Harnessing the Power of Women Voters

In 2017, a year into the presidency of Donald Trump, three notable women—Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, former Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo—looked to harness the sudden rage and confusion felt by women across the U.S. Garza, Poo and Richards announced the start of a women’s equality organization called Supermajority, a multiracial coalition of women organizing around issues like paid leave and affordable healthcare. The group’s name hearkens to the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population. 

These days, Amanda Brown Lierman is the executive director of both Supermajority and the Supermajority Education Fund, a sister nonprofit organization for research, education and development programs that prepare women civic leaders. And Lierman and her team have their eye on the prize: the 2022 midterms.

Executive director of Supermajority Amanda Brown Lierman speaks during a Mother’s Day rally in support of abortion rights on May 8, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Jemal Countess / Getty Images for Supermajority)

To register and turn out voters, Supermajority works on a membership model, capturing key messengers in individual communities and enlisting them for phone banking, texting, letter-writing and door-to-door canvassing. The organization aims to reach individual women voters “four or five times before the election,” Lierman told Ms.—“just to give them that extra reminder … about what’s at stake, not just for them, but for the people that they love.”

In previous elections, COVID derailed Supermajority’s plans to penetrate communities from the ground up. “When Supermajority first got started, our intention was to build this organizing ground game and build up the power of women at the very local level to influence elections up and down the ballot. Organizing happens around kitchen tables, at school pick-ups, at these very local spheres,” said Lierman. “COVID forced us into running a large-scale, national, digital program, which was awesome. But it feels like this year, we’re getting back to that sort of true, original intention and idea of ‘building up the supermajority.’”

It shouldn’t be that much to ask for our lives to be safe, our bodies to be respected, our work to be valued, for our families to be supported, and for our government to represent us. Those are not outlandish requests, right? And yet, that’s what we’re fighting for.

Amanda Brown Lierman

Supermajority’s work targets two key battleground states—Michigan and Pennsylvania. The group maintains smaller footprints in three more purple states: Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia. 

In her work across the nation, Lierman has seen a clear throughline: Women voters are paying attention. And they’re full of rage about the loss of abortion rights, perpetuated by the right-wing faction of the Supreme Court in the Dobbs ruling.

“Righteous rage … can fuel all of us to do the very important and necessary work ahead to defend our democracy and our basic rights,” Lierman told Ms. “Women are historically overlooked and dismissed in the political process. One of the founding missions with Supermajority, is to actually change the narrative around the perception of women’s political power. … This is a conversation now about power and who has power over your body, and the fact that somebody is trying to take that power from you as an individual.”

The rage Lierman is seeing on the ground took root before Dobbs, she said. “Women have always had the job of holding up everything in society essentially, and then the pandemic decimates us.” The effects of COVID-19—remote work and learning, family caretaking pressures, job insecurity—fell hard on women, who are still picking up the pieces of their careers and their families’ futures.

Supermajority is hoping to channel this rage into voting power. “They can ignore us when we are screaming or venting, sharing our rage with one another, marching,” said Lierman, “but what they cannot do is ignore the power of our votes. … The way to affect change is to vote for people who actually will represent us and represent our concerns, our priorities and our interests.”

Of course women are fed up, because we’ve been doing everything. We are broken. Our families, our communities, our economy and our democracy depend on women, particularly women of color, and yet again, we’re seeing such a great affront and assault to the rights and protections that we thought are basic human rights.

Amanda Brown Lierman
Barbara Kruger’s “Rage + Women = Power” cover of Ms. magazine in January/February 1992.

Social justice advocates, business leaders and elected officials alike continue to troubleshoot the next best steps to steady the ship of U.S. democracy, which experts say is in decline. Lierman doesn’t pretend that voting is some sort of panacea, and admitted voters she’s talked to are “sick of hearing us say that this election is the most important election of [our] time, because we say that every election cycle.” 

But she can also see the progress of the last elections taking root: “We now have a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Families got the child tax credit. Joe Biden just announced a really big student loan commitment, delivering on a campaign promise. Is it everything that we wanted? No, but is it something and is it meaningful? Yes. … Without voting, we would be in such a darker reality.”

Much of Supermajority’s work is focused on voter mobilization and advocacy. But the organization is also focused on cultivating women leaders, and wielding the power of women elected officials.

“The folks that have the most power over the experiences of your daily lives are your local elected officials. People so often overlook them or dismiss them, but if you are mad about your trash, mad about traffic, mad about schools and those things are fueling your rage, talk to your local elected officials about that, your state legislators. They have so much power. 

“Abortion is actually an amazing example of what happens between the federal level and also the state level,” she continued. “I mean, literally, abortion is on the line in so many states, but you have state legislatures and legislators who are doing the hard work every single day defending our rights. They’re on the front lines, and they’re holding the line so that we can have continued access to abortion. So, you know, the power of these state and local leaders, it’s so critical.”

Lierman also gave credit to local election administrators, including county clerks, secretaries of state, poll workers and the like—90 percent of whom are women. “I call them democracy defenders.”

“Having seen what we saw and so many lessons to learn from the 2020 cycle, the fact that our very democracy itself and the functions of our democracy can be called into question, is such a threat,” she continued. “Having good people in those positions, having people who respect our democracy, having people who respect elections, and how elections are run and respect the process and are ready to uphold that and not abuse that power—those are the folks that we need to be sitting in those positions.”

Over 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, with higher rates of support among young people, women and people of color. As the election season kicks off in earnest and with the consequential midterms fast approaching, Lierman had some advice for voters: “Do your homework. Do your research. Understand who’s on the ballot, and make sure that you’re putting somebody in those seats who you trust to represent you and the values that you hold.”

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.