The Road We’ve Traveled—and the Path Ahead

by | Dec 1, 2022 | Other

Today marks one year since I started my tenure as President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. The year has flown by, as time often does. In many ways, my one-year mark feels like an imperfect moment for reflection; I still feel like I’m just getting started… with a long list of people to call, meetings to schedule, and products to write. Yet, in other ways, it feels as if the past year had ten years packed into one! So much has happened, both good and bad, leaving me with a sense of perpetual whiplash caused by our rapidly shifting world. But this moment is as good as any to consider the road our organization has traveled over the past 12 months – and to look forward to the path ahead.

By any measure, 2022 was filled with unprecedented changes. Some were especially difficult. The overturning of Roe v. Wade, which caused chaos and devastating disruptions to health care access, harming millions of women across the country. The lingering economic harms caused by COVID-19 and the lack of care supports for families that continue to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women – and especially women of color, women with disabilities, and low-income women. The ongoing maternal health care crisis and the racial disparities that Black women continue to experience. And constant threats to women’s safety, seen in increased attacks targeting women of color and trans women.

These challenges – which all unfolded in an era of heightened partisanship, congressional gridlock, and rising extremism fueled by racism, misogyny, and other hateful ideologies – have endangered many of the hard-won gains for women and the progressive movement overall.

At the same time, the past year has been filled with signs of promise, historic firsts, and even joy.

Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, inspiring people across the country – including a generation of young girls of color who will see themselves in her. The administration of Joe Biden helped pass landmark legislation to revitalize our nation’s infrastructure and combat climate change. We saw historic firsts such as the election of the first Alaska Native woman to Congress and the first Black person to lead a major party in either the House or the Senate. And voters throughout our country raised their voices to defend freedom – especially reproductive freedom – and to reject extremism during the recent midterm elections.

Amidst this backdrop, it hasn’t always been easy to lead an organization.

It can be hard to focus on big picture vision and the future when there’s so much happening… when everything seems to be on fire, and each day is like drinking from a firehose. It can be easy to get caught up in the controversy and over-heated narrative of the moment that favors 30-second soundbites, rather than reflective dialogue.

In my first year as President of the National Partnership, I often found myself occupied by the internal, day-to-day responsibilities of managing a growing organization, and the external debates swirling in a fast-moving news cycle. This made it hard to find time to step back and focus on honing and instituting a long-term vision for our organization – one that can realize sustained progress in the decades to come.

Even so, there were several takeaways from my first year that will provide lessons going forward.

To begin, a top priority of the National Partnership must be focusing on equity, centering women who face the steepest challenges and defying a status quo that is perpetually resistant to change. We have to be unafraid to think outside the box, challenge conventional wisdom, and pursue bold, transformational solutions. Even when folks tell us that our goals are impossible.

If we want to create an inclusive economy that treats women fairly and transform our health care system so that it promotes greater equity and quality, then we need to rethink the existing playing field – and sow the seeds that will yield a new field of our own.

We have to be consistently focused on flipping the script… on driving a new narrative that lifts up the diverse experiences of women across the country.

Few of the pundits who shape our public discourse center the perspectives of women – and especially women of color. We must counter this situation by prioritizing policies that improve the lives of people who endure the harshest barriers. This includes women who suffer compounding forms of bias, such as women of color who are also LGBTQ and/or disabled.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”” When we focus – with intentionality – on enacting investments which address the harshest disparities for the most vulnerable, then we can raise the standard of living for our society as a whole.

Driving a new narrative also means continuously making the case that women do not exist in silos. Consider just one example. While many observers tried to characterize the 2022 midterms as a referendum on whether voters cared more about the economy or about abortion access, the results proved a fundamental truth: that the issues of reproductive justice and economic justice are inextricably linked.

Much of the National Partnership’s work over the past year has focused on connecting the dots between the diverse challenges confronting women in many different settings – in the workplace and the classroom, at the doctor’s office and the ballot box. This will continue to be the case in the years to come.

Our new narrative must be more wholistic and accurate. It should be a narrative that is aspirational and inspirational… that is unapologetic about centering women of color… that is deliberate in prioritizing care and caregivers, instead of treating them as afterthoughts… that is fearless in choosing inclusion over division, and love over hate.

Furthermore, we have to be patient and willing to play the long game. That is because many women of color, including myself, still live in an environment where people are more likely to question our ability, our authority, and our autonomy. And we must operate in a broader environment that continues to be highly patriarchal, where power structures remain disproportionately white and privileged.

Nonetheless, I remain excited about our future. I know there will always be bumps in my journey, just as there were bumps in the journeys of all those who came before me… upon whose shoulders I stand.

Moving forward, the National Partnership is committed to deepening our existing relationships and to forging new ones. Just a few weeks ago, we received a historic donation from MacKenzie Scott – and we welcome the support of additional allies who share our vision for the future.

Serving as President of the National Partnership for Women & Families is simultaneously the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity of my lifetime.

As I look back on my first 365 days in this position, I’m filled with gratitude for every person who’s helped make it possible, especially the Partnership’s amazing staff. And I’m so excited to embark upon the next 365 days – and beyond.