By Jessica Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Supermajority is a new national organization whose goal is to increase women’s political power. Their mission statement: “We are a membership-based organization that affirms and builds women’s power and serves as a one-stop-shop for advocacy, community building, and electoral participation aimed at transforming our country and building an intergenerational, multiracial movement for women’s equity.”
One of the founders is Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and real-life Wonder Woman. Cecile left PP a couple of years ago, and shortly after released a book. A lot of folks (including me, tbh) assumed she was gearing up to run for office. Instead, she teamed up with a bunch of badass women to create Supermajority. Other founders include Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global, and Ai-Jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I continued to be pumped when I saw their rollout video, and that the rest of their online content was intersectional.
Supermajority is in the midst of a nationwide Listening Tour, and I learned about their stop in Pittsburgh from their email list and a couple of former PP folks. A chance to spend my Friday night with my pals from the repro-rights movement that I don’t get to see very often? Sign me up. A couple of days ahead of time, I learned that because of my Pittsburgh Current column, I was going to be in attendance as press. I was going to interview Cecile Richards, one of my heroes, and Jess Morales Rocketto, a fierce immigration advocate and Executive Director of Care in Action.
I had lots of questions for both of them that were informed by my personal experience in different organizing spaces. How does a national organization mindfully engage with folks while including the folks on the ground who are already doing the work? Morales Rocketto discussed the importance of amplifying the efforts of local groups and organizers and using Supermajority to lift those up. What does it look like to engage folks who’ve been organizing and on the ground for forever along with folks who only fairly recently got interested in social justice? Richards said that after 2016, tons of different local action groups sprouted up all over the country, and what they’re hearing from these groups is this: now that they’ve marched, attended town halls, and formed these groups, what’s next? I wrapped up my interview hoping I asked the right questions and praying I didn’t come off as too much of a fan girl.
Soon enough, the room in the Kelly Strayhorn Theater was packed. I was expecting to have a reunion with folks I know from repro-rights organizing, but I knew practically no one in the room; this is a good thing. We aren’t doing a good job if we’re constantly in rooms with the same folks, preaching to the choir. I chatted with some of the folks in attendance. A couple of women found out about the event and drove all the way up from West Virginia to attend the bus tour. One woman hasn’t volunteered for campaigns before, but came because she heard about Supermajority when she was watching “The View.” It is a victory that folks who are peripherally interested were moved to come meet strangers on a Friday night.
Richards and Morales Rocketto were incredibly powerful speakers. Cecile noted that more than a million women in PA are eligible but not registered to vote. Imagine if we changed that. Richards continued, “Women have always been on the front lines, it’s time we have more political power.” They introduced the guiding values of the organization, five different “Majority Rules.” For example, apart from Rule #3: Our Work is Valued includes “the jobs primarily done by women- from teaching to caregiving- are valued and supportive. Above all of those is “The Super Rule”; The lives and experiences of women— particularly women of color— are front and center in addressing all of our nation’s challenges… the people most impacted must be at the forefront of the solutions.” This is consistent with a familiar organizing mantra: “nothing about us, without us.” Looking at the board of Supermajority, their staff, and their intentional framing of issues, it looks like they’re doing things the right way.
When I got home, I excitedly posted a couple pictures from the event. I felt like Lois fucking Lane, and I got to interview some real-life superheroes. Pretty quickly though, several prominent black women activists and elected officials told me that they hadn’t heard about the event, so how inclusive could it have been? I don’t know what Supermajority’s outreach process was, but I admitted that they didn’t do an amazing job of inclusive outreach considering none of these local badasses had heard about it. I sincerely hope this was a misstep and not systematic of this new group’s outreach, especially considering how much weight was given to centering the voices of women of color.
I have to be honest – when I saw the handful of comments critiquing the event, I became aware of myself getting into my feels about it. I felt uncomfortable. “Don’t they know that this wasn’t my event?” I thought to myself, falling into the all-too-common white lady fragility trap. I bit my tongue, silencing this urge I had to defend myself (and thus make it about me), did a quick mea culpa, and stepped back. How could I write about this now? As a fellow Planned Parenthood alum and fan of both of the women I interviewed, I was definitely seen as a friendly press person, for good reason. Would it be some type of betrayal to write about this critically? If I didn’t, wouldn’t it be a betrayal to the black women on the front lines of the work in this city who spent emotional labor asking about the inclusivity of the group?
Ultimately, I decided to write about the interview and include the embarrassing moments of white fragility because vulnerability is important, and it is necessary to be critical of people and organizations we admire. None of us are perfect, and there’s no space to grow if we don’t make space to take negative feedback.
However, My little internal debate about this was eclipsed by something far more important.
On the same day as the event, less than a week after the release of a report detailing how Pittsburgh is a particularly toxic environment for black women — a report which was generated without the participation of black women — two black women were brutally beaten by the owners of an Exxon station in Brighton Heights. Over the next few days, protests organized and executed by black women shut down the gas station for good.