I’m an ecologist by trade. The first half of my career was spent traveling around the world working with communities who were trying to protect their homes and way of life, both endangered, from large corporations seeking to log, mine or drill for oil in their traditional territory. It was the ultimate David and Goliath fight. We lost many of them. And we won some.
I have carried very specific lessons from those experiences: diversity in ecosystems — human and natural — is required for a system to survive and thrive; collective organizing is the only thing that can possibly overcome a powerful force seeking control; and when women are empowered, the chances of good outcomes skyrocket. All evidence demonstrates that across the board — be it in education, health, democracy, corruption, the environment, and even climate change — when women participate in decision making, we do better. And yet, when I came home to this country, what I witnessed was an attack on the very progress I knew to be a sign of healthy systems.
It wasn’t hard to see. I’m from Texas: Ground-zero in the war on reproductive freedom and efforts to push voter suppression and other regressive policy. Even there in deep-red Texas, it was clear that the desire of a minority to maintain the power and privilege they had always enjoyed was not popular. When Wendy Davis, now running for U.S. Congress and endorsed by NARAL, famously took to the floor of the Texas state legislature in 2013 to protest a sweeping and dangerous anti-choice bill in a historic filibuster, the Capitol was packed to the gills with her supporters, and hundreds of thousands tuned in online to watch — and still, the minority hostile to our fundamental freedoms dug in and ultimately prevailed.
As the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, I set out to figure out how something that enjoys such widespread support as the legal right to abortion does could be under such an existential threat. I wrote about what I uncovered in my upcoming book, The Lie That Binds. Written in collaboration with NARAL Research Director Ellie Langford, the book lays out a decades-long, intentional effort by a few to weaponize what was once a nonpartisan issue into the tip of the spear in their effort to maintain power and privilege in a changing world. And these anti-choice, anti-freedom forces are precisely what gave us this extremist president, who proudly foments overt racism and misogyny in his own efforts to maintain power.
Traveling around the country in my capacity as NARAL’s president, I found so many energized people who didn’t know the history of the Radical Right and how they came to power fighting school desegregation and the Equal Rights Amendment. The war on abortion came much later.
We believe knowledge is power, and knowing this history changes the way we fight for a just and equitable future. We know there can be no reproductive freedom without freedom from tyranny and oppression. For white women, we must recognize that our fight for reproductive rights must include standing up against racism and xenophobia. It is both our ethical and moral imperative and, as the fearless leaders of the reproductive justice movement have taught us, this analysis is critical to building a strategy towards freedom for every body. We have been divided before, and it got us to where we are now. Similarly, fighting for gender and racial equity, without understanding that reproductive oppression has been core to the effort to hold us all back, will similarly limit progress.
This shared analysis can be our superpower. Recognizing diversity as our strength and our common struggle against the tyranny of the minority is key to effective collective organizing.
Understanding this history and the strategy at play is a powerful tool to have in our toolbox, as we look ahead to November, and likely the most consequential elections of our lifetimes. It’s imperative that we understand the truth that Trump is a pawn in a long game in play well before he entered the scene, and recognize that this moment is larger than him. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to transform the structures of power that threaten all of us, and cement diversity and equity as foundational to good governance — political, economic and social — moving forward.
Ilyse Hogue is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, where she has led the organization in the fight for reproductive freedom since 2013. Under her leadership, NARAL has become an organizing powerhouse — tripling its membership to 2.5 million, advancing state and federal legislation to protect and expand abortion access, and fighting an unprecedented wave of abortion bans at the state level. Her commentary has been featured in The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Nation, Cosmopolitan, and ELLE. Ilyse is also the author of The Lie that Binds, a narrative of how the formerly nonpartisan issue of abortion rights was reinvented, as the sharp point of the spear for a much larger movement bent on maintaining control in a changing world.