Bonus Episode: Women’s Political Leadership—We Have Her Back

on the issues with michele goodwin Women’s Political Leadership—We Have Her Back

With Guests:

  • Tina Tchen is president and CEO of Time’s Up Now. She is the former assistant to President Barack Obama and served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama. She was also the executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee represents California’s 13th district, which serves Oakland and the East Bay.  She is the highest-ranking Black woman in Congress. She is also a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, serves as co-chair of the majority leader’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, co-chair of the Pro Choice Caucus, and is former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus.
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky represents Illinois’s 9th congressional district, which includes Chicago’s North Side. She is the House senior chief deputy whip, chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Providers and Clinics Task Force.
Listen on:

In this Episode:

In this episode, we focus on why #WeHaveHerBack.  You heard it recently in the wake of Sen. Kamala Harris’s selection as the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket. #WeHaveHerBack is as a powerful challenge to newsrooms to avoid sexism in media representation. Tina Tchen, president and CEO of Time’s Up Now, joins host Dr. Michele Goodwin to talk the importance of having Harris’s back—and other women candidates’ backs, too. 
 
Today’s episode also focuses on women’s political leadership, starting with the urgent need to repeal the Helms Amendment. Dr. Goodwin is joined by two pathbreaking members of Congress—Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Barbara Lee—to discuss why women’s leadership has been central to forging political representation, equality and fighting for reproductive health, rights and justice—at home and abroad. Their leadership helps to put in context why the #WeHaveHerBack campaign is so important, and why women’s leadership matters.

   Background Reading:

Take Action:

  • Make sure you’re registered to vote at WhenWeAllVote.org.
  • Remain watchful about news with sexist tropes or headlines, and use the #WeHaveHerBack hashtag to raise awareness and demand better
  • Text VP to 306-44 to add your name to TIME’S UP Now’s #WeHaveHerBack petition and put the media on notice.

Transcript:

Michele Goodwin:

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times.

On today’s show, we focus on why #WeHaveHerBack. You’ve heard it recently as a powerful challenge to newsrooms in the wake of Senator Kamala Harris being selected as the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket, but there’s more. 

Today we focus on women’s political leadership, starting with repealing the Helms Amendment and why that is a critical issue and why women’s leadership has been central to forging political representation, equality and fighting for reproductive health rights and justice—domestically and abroad. For that part of our show, we are thrilled to be joined by two path-breaking members of Congress: Representative Jan Schakowsky and Representative Barbara Lee.

Representative Jan Schakowsky is the senior chief deputy whip. She is chairwoman of the Consumer Protection and Commerce sub-committee and serves on the Oversight and Investigations sub-committee, among other committees.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents California’s 13th district, which serves Oakland and the East Bay.  As a member of House Democratic Leadership, she is the highest ranking Black woman in the United States Congress. She is also a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, serves as Co-Chair of the Majority Leader’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, Co-Chair of the Pro Choice Caucus, and is former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Their leadership helps to put in context why the campaign, hashtag #WeHaveHerBack, is so important and why women’s leadership matters. 

For the first half of our show, we could not have a better guest than Tina Tchen. She is the president and CEO of Time’s Up Now and she joins us. She’s the former assistant to President Barack Obama and served as chief of staff to the First Lady Michelle Obama. Listeners, you are in for a real treat.

Michele Goodwin:

Tina, thank you so very much for being on the show with us. These are critical times. Tell our listeners about the We Have Her Back campaign and what inspired it.

Tina Tchen:

Well, thank you for having us and thank you for addressing We Have Her Back in this pretty timely moment. We Have Her Back—the genesis of it was over the course of the last several weeks, I and some of my colleagues in the Women’s Movement who’ve been around for a while, we had been talking and feeling like we have seen this movie before—that we knew what was going to happen when a woman VP nominee was selected by Vice President Biden because we’ve lived it before, and we were living it in the moment on the kind of racist and misogynistic discussion and conversation around women leaders that has been our norm in our political discourse going back for years. And we finally just decided time’s up.

Senator Kamala Harris speaks at a health care rally
Senator Kamala Harris speaks at a health care rally in 2015. (Office of Senator Kamala Harris / Public Domain)

We are not going to sit back quietly this time while these kinds of commentary and sexist and racist comments get leveled against women leaders in our country, and so that’s how We Have Her Back came together. We launched on the Friday before the VP nominee was selected.

So we sent out a memo to news directors and editorial boards that Friday saying look, you know, we are watching you, We Have Her Back. Be careful about how you report it. Don’t use gendered norms and stereotypes when you’re talking about women leaders—and lo and behold, not 24 hours later after our memo went out, the New York Times that Saturday morning ran a headline that talked about wrist corsages in the comments.

Michele Goodwin:

You can’t make it up. You simply can’t make it up.

Tina Tchen:

Can’t make it up. Well, it gets better. So the New York Times ran wrist corsages that morning. The LA Times ran another article written by another woman reporter that compared the VP nominee process to “The Bachelor” and referred to the White House as the ultimate fantasy suite. Like, really?

Michele Goodwin:

It’s like Ken and Barbie. The Barbie Dream House.

Tina Tchen:

Exactly. Exactly, and here’s the problem. Here’s the problem that, you know, it is not only damaging to Senator Harris and demeaning, but it keeps us from imagining her as the vice president of the United States because it plays into all the gendered norms we all grew up with, right, of not seeing women’s leadership as strong enough, right, or as bold enough. You know, we only imagine white men in those positions because that’s what we’ve been acculturated to do.

And here’s the insidious nature of it. It’s not just about this political discourse that we’re having. It’s focused because we’re paying so much attention on this really critical and important election, but as these terms get thrown around, around women leaders in the political sphere, it infects how we think about women leaders elsewhere. It’s the reason why, for example, right now, there are no Black women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. None.

Michele Goodwin:

Repeat that exactly. Repeat that, please, just so our listeners, that really settles in.

Tina Tchen:

It is 2020, and although in the past, we’ve had one or two, you know, amazing Black women, you know, CEOs—Ursula Burns who used to be at Xerox. She has since retired, and so right now in 2020, there are zero Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Michele Goodwin:

That’s a painful reality.

Tina Tchen:

It is, and it’s because of how we talk about women leaders, and that’s why, you know, how we talk about whether it’s Kamala Harris, whether it’s Speaker Pelosi who was called, you know, a bitch, right, and the GOP leader will not call out that Congressional candidate who did that. It’s what happened to, you know, Congresswoman Cortes—Yale would call her AOC all the time, as we all do

Michele Goodwin:

Yes. Yes.

Tina Tchen:

But you know, it’s what happened to her by Representative Yoho. You know, this is the belittling and demeaning of women leaders and women’s leadership, and when that happens, it doesn’t just stay confined to women in an elected position. It trickles all the way down to how we think about women in our own lives, how businesses think about women in leadership positions, not just CEO, but can this woman, restaurant server, become the manager of my restaurant, right? It goes all the way down to the grassroots level.

Michele Goodwin:

Right. Can she handle the cashier’s job? Can she be trusted to count?

Tina Tchen:

Exactly. Exactly. You know, and when Donald Trump calls Kamala Harris a phony—so what’s hard about this is not every one of these gendered statements shows up as a sexist comment like bitch, right? Sometimes it is using the word like phony—which, I will tell you, Donald Trump’s pretty smart with the nicknames that he uses.

Michele Goodwin:

Yes, shrewd in that category, right?

Tina Tchen:

Totally shrewd, right, you know, would that he were smarter in other categories.

Michele Goodwin:

And wish over 160 thousand Americans weren’t dead now from the pandemic.

Tina Tchen:

Exactly. So this is his only, you know, skill perhaps, and so when he uses the word phony, it doesn’t sound gendered, except that you and I know it plays into imposter syndrome. It plays into all of the things about why is she phony? It’s because women don’t belong in this position. She’s a phony because women aren’t supposed to be running for vice president of the United States, and it plays into all of that, but in a very subtle, you know, way that sends a code to our brains, and we don’t even recognize it’s happening.

Michele Goodwin:

You’re right. It is so deeply coded, isn’t it?

Tina Tchen:

Right. Correct.

Michele Goodwin:

And one of the things that was powerful about the memo, that you and such incredible, impactful leaders sent Fatima Goss Graves from the National Women’s Law Center, we’ve got folks from NARAL, Valerie Jarrett and so forth—you’ve pointed out that we’ve seen these kinds of stereotypes before, and that you mentioned we’ve learned a lot since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests for racial equality that happened in the wake of his death, and that’s true, right?

So where newsrooms kind of rallied themselves about race, but not in the same way about sex or sexism at all, and it’s very interesting in the backdrop of this, because what one is also seeing are stories that are so deeply derogatory, in fact, even unhinged kind of birtherism part two. Critiques about natural born citizenship. Could you speak a little bit to that, because that also has been shocking, haven’t we been here before?

Tina Tchen:

Oh, we have, with my old boss, right? You know, we have definitely been—and it is all that deeply coded nature of being other, right? Just identifying these candidates and these leaders as something other and trying to instill fear of the other when, in fact, the reality of our country is—I’m the daughter of immigrants. So many of us are. All of us are, unless you’re Native American, and that’s a strength in this country. It’s not something to be feared, right? Our technology, our innovation, think about the leaders and the inventors who are immigrants themselves or the sons or daughters of immigrants.

Michele Goodwin:

Nearly half in our country.

Tina Tchen:

Yeah. You know, and the talent we would lose, right, and you know, so here’s the thing, and I’m going to repeat something that, actually, I learned from Sherrilyn Ifill about—this is a while back. This was about, like, two years ago as things were happening, and you know, she told a group of us who were meeting to celebrate diversity, right, and she said to us…

She said, look, you know, don’t think folks don’t know that we are headed into, you know, where minorities are going to be the majority. Don’t think that people don’t know that that is happening, and don’t be fooled that we haven’t lived through minority rule before. You know, white minority rule has existed on this planet in the past, and how did they do it in South Africa? You know, they gerrymandered the districts to screw up. We know what happened on voting.

They controlled the courts, and they suppressed the vote. So think about the last four years and what Mitch McConnell has been doing in the Congress, what’s happened to suppression of the vote, what’s happened to control of the courts, what’s happened to how our districts are being gerrymandered or what they’re doing to the census right now. You know, they’re going to…

Michele Goodwin:

Oh, it’s a painful reality to see this. I mean, people waiting hours in line to vote.

Tina Tchen:

Right, and here’s the other thing they’re doing. They’re cutting off the census two months early. This was an announcement that got buried. This is another one of those Friday announcements. They are cutting off the census two months early to actually—it’s going to lower the count, which is going to affect how districts are divided, right, and how representation in Congress looks, and this is all about locking in minority rule as people of color become the majority in this country. I think that’s what’s going on. It’s really hidden and very nefarious, but I actually think that that is some of what we’re seeing happen in this broader context, and which is why—you know, that’s sort of my personal view, just to be clear.

Michele Goodwin:

You know, but to be clear on that, though, these are the things that are front and center if one only looks. I mean, it’s not as if this is a secret. We see this across the country. You saw that in the Wisconsin election, pushing people out to vote in the middle of a pandemic. We see that in the gerrymandering of districts all across the country. We see that in the strategic way in which Senator Mitch McConnell created a pathway for President Trump to nominate and then get confirmed more federal judges than any other president, save George Washington.

We see that in just the hours and hours it takes in districts that are predominantly people of color for them to be able to vote and the shuttering of not hundreds, but thousands of polling centers, places where people of color would vote. This is right in front of us. This is not some hidden puzzle where you’ve got to figure out the riddle. So I’m really happy that you elevated that.

Tina Tchen:

Right. Well, and that’s why, you know, I think it’s important for people to register and to vote, right? We have got, what, 83 days left. I think that what people need to do—and deadlines are going to start coming up really fast, too, right? So make sure, if anybody’s listening right now, another organization that I work with with my old boss, Mrs. Obama, is When We All Vote, which is a non-partisan effort to make sure, regardless of your political affiliation, that everyone is registered, everyone knows how to vote, and everybody gets out and vote because that’s the way our democracy works.

So you can go to WhenWeAllVote.org. You can find out, you know, how to get registered, what the deadline is in your jurisdiction. Then what’s the deadline for submitting a vote by mail ballot if that’s what you want to do or finding out how to early vote or how to find out how to vote on Election Day.

You know, we need everybody to be informed because there will be roadblocks that are put up, like polling places moving or make sure you get your mail-in ballot in early so it doesn’t get caught in a last-minute rush and doesn’t get to the election judges on time. Be a smart voter this year, and make sure that your vote is counted, and When We All Vote, we’ve got the resources there for you to learn how to do that, and then one more thing. If you don’t mind, I just want people to…

Michele Goodwin:

Yeah, no, please.

Tina Tchen:

You know, go to Time’s Up Now. You can text ‘now’ to 30644 to hear more about what we’re doing at Time’s Up, and if you hear something that you want to call out, hashtag #WeHaveHerBack, right? I think this is—importantly, this isn’t about cancel culture, right? We’re not trying to quiet people. We’re just trying to get people to think about the language they’re using when they speak. That’s what we need people to do.

Michele Goodwin:

That is so critically important. Before I let you go, can you tell our listeners about what kind of impacts can be made when we have women take charge and in leadership? What does that mean—what’s represented in a vice presidential candidate pick of Senator Kamala Harris or at any other level where women are in charge.

Tina Tchen:

Well, first of all, you get diversity of thought and leadership into play. You get, you know, the life experience that someone like a Kamala Harris brings to the White House. You get an approach to problems and to issues that is sometimes broader and more inclusive. You know, I find it interesting that we’ve all been comparing how countries led by women, like New Zealand and Germany, are fairing during the pandemic, how cities that are led by women, like my own city of Chicago, you know, and Atlanta are fairing during this pandemic moment—that women’s leadership matters and is different.

And here’s the other thing and what’s so exciting about Senator Harris’ candidacy. Is—and we saw this with President Obama’s candidacy and tenure—is that then our young people see themselves in the White House. There’s that wonderful picture that’s so famous of the little boy who asked in the—this was in the first couple months we were in office. You know that picture where President Obama’s leaning down for the little boy to touch his hair?

President Obama bends over as 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia touches his hair.
President Obama bends over as 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia touches his hair. (Pete Souza / Public Domain)

What’s sometimes forgotten is that was prompted by a question that that little boy asked that said, “Is your hair like mine?” That’s what prompted President Obama to lean down. Is your hair like mine? And President Obama said, “It is. Would you like to feel it?” And it’s that moment of recognizing they’re seeing someone who is like them and who has hair like them, who has a history like them, who looks like them in positions of power that empowers our young people, and that’s so critical.

Michele Goodwin:

It is so critical, and it makes me think about the campaign to strip that away from all Americans. You know, and I think about how we frame who our heroes are in our society. So rarely are they ever framed as people of color, and yet you look at the Sojourner Truths, the Fannie Lou Hamers, the Ida B—you know, just so many people who were central to the promise of what a democracy holds, what equality truly means, this kind of defining of yes, these are heroes for us all, right?

These are people who represent everybody and one need not kind of just tip to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as being the people who are the standard bearers for what it means to be a true American, but yes, in that moment and in so many other moments that could come forward, is transitioning that thinking. That, yes, people of color are, too, invested in this democracy and the forbearers for upholding and uplifting this democracy.

Tina Tchen:

Well, and you know, we all continue to be thinking about Representative John Lewis, right, in this moment. How thrilled he would have been yesterday to see that team walk out and how, as President Obama said to Congressman Lewis, you know, on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, it was because of him, right? That’s the autograph that President Obama gave to Congressman Lewis when the Congressman asked for an autograph on his inauguration day bulletin, right?

And that is what we who are here now need to understand, and this is what I feel about the vote. Look, we all have the vote from a lot of sacrifice by a lot of folks, and you know, we’re about to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment in a couple weeks and the suffragettes who literally starved themselves and sacrificed their bodies and their health and wellbeing, in addition to all the standing in front of the White House that they did and being force-fed, you know, that led to the 19th Amendment.

And then the struggle for Black women and women of color and other people of color over the next 40 years that culminated in the Civil Rights Act and everything that happened. Dorothy Height is somebody I always remember in this moment, too. You know, for folks who don’t know, she created a Black women’s roundtable and so many others…

She’s the one woman up on the platform, was Dorothy Height, and that’s a Lincoln Memorial moment, and she passed away a few years ago, but she was there still in the White House when we got there to Washington, DC. So I’m so grateful we were able to have her in the White House several times, and we had her in the office several times not to just kind of like celebrate her, but for real policy issues. At that age, that woman was still pushing me on policy.

Michele Goodwin:

I love it.

Tina Tchen:

And she was an icon to me, and oh, she was so generous to me personally. I mean, she became a friend and a mentor as I navigated my way around Washington when I first got there in 2009, and in these moments, you think about her, right, and her leadership, her sacrifice, and she’s a name that not everybody knows.

Michele Goodwin:

I’m glad you lifted her up.

Tina Tchen:

We need to lift those women up, absolutely.

Michele Goodwin:

Well, Tina, it’s been a pleasure to have you on today, and last quick question is what’s the next step for women to take in 2020 and beyond? And you’ve mentioned voting as being the critical piece. Is that it?

Tina Tchen:

Well, it’s voting, and so that is the near-term 83 days voting, and then, you know, when we come out of that in November, we do have a country to rebuild, both because of the pandemic crisis, the economic crisis, the racial justice reckoning, and so it’s going to be really important as women and what we’re focused on at Time’s Up is to keep focus on the issues of safe, fair and dignified work in the workplace.

With our economy basically stripped down to the bare bones, we’re going to rebuild it, and it’s an opportunity to rebuild it on principles of equity. So let’s make sure we’re rebuilding with equal pay on the table. We’re rebuilding it with paid leave for everyone on the table—rebuilding it in a way that invests in our workers and gives them every opportunity to thrive in their workplaces and become CEOs, you know, whether you’re a woman, a man, a person of color, a disabled person, LGBTQIA.

That’s the opportunity that—and it’s not going to happen by itself. So we need a lot of work. I mean, my caution also, having lived that movie before in 2009, after a lot of hard work through the electoral season—people need to stay at it come January where we’re going to have to rebuild our country, and people need to be active and making sure that that happens and that it happens in the right way.

Michele Goodwin:

And if our listeners want to find you on social media, how can they engage with the movements you’ve been talking about?

Tina Tchen:

Well, you know, Time’s Up Now, look for us. You can next ‘now’ to 30644. I’m just @TinaTchen on Instagram, and we are going to be Having Her Back all across, not just the VP race, but this is non-partisan. So we are looking—gender discrimination actually knows no partisanship.

Michele Goodwin:

That’s right.

Tina Tchen:

It comes across in many ways, and we will be calling that out—whether it’s against the Speaker of the House, whether it’s against congressional races. We’re urging listeners to use the hashtag and call it out when you see it, right? So that we want everybody to understand what they’re hearing and seeing so that we can make informed decisions about women leadership this fall.

Michele Goodwin:

Thank you so much for being on our show. I really appreciate it and look forward to have your back, too. Thank you.

Tina Tchen:

Okay. All right.

Listeners, for the second half of our show, you are in for a real pleasure. Because it’s my honor to welcome Representative Jan Schakowsky, senior chief deputy whip, and also Representative Barbara Lee, the house senior chief deputy whip, to join us. Their leadership has been pathbreaking and really puts into context why the campaign #WeHaveHerBack is so important and why women’s leadership matters. So let’s talk about the Helms amendment. 

Representative Schakowsky, I want to begin with you. You introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020, the first ever legislation to repeal the Helms Amendment and expand abortion access globally with several co-sponsors, including representative Barbara Lee, who is on with us today and Nita Lowey, and Representative Jackie Speier and Representative Ayanna Pressley and others. Can you tell us about the Helms Amendment and your legislation?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

The Helms Amendment, which has actually been in place since 1973, was advanced by one of the more conservative, sexist, racist, homophobic members of the United States Senate Jesse Helms in order to make sure that any foreign money that goes to countries around the world, can not be used—now what it said in the actual Helms Amendment was could not be used for abortion as a means of birth control, but unfortunately, it’s really been interpreted as meaning no abortions with any money that comes from the United States of America. So it is high time that we repeal this horrible, death-causing, life-threatening amendment that picks on—that particularly targets women of color, poor women around the globe.

Michele Goodwin:

So you’re absolutely right in that Senator Helms was a self-proclaimed bigot. Homophobic, racist, absolutely sexist, and for those…

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

And proud of it. And proud of it.

Michele Goodwin:

Absolutely proud of it. You are so right. I want to turn to you, Representative Lee, on those notes, and I would like for you to talk to us about Senator Helms. He consistently fought against US funding for HIV research, crudely arguing that homosexually is “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct,” and he said that it’s a disease that serves to punish gay people.

Helms considered it “common sense” to limit funding to combat HIV and AIDS because he said the disease is transmitted by people deliberately engaging in “unnatural acts.” He also opposed a 1988 appropriations bill that would increase funding for AIDS programs explaining “We have to call a spade a spade,” and, “A perverted human being is a perverted human being.” I apologize to our listeners, but it really is important to put in context these people who are elected to the Senate and who wielded such powerful control on domestic matters and international.

And just one last bit. Senator Helms’ scorn was not reserved for gay men in opposition to the nomination of Roberta Achtenberg, a nominee for the Department of Housing and Urban Develpoment (HUD). He told The Washington Times and then repeated to The Washington Post, “She’s not your garden variety lesbian.” Rather, he said, “She’s a damn lesbian, and I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that.” So, Representative Lee, who was Senator Helms?

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Well, first of all, thank you so much for this conversation. Let me just say to my sister Congresswoman Schakowsky how happy I am and how proud that she has introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, and it really is an important bill with 115 organizations in the International Reproductive Health Coalition. Let’s face it. This is long overdue, and it took Jan Schakowsky to take this to almost moving toward the finish line. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, but just by the mere fact that she has introduced it with such strong support tells me that we’re going to get there. So, thank you, Jan, very much for this.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Thank you, Barbara. You jumped right on it so…

Rep. Barbara Lee:

This is so important, and Jan laid out what the bill actually does, but let me just say a couple of things to add to this…

Michele Goodwin:

Please do! Because there’s more. 

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yeah. Yeah. First of all, he was a Republican from North Carolina. Secondly, you laid out how homophobic and racist he was, and he always was a sexist. He was a misogynist. I mean, he was a terrible, terrible person in terms of just influencing domestic and foreign policy and how his influence played out in the lives of so many people. This was going back to ’73—the Helms Amendment was passed in 1973, and to think that this has not been taken on, to get this repealed is just really shocking to me. He opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. I mean, can you believe that?

Michele Goodwin:

I’m glad you mentioned that. This is important for our listeners to understand the full scope of what it meant for a person like this to serve in the United States Senate. So I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m going to let you get back to telling us exactly…

Rep. Barbara Lee:

But you laid it all out, but this is just one specific bill, in addition to the Helms Amendment, that really set forth who he was and his values and why anything that has his fingerprints on it needs to be repealed, and this is one of them.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

That’s absolutely right.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

You know, and Jan, we need to look at what else he did in terms of…

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Barbara, do you remember—I don’t know if you were with us, but in 1999—so we were freshmen at the time because we were in the same class. Twelve women from the House of Representatives walked over to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, where Jesse Helms was chairing the committee, to hand him a letter that was asking him to please—it was time to sign the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW. Remember that?

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yes, I remember that. I remember that very well. Yeah.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:
So what did he do? He called the capitol police…

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Police, yeah.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

To have us removed. Imagine 12 women from the Senate…I mean, we didn’t go out quietly. I don’t want to act like we did. We went out noisily, but nonetheless…

Rep. Barbara Lee:

I love it.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

He had the gall and the audacity to say, oh, we’re just going to remove you women from the House of—ladies. He called us ladies. From the United States Senate. 

Rep. Barbara Lee:

I remember that very well. So if he had this attitude and took this action toward elected officials, just think about what he thinks about women in developing worlds and the developing world and low-income women and women of color. He really did not even respect us, who were his colleagues, and so we know—and once again, as exhibited through this Helms Amendment in ’73, that he doesn’t respect women—did not respect women anywhere in the world, and so we have got to then—and some young women especially, we’ve got to educate about this, because just like with the Hyde Amendment, the Helms Amendment. There were so many of these men who did such harm to women through the policies, and so many of these policies are still in place, and so we’ve got to…

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Yeah!

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yeah, so we’ve got to really follow Jan’s lead and go back and look at what else we need to do, but I also served on the Appropriations Committee, the sub-committee on state and foreign government. That funds all of our diplomatic and development initiatives, and we constantly tried to repeal the Helms Amendment by saying no funds can be used to implement it, and of course, we generally get it into the bill, thank goodness, because we have a Democratic majority, but we never get it to the finish line as it relates to the total repeal, which is what Congresswoman Schakowsky’s doing this year. We requested to put the Helms Amendment in the SFOPS bill. Got it in, but of course, you know what’s going to happen. We also, just as a data point, put it into the Democratic Party platform. I was on the drafting committee.

Michele Goodwin:

Oh that’s terrific. Is this the first time that it’s been put into the platform?

Rep. Barbara Lee:

No, we put it in in 2016 also. I’m not sure of ’12. I was on the drafting committee in ’12, ’16, and now, and so we put in both repeal of the Hyde Amendment and repeal of Helms, and so this is the moment that we need to do this, because our party is on record supporting the repeal of these two terrible provisions, and so thank you, Jan, again. You’re the right woman for the right time to get this done.

Michele Goodwin:

Well, I thank you both, and you know, for our listeners to understand what we’re talking about here, in 1973, the Supreme Court, in a 7 to 2 decision, 7 to 2, struck down laws criminalizing abortion in the United States, and it’s that same year that Senator Helms seeks to impose this cause on women and girls who are living abroad, and I want our listeners to understand just what that world looked like pre-Roe, because, otherwise, people really just don’t understand in the post-Roe world, just how horrific it was, and I’m wondering, Representative Schakowsky, if you could just touch on that just a bit? What was life like pre-Roe for women who needed to terminate a pregnancy?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Chicago, where I’m from, is a place that actually got going a program called Jane where women got together, and in an underground way, actually helped provide abortions for women who could not legally get one. So women have always tried to take control of their own bodies and do it in a safe way, but the truth of he matter is that before Roe, women would have, you know, terrible complications, even death, from illegal, back-alley abortions.

One of the symbols of that time was of a coat hanger that women might use themselves in order to end an unplanned pregnancy. So it was a horrible time, but let’s remember that not long after the Helms Amendment came the Hyde Amendment, and this is really, really important, and Barbara Lee and I—Barbara, it’s got to be maybe a decade ago now that a group of young women of color came to us and said, ‘What’s up with that Hyde Amendment? I think it’s time for us to end it. It is absolutely discriminatory.’

Protester holds a sign at a Women’s March proclaiming, “We Won’t Go Back; We Will Fight Back.” (Marc Nozell / CC BY 2.0)

It really goes after mainly women of color, women who are low income, women who are on Medicaid, not being able to get one penny of federal dollars. Now, understand, that both Hyde and Helms, they were willing to leave alone women of wealth in the United States of America. If they could afford to get an abortion, well, all right, although they were certainly against Roe v. Wade, but they wanted to pick on the most vulnerable women who wanted to be able to have some bodily autonomy…

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Domestically and abroad.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Domestically and abroad, and that’s why, you know, year after year Barbara and I introduced the Each Woman Act that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, but Barbara, as a member of the appropriations committee, has also tried every session of Congress not to defund any money for the implementation of the Hyde Amendment.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Can I weigh in on this real quick?

Michele Goodwin:

Please.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

As somebody who—and I hate it. I hate talking about this, but I was at She the People couple years ago and talked about before Roe v. Wade and having to go to Mexico to have a back-alley abortion myself, and it was traumatic. I was a pregnant teenager and still in high school, and abortions, of course, for women who had money, they were available, accessible.

For women who didn’t and for Black and brown women, of course, there were no option, and so, fortunately, my mother had a friend who knew a doctor in Mexico, and I went there, and fortunately, it was at a good clinic. It was at an abortion clinic in Mexico, mind you. Now, this is Mexico, not the United States, and I, you know, had an abortion there, and I worried about all the girls then and the women who had to do what I did, but couldn’t get to a decent clinic and who died as a result of that.

And so when I worked for the great Ron Dellums—as his chief of staff in the ‘70s, he was a total feminist all the way, and when the Hyde Amendment came in ’77, whenever it was, ’76 / ’77, as a staffer, I was furious, and Ron, of course, didn’t vote for it, and I said one day—and I had no idea how I would ever deal with this. Fast-forward to here. I’m a member of Congress.

And so when All Above All coalitions, as Jan said, these phenomenal Black and brown women came to us, we sat down. We mapped this out. Introduced the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the Each Woman Act—we have now about 181 co-sponsors on this, but can you imagine, from the ‘70s to 2020, the Helms Amendment and the Hyde Amendment are still on the books and still destroying women’s lives.

Michele Goodwin:

So I have chills by your story and the legacy that you bring to that, thinking about, one day, you would so something about that, and now you are a powerful member of Congress and doing something about it, and then also the deep sadness and pain that we’re talking about, you know, nearly 50 years of this kind of continued oppression targeting Black and brown women and not just here at home, but abroad.

And we knew that even at home, you’re right. So many women died—Leslie Reagan, who’s the author of “When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States,” said that some women barely survive the bleeding, the injuries and the burns, and others did not. She actually examined, Representative Schakowsky, Cook County Hospital records and data.

She said that there were wards, not just in Chicago, really around the country, that were just dedicated to treating abortion-related complications, and that annually, there were tens of thousands of women in the United States who sought emergency care following a legal abortion, and as you say, the coat hangers, women who died in their bathrooms, who died on their dining room tables, who died in motel rooms—this is the real legacy of what was happening pre-Roe.

This is what everybody knew. This is what the Supreme Court spoke to in Roe v. Wade, which is why Justice Blackman, who was a Republican appointee—he was a Nixon appointee, and he wrote the opinion in Roe. So this is what was known, and yet, that Senator Helms would lead that legislation knowing what that world would be like for women abroad is really just horrific.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Let me say that we have seen beyond abortion, attacks on women’s rights, including contraception. Now, think about that. You know, well into the 21st century, we are seeing efforts, mainly at the state level, but not only, at the federal level as well, to limit the rights of clinics like Planned Parenthood to provide the kind of contraception care, Title X, which is the family planning part of our laws, trying to limit those so that they cannot provide contraception.

It’s just incredible. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of laws passed at the state level trying to limit abortion, and we are seeing, in some places, that there may be one clinic left, two clinics left in the state that women can go to, making it harder and harder for women to access what they have the legal, constitutional right to have—and that’s an abortion and certainly, access to contraception, which was made free in the Affordable Care Act.

Michele Goodwin:

I’m so happy that you mentioned that, too. Beyond abortion, what this represents—because with the rise of the Tea Party, what data shows is that between 2010 and 2013, there was more anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive legislation that was proposed and enacted than in the 30 years prior combined. So just in that three-year period, there were such aggressive efforts to strike down everything that had come before.

And to your point about Title X, to just remind our listeners, Title X provides reproductive health care for the poorest of Americans. It was George H. W. Bush who shepherded it through Congress. It was Richard Nixon who signed it into law, and when Richard Nixon was asked about it, he says, ‘This is just plain old common sense. This is good to do.’ And to your point, Representative Schakowsky, it’s been gutted during the Trump Administration, and what can possibly explain that?

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yeah. Dr. Goodwin, you know, let me just—one can explain that these are people who don’t value women, and you know, this far right wing has an ideology that is an ideology that dehumanizes women in many respects. In every effort they can take on, they do. 

Couple of things to add to what Jan said, also, and we’ve been working on this now—for comprehensive sex ed in schools and teen pregnancy prevention programs—because that’s how you prevent abortions, right, with young people. They do not even support teen pregnancy prevention. They are abstinence only. They don’t support comprehensive sex ed. So they don’t support comprehensive sex ed. They don’t support family planning. They don’t support Title X. They cut funding for all women’s health services.

They don’t support access to all reproductive health choices, including abortions. They don’t support anything that women deserve to make their own decisions about and that our young people deserve in terms of understanding how to prevent unwanted and early pregnancies and what to do to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. So this is—you know, some of us say, and I still say, it’s a war on women.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Well, Barbara, those programs work, don’t they?

Michele Goodwin:

Go ahead, say something about that, because we’ve seen a reduction in unplanned pregnancies.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yeah, no, they all work. They all work both here and abroad when we looked—I don’t know, Jan, we went to Uganda with CARE, and the big—we met with a family in a village in Northern Uganda. The had five children, and we asked them, and a Republican was with us, what is it that you would like in terms of just helping lift yourselves out of poverty and taking care of your children?

And they said family planning services and contraceptives, and if we have any more kids—they had five children. They said if we have any more, we want to have planned in a way that we can take care of them, and both here in America, too. The numbers have gone down when you have teen pregnancy prevention, comprehensive sex ed for our young people in public schools, and the data is there that shows that. So we’re trying to get the, we’ll call it the REAL Education About Life Act, the REAL Act, passed in Congress.

Michele Goodwin:

Please do.

So that we can have the law.

Michele Goodwin:

Please do, because the reality is, on that point, on that data point, which is really important, in the United States, it’s red states where there are the highest rates of teen pregnancies, the highest rates of out-of-wedlock births, the highest rates of STD and STI transmissions, and from a public health perspective, what’s so chilling and horrific in this is that this data is available. We know this data. If one goes to the CDC website, you can see the data.

We know that the United States leads the developing world in terms of teens with sexually transmitted diseases, and we know these sexually transmitted diseases lead to cancers later and lead to deaths, and so it’s stunning, as you say, Representative Lee, that there’s been the gutting of sexual education in schools, such that kids don’t even know about their own body, and you see the rise in sexually transmitted diseases all throughout the United States. It’s horrific, and in some instances for the poorest amongst those folks, it’s a death sentence.

Protester holds up a sign reading, “Don’t take away my birth control.” (WeNews / CC BY 2.0)

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

I want to make one optimistic point here. We now, for the first time, have a pro-choice House of Representatives. The majority of elected members of the House of Representatives are pro-choice. Meaning, you know, things can change, and they could change rapidly. Elections really matter. I don’t want to get too political with you, but I’m sure that we are able to pass bills in the House of Representatives to show the American people that it is possible for us to change these laws.

It is possible to respect women and their bodily autonomy and to respect their right to plan their own families and control their own lives, and by the way, it’s not only physical damage, but the kind of economic damage when you can’t—you know, it can be a showstopper for young women to end up having a child as a teenager and not be able to go on with their lives, and certainly around the world, Barbara and I have both seen, at these family planning clinics, you often see moms lined up with lots of children.

And all they’re asking is do not make me bring another child into poverty. Let me do it on my own time. Let my family figure this out. Don’t tell me I can’t have this opportunity to choose for myself, and it’s so clearly wrong, but I’m telling you, women are rising now, and I just think that these kinds of antiquated, out-used—you know, they outlived any—well, they never had usefulness. It’s time to get rid of them, and we can. I believe that we will.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Yeah. Jan, thanks for raising the issue around the pro-choice Congress because this is the largest pro-choice Congress that we’ve ever had, and let me tell you, you’re looking at the glass half full, and I co-chaired the Pro-Choice Caucus, and Jan mentioned earlier the Hyde Amendment and the phenomenal young women and we talked about repealing it. Well, this comes through the appropriations committee. It’s always sort of a rider in the appropriations bill.

And we’ve been fighting, each and every year, to make sure that is not in. Well, the good news is it won’t be in there anymore, and the Speaker and all of the leadership has said, okay, this is it. No more Hyde Amendment in the Labor-HHS bill, and so that was a commitment this year, and it never would’ve happened had it not been for the outside push of young men and women, young women and men around the country and having such a strong pro-choice caucus.

And so Jan, next year, yes, we’re going to have to have our approach strategy on Helms also and make sure while—because, see, what Jan is doing in terms of the repeal, that’s a permanent lot, and so her bill would actually repeal the law, but we can at least stop the funding. This is some of the work we’re going to do between now and November, and come at it, and hopefully this is going to be done also within a very short period of time. What was it? ’73?

Michele Goodwin:

’73. ’73.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

I mean, outrageous. This is outrageous. Yeah, so just know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s because of the organizing of these young people around the country who get it and who really said enough is enough.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

I want to emphasize that point that Barbara is making, and that is the inside-outside game. Barbara is one of the co-chairs, along with Diana DeGette, of the Pro-Choice Caucus, but none of us could do this work if it weren’t for the fierce organizing that is going on outside the Congress. The women and as Barbara said, the men, too, who are mobilized right now to say, ‘We aren’t going to take this anymore’—and I think this has also become a part of the whole social justice movement, the fight back against racism that we see. This is all part and parcel of the same fight, and I’ve never seen—it feels to me like a transformational moment in our history, and so we couldn’t do it without the mobilization on the outside. It just would not happen.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

That’s right. Abortion access is a racial justice issue.

Michele Goodwin:

On that note, it was in 1966 that Dr. King received an award for Planned Parenthood for his work. And he proudly accepted that award and wrote a brilliant speech—which his wife Coretta Scott King delivered—and he said that there was a strong connection between civil rights and women’s rights, and he said that it was cruel for any woman to be forced to bring a child into the world that was not wanted and where she could not afford to take care of that child, and he said that family planning was an urgent concern. It’s a speech that everybody should read, and I’m so happy that both of you have raised this important matter of racial justice as being central to this. So, as we close, I want to just—

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Dr. Goodwin, let me just mention one thing.

Michele Goodwin:

Yes. Please do. Please do.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

I’m so glad you brought this up because, oftentimes, there had been not a split, but the coalitions, having been the feminist coalition as it relates to the African American community, those coalitions haven’t been as strong as they should be on reproductive justice and reproductive health, but let me just remind you of one other person. The Honorable Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, was one of the first board members of NARAL way back in the early ‘70s when NARAL was founded, okay?

Shirley Chisholm, future member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-NY), announcing her candidacy. (Thomas J. O’Halloran / Public Domain)

And she, too, led on this issue early on, and so this history—I’m so glad you said this should be a study session. This history has to be brought out and put in context of where we are today, because we’ve got to address systemic racism, and it’s historical. There’s a context for it, and so thank you very much, and thank you, Jan. I’m so glad you’re doing that.

Michele Goodwin:

What’s the message of hope for the people who are listening?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

Let me just say my message of hope is this: We just lost John Lewis, who made enormous changes. When he was fighting for racial justice and inequality, he wasn’t wearing the badge of a member of Congress. He was an ordinary young man who just had the courage, the amazing bravery to step out. There is access to fighting back and winning to every single person, and when we fight, we win. Now you’ve got allies throughout the United States Congress that are working side by side, sometimes following you, to tell us how you want us to move forward, and we are working in partnerships. Yeah, when we fight, we win.

Michele Goodwin:

And what about you, Representative Lee, silver lining?

Rep. Barbara Lee:

Silver lining is that Black Lives Matter.

Michele Goodwin:

Yes.

Rep. Barbara Lee:

And now more people believe that, and the young people who are out there protesting in an intersectional manner have proven that, and so we’ve got to take the baton that John Lewis passed us and run our lap of the race.

Michele Goodwin:

I love that. Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Representative Jan Schakowsky, Representative Barbara Lee and Tina Tchen. Thank you so much for joining us and being a part of this critical and insightful conversation. When women lead, change happens.

And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is as we focus on the 100th year anniversary of the 19th Amendment. It will be an episode you will not want to miss.

If you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being un-bought and un-bossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcasts; look for us at MsMagazine.com for new content and special episode updates; rate and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Let us know what you think about our show. 

This has been your host Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is.

On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers are Maddy Pontz and Roxy Szal. Our assistant producer for this show is Sarah Montgomery, joined by Giselle Hengst and Rina Wakefield helped with the development of our research. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.