There’s no denying that Wendy Davis’s confidence, courage, and devotion to feminist ideals have been an inspiration to countless young women across the nation. Now, the ridiculously badass former Texas senator is taking her influence a step further: Davis—who once performed an 11 hour filibuster to prevent a bill restricting women’s access to abortion—just launched Deeds Not Words, a project devoted entirely to getting young women actively involved with issues of gender equality.
I talked to Davis about the goals of her new organization, why it’s so important that women gain more political representation, and what a huge effing deal it is to see a woman so close to the presidency.
What would you like to see Deeds Not Words accomplish in the next few years?
If my wildest dreams could come true, I would look out five years from now and I would see a much larger percentage of young women weighing in on all things gender equality. We would see women voting in numbers that were much more commensurate with their population, we would see young women stepping forward and crying out in a very public way against those politicians and private entities that are not abiding by principles of gender equality, and we would begin to see women on a much more common, day-to-day basis pushing back when they see misogyny in the public space.
How will Deeds Not Words help make that happen?
Obviously for all of those things to come true, young women have to play a part in making it a reality. And my role is to encourage them and connect them with ways they can do it. I’ve been working on these issues for some time now, and I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two not just about how to be effective in the conversation but also why it’s so important that we are a part of this conversation. There are a lot of young women that ask me how to plug in. They care about a number of issues in the gender equality space, but they’re not sure how they can contribute to moving those things forward. And that’s where Deeds Not Words comes in. We want very much to provide young women with ideas of how they can get involved that are tangible and real.
How does the Deeds Not Words site work?
The website functions as a hub, and it will continue to evolve in the coming months to become an even more powerful tool than it is now. Right now its main function is to connect young women to organizations doing amazing work, whether that work is with reproductive rights or economic justice or sexual assault prevention. Ultimately, we want this to be a network that connects young women to on-the-ground campaigns. I know that when I can show up, and speak up, and feel as though I am fighting for something that matters to me, it feels better to me than signing a petition. Petitions are definitely important, and you’ll see suggested petitions to sign on the site, but when we are invited to move an issue forward, on the ground, that to me feels like the most powerful way of all that we can get involved. And I know young women are anxious to be involved in that way, and that they’re waiting to be asked.
As a young woman who graduated college four years ago, I’ve struggled at times to stay connected to the feminist causes I was once so active with. I think it’s easy for any young person to get distracted by bills, relationships, career decisions, and life in general. What advice do you have for young women like me who want to stay involved with these issues that we sometimes put on the backburner, but really do affect our day-to-day lives so strongly?
I think the most powerful way to feel like you’re still playing a part is by becoming part of an organization that’s doing work that you care about. I know that when I was younger, there was a time when I got so consumed with school and work and family that these other things weren’t a part of my world, and it took some time for me to find my way back into it. To get reconnected, I suggest looking for organizations that are doing work that you appreciate and reaching out to them to see how you can help. Let them know if you have a few hours a week or a few hours a month, and ask “How can you use my time? How can you use my energy?” I guarantee these organizations will take advantage of that. And if you’re not sure how to get started, the Deeds Not Words site hosts a variety of organizations you can get in touch with.
On a slightly different note, you’re a strong Hillary supporter. What do you think it would mean to our country to have a female president?
I don’t think we’re talking about this enough. Getting a woman into the White House is literally monumental. I think we’re gliding past that in some ways and we need to bring ourselves back to the awareness of why this is so important. We cannot expect for our issues, our concerns, our day-to-day experiences, to be carried by someone who hasn’t lived them. The whole idea behind reflective democracy is to have people in office who understand and mirror a variety of experiences. And yes, we’ve had people who are friendly on gender equality issues, but we haven’t ever had anyone whose had a passion to move them forward in a way that needs to happen. I feel like we’re stuck in this freeze-frame in time where we got to a certain place and not only did we stop there, but we also started moving backwards in some ways. The only way to get past that hump is to put someone in office who brings a passion on these issues, which I think Hillary Clinton does.
What are some of the most important things that you think Hillary will do for women in our country?
She’s been talking about a lot of different things she’s going to do, but moving forward with family leave policy and equality of pay are important parts of her plan. And affordable quality childcare, which is not only about making sure that our youngest and most vulnerable have a good head start in the world, but also making sure that their mothers can get on a good career path or go back to school to improve themselves and increase their earning capacity. Increasing minimum wage impacts everyone, but it especially impacts women because we represent two thirds of minimum wage workers in the country. At the end of the day, her message is about improving women’s lives so that we improve all lives and that message is very, very important. When we provide women with the opportunity to be equalized and to earn more, we are ultimately stimulating our economy. This isn’t just about making sure women are treated fairly, and it's not necessarily coming from a place of disdain about feeling like we're treated less-than; it’s more about empowering women because it makes us a better, stronger country when we do.
Most of the time, we agree with political candidates about a lot of issues, but also disagree with some of their history and policies. How do we reconcile these mixed feelings and align ourselves with someone who might not fully represent us?
We can’t expect to find the perfect candidate. It’s going to be very rare for us to find someone that winds up with us one hundred percent of the time. But I think we’re doing very well if the person we’ve elected is on our side about the things that matter most to us. It alarms me when I hear people say if my candidate doesn’t win, I’m going to sit this one out. I’m going to say now, as a strong Hillary supporter, that if she didn’t emerge from the primary for some unknown reason, I would line up behind Bernie so fast your head would spin. This is about making sure we don’t have someone there who’s going to further erode the progress we’ve made as a country.
Any books that have inspired you lately?
I really enjoyed the book I read recently about Ruth Bader Ginsburg [Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik]. She’s just such an incredible role model and completely unapologetic about who she is and what she stands for. She’s a great inspiration to draw from.
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