Laphonza Butler, the new president of Emily’s List, the fundraising juggernaut responsible for electing hundreds of “Democratic pro-choice women”, has a warning for Republicans: be ready to defend your opposition to abortion.
Butler, a veteran labor leader and Democratic strategist, is the first woman of color to lead the organization, which started in the basement of founder Ellen Malcolm in 1985 and has grown to become one of the most influential and well-financed political action committees in the country.
She begins her tenure at a perilous moment for supporters of abortion rights. Hierdie maand, the supreme court let stand a Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. The court will separately hear a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized the right to abortion nationwide.
In an interview with the Guardian, Butler said she believes the new extremist restrictions in Texas and those under consideration in several other states would be an “animating issue” for Democrats and women across the country, offering a sharp contrast with Republicans over rights many believed had long been settled.
“Their goal is clear and that is to overturn Roe and take away the rights of women to make their own healthcare decisions," sy het gese. “Every single candidate running for office must be on the record about where they stand in supporting women’s rights to abortion services.”
Democrats face a daunting election cycle in 2022, but Butler believes public opinion is on their side.
The threats to abortion rights underscore Emily’s List’s mission to elect Democratic women at every level of government, Butler said. State and local elections are as critical to that fight as defending Democratic majorities in Congress.
“There’s a role for everybody to play," sy het gese.
In Butler, Emily’s List has chosen a leader with years of experience organizing Black and Latino women, a record of promoting progressive causes and ties to the highest ranking woman in American politics. She said she views the role as an opportunity to follow in her mother’s footsteps while blazing a path for her seven-year-old daughter.
“It is a great way to contribute to the movement for justice," sy het gese, “and in this moment, probably one of the most important ways to be in this space.”
Butler was raised in southern Mississippi – the state that has asked the supreme court to overturn Roe when it hears arguments in the case in December. She attended Jackson State University, a historically Black college in the state, where she was taught by professors who risked arrest in the struggle for voting rights during the civil rights movement.
The experience had a profound influence on her career and her politics, sy het gese. After graduating, she joined the Service Employees International Union, where she was eventually elected to lead SEIU Local 2015, the largest home-care workers union in the country. In that role, and later as president of SEIU California, she spearheaded efforts to address pay inequity for women and successfully advocated for policies like raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 n uur.
Before joining Emily’s List, Butler worked as a political consultant and was a senior strategist on Vice-President Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign.
As president, Butler said she hopes to expand Emily’s List’s reach beyond Washington DC. Her goal is to leverage the organization’s network of candidates, donors and voters to build “women’s political power” movement.
“I want to build a powerful, more engaged … and more diverse Emily’s List community," sy het gese.
For Democratic women running for office, few endorsements are as influential – or sought after – as the one offered by Emily’s List. Since its founding, the group has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help elect Democratic women, from the vice-presidency to city councils.
In 2018, it helped power a Democratic takeover of the House in an election cycle that was hailed as the “year of the woman.” In 2020, a record six women ran for president. All lost, but later that year Emily’s List issued a first-of-its-kind endorsement for vice-president.
As the organization has grown, so have its critics.
With women running for office in greater numbers – and Democrats broadly united on abortion rights – Emily’s List has increasingly found itself in the middle of the party’s internecine fights. Progressives in particular have scrutinized the groups’ decisions to endorse candidates in primary contests involving two or more qualified women.
Butler said Emily’s List has no intention of shying away from contested primaries when there’s an opportunity to win.
“I look at multiple women running as a good problem to have and a sign of success,” Butler said, byvoeging: “Our goal is to get more Democratic, pro-choice women elected to office. Uiteindelik, that means helping our candidates win in their primaries and that leads to some tough decisions.”
Emily’s List has also faced criticism that its vetting process – which requires candidates to demonstrate that they can raise money and run professional campaigns – can disadvantage women of color, who face higher hurdles to fundraising than white women. Butler said there was more work to do to lift up women of color, who represent meer as 40% of the candidates Emily’s List has helped elect.
She said Emily’s List is “doubling down” on its commitment to engage, recruit and support candidates of color as it mobilizes new voices– young people, immigrants and working mothers, among them.
“The organization has done incredible work to elect some really great women – some great women of color," sy het gese. “I think that there is more that progressive organizations like Emily’s List can do to break down some of those structural barriers so women, and in particular Black and brown women, can move through the political process.”
At present, Emily’s List is focused on the upcoming elections in Virginia and New Jersey, en die 2022 midterms that will determine control of Congress and statehouses across the country.
As for whether 2024 will be the year an American woman finally shatters that “highest and hardest glass ceiling”, Butler said it’s far too early to speculate.
“It’s the mission of Emily’s List to elect Democratic pro-choice women at all levels of government," sy het gese. “The presidency should not be the only level of government that remains out of reach.”