmation vote; Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet. 

Assistant secretary of health nominee Dr. Rachel Levine, another historic pick who would be the first openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate, had to endure transphobic remarks by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in her hearings. “You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard—you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone?” Paul asked.

Levine gracefully refuted his criticism, replying that “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care.” COVID-19 has already killed over half a million Americans—we can’t afford to delay the confirmation of crucial Health and Human Services officials. 

Hearings have finally been scheduled for Department of Justice nominees Vanita Gupta and Lisa Monaco. But a hearing for Kristen Clarke, nominated to head the Civil Rights section at DOJ, has yet to be scheduled. As Kylie Cheung writes this week, Clarke and Gupta—both women of color—have come under attack by Republicans for their work on voting rights and criminal justice reform.

When questioned about their records, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, during his own two days of hearings this week, defended the nominees, encouraging the Senate to move forward with their confirmations: “They have skills and experiences I do not have. And I need this leadership team if I’m going to be successful.”

As Black History Month wraps up and we head into Women’s History Month in March, Ms. celebrates the Black women pioneering progressive change on the state and federal levels.

“Echoing the words of Shirley Chisholm, we must be at the table to affect positive change, and if they don’t give us a seat, we bring a folding chair,” writes Michelle Whittaker. “Our ‘folding chair’ to address representation is electoral reform: fair representation with ranked-choice voting.”

Representation does make a difference. Black women legislators are fighting in several states across the country to protect abortion access. “You have every single right to challenge, to question, to call out legislators who are attacking our bodies and our right to make our own decisions,” state Rep. Attica Scott (D-Ky.) told Ms

And finally, we say goodbye to Sue Ellen Allen, founder and executive director of Reinventing Reentry. A University of Texas graduate, educator, and former inmate at Arizona State Prison, Sue Ellen became a leader in prison reform. She gave her last interview to Ms.’s On the Issues podcast, hosted by her longtime friend Michele Goodwin, and which aired two weeks ago. “She found her purpose from serving time in prison,” said Goodwin. “Her advocacy increased awareness and made visible the plight of women and girls in American prisons and jails.” Rest in power, Sue Ellen.


Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.