Rachel O'Leary Carmona

Marching for a Strategy

Air Date: August 8, 2022

Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O'Leary Carmona discusses tactics to restore women’s rights.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Hefner, your host on The Open Mind. I’m delighted to welcome our guest today, Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March. Thank you so much for joining me today. Rachel.


CARMONA: Thank you for having me.


HEFFNER: Rachel, let me ask you in the wake of the Roe v Wade overturning, how much of your focus is not only on marching, but actually getting those marches to translate into protections on the state level that can provide immediate relief in the aftermath of that decision?


CARMONA: Yeah. Well thank you for asking. You know, so much of our tactic is around, you know, moving, transforming mobilizations into long-term organizing, and that’s been, you know, kind of our theory of change since the very beginning. And so we are focused on that as we have always been. Obviously, the base is pretty historically fired up, given the unprecedented rollback, you know. So we are moving, we are moving into statewide actions as well. But we are also looking at continued national interventions, particularly as we head into November. So thinking about how we keep our base very fired up, obviously the Democratic, you know, kind of side of the aisle is up in arms as we, as we should be, as we should have been for many years. And so we’re really hoping to have this be a galvanizing moment as we head into November versus a, you know, demobilizing moment, which you know, was a risk.


HEFFNER: When you say a risk, do you mean the potential for all of the galvanized energy around reversing this decision becoming something of an afterthought like it’s sort of in the past, are you at all concerned about that amnesia or forgetfulness about what has transpired?


CARMONA: I think that when I’m talking about demobilizing, it’s just, you know (laugh), Harvey Milk said this, and I’m going to quote this poorly, but you know, “You can’t survive just on hope, but without hope you know, kind of life is meaningless.” And I think that with a decision like this, inside of this current political landscape where the Democrats you know, who are fighting for us have been hamstrung by the GOP and the Democrats who are not fighting for us. I, you know, I think it could be easy to slide into hopelessness. And I’ve been very galvanized and very bolstered myself, to find that that is not the current state of the feminist movement, the gender justice movement, women in this country, you know folks who are allies who want to be, you know, active on this issue.


And so I think that, I don’t think that anybody is thinking about for forgetting. And I think that the big challenge here has been that, you know, for many people, they just thought that Roe was settled. And I think that’s, you know, a lot of folks who don’t dwell in politics who are kind of outside the Acela corridor you know, just thought something will happen at the very end and save it, you know, something that this is never actually really going to happen. And so even though there was a lot of smoke and, you know, people have been saying for a long time that’s because there’s a huge fire. A lot of folks who just don’t dwell in politics, didn’t realize that until the decision became finalized and real. And I think that’s a, you know, that’s a real challenge in our country outside of, you know, abortion or gender justice or anything like that is just that you know, perhaps, you know, intentionally, politics has become so opaque to regular people who just, you know, can’t understand not only the kind of drinking from the fire hose aspect of just there’s so much of it.


But also that it’s very difficult to, you know, to understand because of its illogic you know, why we’re not persecuting like insurrectionists, for example. But also because it’s not serving the people and it, and it’s not meant, it’s not communicated in a way that allows people to understand and engage.


HEFFNER: Thanks for that. And I think that’s, that’s helpful. What’s also useful to know, I think because you were just with a lot of your members is how much agreement is there tactically about what to do next? Right. I think there was definitely agreement about, you know, sort of barnstorming and, and you know, and having an active mobilization campaign on the ground, whether that’s meetings at the White House or with the majority leader or other government bodies. Beyond that, what are you hearing from folks that you’re marching with about the tactics that should be used at the local state and federal level right now?


CARMONA: Well, I want to be careful to characterize our participation correctly, which is to say that we are not a reproductive justice group, or you know, or a provider. And so I think they are having very different conversations around this with the White House, with the Democrats. And you know, our conversation is a little bit different, right? And so we do work in the space. We are a gender justice group, but obviously this matters to women. It matters to people who need abortions. It matters to people who don’t need abortions, but who care about people who do, or who care about privacy or who care about just democracy in general. And so we have a little bit of a different cut you know, or bite at the apple on this. And so what I would say is because of that, our orientation and what we hear from the base is that people are willing to continue to fight and continue to mobilize and do not see this as a, well for the next four weeks, we’re going to do this. And then, you know, it, we’re going to get tired and we’re going to stop. But rather see this as kind of the aspect of the fight that our generation of organizers it, you know, and you know, kind of movement leaders are picking up for the long-haul, for a marathon.


HEFFNER: You know, but I think that your position as the folks we at least think of as the grassroots movement here, most successful grassroots movements, they had the folks who were marching. They had some unified sense of how they were going to try to resolve the problem




HEFFNER: And with our systemic undemocratic



HEFFNER: Flaws in the hardware, you know, in terms of gerrymandering, in terms of minority tyranny or rule, you know, there have to be constitutionally rooted approaches that, you know, every boot that’s moving one foot at a time, it doesn’t take a law school professor or a legal scholar to root it in that mission, but it takes a real strategy. And where do you see your role there as it relates to a question like let’s take federally, right? We know That this is a nine-person bench of on the Supreme Court and the clock on Roe has been, you know, swung 180 degrees

CARMONA: mm-hmm

HEFFNER: So the operating position is, you know, you can, you know, regulate choice or restrict abortion access as much as possible if you’re a state or if you’re a local legislator. So knowing that framework, you know, you have to work locally. We talked about that, but what are you encouraging folks who are part of your movement? How are you encouraging them to strategize now, when we think of, you know, attacking the systemic anti-democratic institutions because this new decision the overturning of Roe, it could well be precedent for the next half century if there’s not strategy involved, counteracting it.


CARMONA: Mm-Hmm. I would say this that’s such a fun question to think about, and I’m kind of like, which, which answer do I want to give right now. But I would say this, and I’ll start off with saying that this is one of the, my favorite things have, you know, I’ve worked in nonprofits for 20 years. And one of my favorite things about Women’s March and what I believe will be our legacy is the increased civic imagination of women. It allows a bartender from Queens, who’s working a shift in like, you know, Union Square in New York to think about running for Congress and then doing so and winning, you know. And I think that that kind of imagination and that creativity is what is necessary right now. I know that we get very caught in the calculus of what’s happening in the Senate, and what’s happening in the House. What’s happening with the Supreme Court, what’s happening in the executive branch, what’s going on with judicial nominations and, oh my God, there’s going to be 60 left or, you know, whatever. And I’m not saying that that’s not important. It is critically important. And the other piece to hang onto here is that there are some other truths, too. There are some other truths. And the other truths are that Republicans have been working on the strategy for 50 years. And they finally created the conditions, in some ways strategically, but in some ways, serendipitously. I mean, let’s remember that the Republicans were caught a little unawares too that Trump got elected and was able to pack the courts, you know. So there are some things that came together, you know, very intentionally and some things that were you know, surprising. And then out of that, there were things that were expected. And then there were externalities that they did not expect, you know, completely, you know you know, unexpected galvanization of certain, you know, communities, et cetera. So I think that we need a strategy around all the things that we know. But we also need a strategy and to understand like, where are the holes in their strategy and the things that we know. So for example, one of the things that I think a lot about is that, you know, there’s gerrymandering, absolutely. They cannot win fairly, so they’re going to win unfairly. And they’re doing everything they can to win unfairly. And technology is outstripping them at every step in the game. When Roe, before Roe, you know, was the law of the land, we were talking about the landscape of abortion in a completely different mindset. Now we’ve got medication abortion, you know, the internet, you know, to, you know, all kinds of things like that. So not only are Republicans, like they’re being defeated by technology, even without us, right? Technology is going to play a role in this. The other thing to think about is they can’t actually control us, even with you know, the, all of the laws and everything like that because of the technology, because of the relationships, because of the organizing, we can move money and move funds so that people can get the care that they need regardless. And we see the movement already, you know, making steps. So that we see you know, clinics in Texas moving just over the border to New Mexico. We see, you know, other moves being made, right? And so, and then the third thing to think about is that the Republicans lost the culture. And the truth is they’re never getting it back ever. So all of these things are combining for this, like this, these, this milieu, you know, that that’s kind of the air that we breathe around, the conditions that we need to bring forward.


And it’s inside of that air, it’s inside of that atmosphere that we’re then thinking about what’s going to happen in Congress. What’s going to happen with the executive branch? Are we going to expand the court? Are we going to abolish the filibuster, like what is going to happen? And so I think that it’s important to say that there is an electoral strategy. We obviously need to go win. If we could get two more seats, that would be amazing. You know, I believe we need to reform the Supreme court. We need to have ethical, you know, standards. We need to, you know, maybe have a justice for each circuit. I don’t know. You know, there are things that I think that we could do that, that make commonsense governance happen. But I also think that we need to understand that the things that the Republicans are doing that they think are their master strokes, they have externalities related to them, and they are creating conditions that are creating the opportunity to make things that were previously impossible possible.


And it’s my opinion that in 10 years, the story we’ll be telling is that that was the moment at which the Republicans overplayed their hand and it flipped. And I think that our role now is to organize and to create that momentum, you know, to that future. So I know that that’s a little bit of a you know, 30,000 foot not nuts and boltsy, like we need to get out and canvas and all those things. We do need to do that, but, you know Women’s Marches, we’re thinking about these other areas and other ways to build power that aren’t just rooted in you know, the traditional kind of governance that we have been working with.


HEFFNER: You say that, that the Republicans, and I don’t know if it’d always be the case about Republicans, but conservatives or the six votes on the Supreme Court lost the culture. But you know that that has just antagonized those six votes, even more, to take what could have been a more moderate path on this decision, right? I mean, not making Roe obsolete but giving the right to, whether it’s Mississippi legislators or others, to have some restrictions in place. I mean, there was potentially some middle ground and they went for the, you know, the scalpel here, they, and I think that the fact that they, they even perceive that they’ve lost the culture.




HEFFNER: And I want you to expound on what that means, right? Losing the culture, irritates them even more and drives them even more towards extremism?


CARMONA: Yes, yes. I think that’s true. And, you know, so I think when I say I like folks lost the culture is that they’re just, public opinion is just not with them. And it’s not only not with them in terms of any specific decision, it’s increasingly not with them in terms of the legitimacy of the institution itself. And so I think that, you know, if you turn on TV or you listen to the radio, you go on Instagram and you see Megan Thee Stallion or other pop artists naming Supreme Court justices by name and talking about their level of corruption and their level of abdication of their duties to serve the, you know, the American public. That is a significant cultural, you know, turning point for the country. And so I think that, you know, the, the data is pretty clear, even Republicans like, you know, I think it was like 63 percent of Republicans did not want Roe overturned. The majority of the country did not want Roe overturned. And so there’s this small group of extremists who lied, cheat, and stole their way into powerful positions. And I don’t want to under, I don’t want to poo-poo and say, oh, well, the Supreme Court is, you know, nothing. They obviously wield significant institutional power. As Trump did, when he, you know, held office for four years you know. As McConnell does in his role, cetera. So I don’t want to, I don’t want to say that that’s, that’s nothing, but what I will say is the more extreme they get the more out of line with their own base even they get. The farther out from cultural norms they get, the more untenable their position is. The more they have to lie, a cheat and steal to keep it, the more that, that theft, those lies that hypocrisy becomes evident, the more that, you know, public trust is eroded. Now, I’m not going to say that public trust won’t get eroded in ways that also hurts us. I think that the lack of trust in public institutions is a problem across the aisle. But I will say that their behavior is not that of a party or, you know, an ideology that feels confident. It feels very desperate. To me, because of the… they’re not, they’re not hiding the ball (laugh) anymore. They’re not even saying that anything else you know, is happening. They are blatant in what they’re doing. Because I think that they don’t have much choice, but to be. And so I think as public opinion continues to turn against them, as their own constituents find their positions too extreme you know, their legitimacy and in, and in fact the public value that they’re able to deliver for those constituents will become narrower and narrower. And so there are things about their own approach, not just demographics, not just, you know culture, not just technology, that just defeats them over time anyway. And so what they’re trying to do is figure a way to kind of, kind of beat that back. But I just don’t like their chances, you know. So I think you know, there are, I think there are just but so many moves they have left you know, before they have to move to a different level of, kind of, blatant autocracy, you know. Like that, I think just is so at odds you know, with what most Americans want. And I say that, you know, living in Amarillo, Texas you know, so I’m not, I’m not inside of the, you know, the Republic of Brooklyn, for example, anymore, or anything like that. Like, you know, I’m in the place that they would consider their constituents live. I’m in their version of real America. And I’ll tell you that folks here just don’t want this. You know, they may not necessarily saying…I’m not saying they may not want the progressive thing either, but they don’t want this.


HEFFNER: Right. I mean, there is a part of the pro-life movement that did not want to federalize, or, you know, in effect overturning Roe is the path to federalizing these restrictions. And there, you know, but you would say that in every zip code, in every governing body, in every congressional district, there are some voters and they may maybe predominantly men who endorse the overturning of Roe and, you know, they might even go a step further to say that the Congress should outlaw abortion entirely. But I think you’re alluding to some pro-life voters who wanted to continue to believe that in their family and in their life, they would not support abortion, whether that’s a medical pill abortion, or a procedural abortion, but they were not going to impose their will on the bodies of other people. I’m just trying to understand, because there are folks out there who endorse the decision that was made by the court and even endorse going further. There are also those out there who are personally pro-life but would not impose that view on another family or child or person.


CARMONA: Right. You know, I feel like there’s a large group of conservatives that this is just my, my anecdata, you know? But I do feel like there’s a large group of conservatives when, when I like choose a place to live, I’m always like, I want to live like, near really big, like kind of metropolitan, like, you know, the kind of the city center areas, but I don’t want to live in them. Like I want to live close enough to access them, but I don’t want to be a part of that. Like, ugh, that’s too much, you know. And I think that some conservatives, you know, they are living in a political, I mean, like, I think we just need to get clear, like, you know, and think about each other with as much humanity as possible. For many conservatives to say, you know what, I just really think we have this abortion thing messed up. And although it’s not, for me, you know, I’m not going to get involved with someone else’s choice. I think that we need to understand really clearly, that that for some people means that they will not be as welcome or welcome at all inside of family structures, relationship structures, relationships with their parents, or with their children, with their church and their communities. And it’s a really, it’s a high bar, you know, to ask. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask it or organize towards it. But I’m just saying that we, we can’t, you know, go on a March, and say like, you know, my body, my choice, and expect that to be flipping folks for, to have that will have real consequences. Like, what happens if you say that? Where do you go, where do you live? Who do you talk to? Like, you know what I mean? So I, I think that we really have to like contend with, you know, the loss that we’re asking people to take. And I also think that’s a part of the rise of white nationalism as well, is that, you know, in a way folks are across the country, seeing the, you know, things change for them radically in ways that they have not seen before. And while I’m, you know, I think that I believe our country, you know, in terms of more diversity and becoming more pluralistic is for the better, I think the fact that white, there has not been white leadership stepping forward to help white people deal with this transition has been in part what has made folks more open to radicalization, which I think is, you know, mirrored, because there’s so much overlap between white nationalists you know, groups, unfortunately, and anti-abortion groups.


So I think that the abortion clinics themselves are pretty clear. They like, there, there are people who protest abortion clinics. I actually had a friend in high school who used to pro protest abortion clinics. And then she became pregnant, accidentally. She had a birth control failure, and she went and got an abortion. And she said, yeah, but you know, it wasn’t, mine was a mistake. Not like everyone else’s, like I wasn’t being, you know, irresponsible. Mine was a mistake. And so I think that there are a lot of conservative women and people who love, you know, conservative women and, you know, who have needed abortions, who went and got one. So I think they want to be close enough to be proximate. I don’t think they want the laws to change in case they need it. But they are unwilling at this moment in time and in these conditions to pay the social and political consequences in their lives of what coming out with that political identity would be. So, you know, I think there’s a very quiet group of a lot of people who, you know, don’t want to be outside with a sign, who nevertheless did not want that law to change. And you know, what happens in the privacy of the voting booths in November, we’re going to see, you know, what their, what their behavior is.


HEFFNER: That’s really an interesting extension of losing the culture, is losing the family. And if culture is governed by family, I think what you’re saying is spot on about how it’s going to impact people’s relationships. And the extent to which you may no longer be accepted in a social situation or at least feel as though you can sort of emotionally connect with people if you are imposing that law, right? Because again, the way that Roe was structured it was not ever mandating abortion. It was merely giving people choice.




HEFFNER: And now with restrictions, you are mandating, in effect, in some situations, if not, you know, all, but in some situations, what has become this idea of forced pregnancy.


CARMONA: Right. Bans and obstacles. Right. And I think the thing to really think about here is that it’s not just that the Republicans are sexist and misogynist. I would actually argue that both sides of the aisle are (laugh), but what they are is running a deeply unpopular agenda that cannot win if women and people of color and poor people and trans and queer people go to the polls and vote. And so they have to put every obstacle up in, you know, in place to not, to impede that from happening. And so when women, you know, and it’s when we’re talking about paying those political consequences, you know, you’ll see, see people on Twitter saying, oh, go talk to your racist uncle at Thanksgiving. That’s one thing. But if you’ve got kids and you’re already on the, you know, the borderline of a, you know, the being able to make it or not make it, and gas prices are sky high and inflation is hitting and you don’t have baby formula, maybe, you know what I mean? All of these things. And then the choice is you divorce your husband and you live in your car because you, you know, are, want to be outright about your, you know, views on abortion, or you stay in the house and you’re quiet about it. You know, some people, many people, too many people in the country are making, have to make those political considerations every day. So I just think we have to be really clear that this isn’t just about misogyny. It’s not just about controlling our bodies. It’s about imposing financial, political, and civic obstacles to women as a political class. Women are not the only people who need abortions, but the, but the focus here, you know, in this intervention is to get women as a political class, to have fewer opportunities to exercise civic and, you know, financial power against those who would try to, you know, undermine us and who are trying to move this agenda.

So I just think it’s really important for us to think about, because it’s not just about like, oh, I’m too afraid to like, get into conflict. That that might be part of it. But really, it’s talking about like, how are women going to feed families and take care of our, you know, cells and have you know, access to healthcare and medical care, you know, et cetera, when this happens. And that is one of the effects of these bans is that we’re less safe to exercise, you know, politically you know, in financially you know, in all sorts of ways. So I just, I don’t want us to lose that because it’s not just about a culture war piece, you know, in that respect, it’s actually, you know, it hits the bank book directly, even if you’re not a person who’s seeking an abortion right now.


HEFFNER: Rachel O’Leary Carmona, director of the Women’s March. Thank you so much for your time today.


CARMONA: Thank you for having me.


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