Issues + Advocacy

Stacey Abrams Schools Us In the Art of Work-Life Jenga

The political activist talks reproductive justice, allyship and more.

Stacey Abrams has made equity in democracy her life’s work. As the first black woman major-party gubernatorial nominee in U.S. history, she focused her energy on her home state of Georgia, which has some of the most egregious voter suppression laws in the nation. She lost her bid for governor of that state in 2018, but Abrams refuses to concede the race to Brian Kemp, who oversaw the election as Secretary of State. Instead, Abrams has turned up the volume on her activism. She founded two voting-rights organizations last year — Fair Count and Fair Fight — and leads the Southern Economic Advancement Project, which advocates for citizens often overlooked or underserved by the politicians elected to represent them. She’s a near-constant presence on the speakers’ circuit, and in her downtime, writes feminist romance novels that center the lives of women of color (one is now being made into a CBS drama). 

After a powerhouse keynote at The Riveter Summit in New York City, Abrams sat down with us to talk about the power of perseverance, the importance of representation and her pursuit of balance.

The Riveter: What women-centered policy or agenda do you see missing from the platforms of the current presidential candidates?

Stacey Abrams: The GOP has done almost nothing on this issue and we have heard from a number of candidates about it, but reproductive justice is the issue that I think is the most critical one. That looks at issues of abortion care, of maternal mortality, but it also looks at issues of pay equity, making certain that people have access to the legal system. It looks at the totality of a woman’s life, especially women of color, because the intersectionality of those issues doesn’t simply look at your reproductive choices. It looks at how reproduction changes your entire life and how much more we need to do in the United States to make it real and positive.

Reproductive justice is the issue that I think is the most critical one. That looks at issues of abortion care, of maternal mortality, but it also looks at issues of pay equity, making certain that people have access to the legal system.

The Riveter: On the topic of romance novels, you wrote, “For me, for other young black girls, I want to write books that show them to be as adventurous and attractive as any white woman.” What are the narratives and messages that black women need to hear about their bodies and their value?

Abrams: I think black women, women of color need to understand that we are wholly and completely good as we are, that we do not have to change how we look, how we feel, what we want in order to be acceptable and to be loved, and my books are about flawed women who are strong in their way, but who reflect the values that make them who they are and they don’t have to take on identities that are not their own.

The Riveter: We know that there are a lot of questions that people are asking about your political future. What are one or two questions that people aren’t asking and that you wish they would ask?

Abrams: I would love to talk more about my interest in foreign policy. I’ve spent the last 20 years actually deeply studying foreign policy, traveling the world and doing the research and the work necessary to understand not simply America’s role on the national stage, but how we are informed and improved by our interrelations on foreign policy. It’s a subject I really enjoy.

The Riveter: As a woman, what does allyship look like to you across intersections?

Abrams: Intersectionality means that I am willing to see and understand you without excusing or trying to adopt and be you. Often we see allies trying to take someone else’s experience and adapt it to their own, but true intersectionality says that your experiences are solely your own and my responsibility is to lift you up and support you, not try to make myself into you.

The Riveter: Who is the wisest woman in your life?

Abrams: The wisest woman in my life is my mom, Reverend Carolyn Abrams, who taught me early on as a pastor, she said, “Stacey, my job is to meet people where they are, not where I want them to be,” and I’ve used that in politics and law and in business, that my obligation is to go to where the need is, not to ask the need to come to me.

The Riveter: How do we beat a political system that seems to be so stacked against us sometimes?

Rather than trying to convince those who are wrong to do right, I’m just going to make right happen.

Abrams: My belief is that you can’t beat a rigged system. You just have to rewrite it and rerig it, and that’s why I’ve launched Fair Fight and Fair Count, because rather than trying to convince those who are wrong to do right, I’m just going to make right happen.

The Riveter: You’re an author, a founder, you sit on many boards. What does your average day look like, and are there any hacks that you can share for how you are able to kind of juggle all of the demands?

Abrams: So, I believe in work-life Jenga. Work-life balance is a lie, and a regular schedule is a myth. What I believe is that you give priority to the things that are both important and urgent. The next step is to do those things that are urgent, meaning you got to get them done or something’s going to go horribly wrong. Then, you do the things that are important, things you want to do, need to do, but they don’t have the same time crunch. And then if you’re lucky, you get to put in things that are neither urgent nor important. For me, that’s television, reading a book. But overall, it’s giving primacy to those things that are both urgent and important. When you do that, you give yourself permission to miss things that, while you care about them, won’t change your day or change your future.  As for my typical day, I don’t have one.