This week was a banner week for women standing up and, as the saying goes, "speaking truth to power."
On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave a passionate speech on racial equality at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Her remarks offered a bold defense of the Black Lives Matter movement and went further than any high-profile, mainstream politician's have before to support the modern-day civil rights activists who are, in her words, "fighting for their lives."
On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood Federation for America President Cecile Richards testified before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. The five-hour-long session was Richards' chance to defend the vital women's health organization that some in Congress are seeking to defund. It was long and hard but a tour de force performance in grace under fire. And Richards never wavered.
Together, they gave a master class in how to tell the inconvenient truth. Here are three lessons they taught us:
1. Have confidence when the facts are on your side — and share them.
When you're standing up with a strong argument, it helps to know the facts and, as tedious as it may feel, educate your audience on them. Does it mean you'll ultimately convince them? Maybe not. But it helps to start with the basics.
Sen. Warren's speech was basically CliffsNotes for the history of the American civil rights struggle and structural racism in the areas of economic policy, policing, and voting. It gave her impassioned support the grounding it needed with a side dish of "I probably know more about this than you do, so let me school you a bit."
Richards was no different. She patiently responded to every unfounded claim and attack with facts about women's health generally, reproductive rights specifically, and Planned Parenthood repeatedly. Richards wasn't just there because of what she felt or believed. She was there because of what she knows to be true.
2. Sometimes, it will feel like you're standing alone.
Cecile Richards' testimony was difficult to watch. Time and time again she was interrupted, accused of lying, and aggressively questioned as the panel of mostly male Congress members interrogated her about the value and worth of her work — and ultimately, as a woman, her health and rights. Even Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, called out the rampant "disrespect and misogyny."
Richards sat, head held high, one woman against the world, fighting for humanity ... OK. Got a bit carried away there. But it was a pretty serious setup. And it couldn't have been easy being the lone target of all of that ire and anti-woman sentiment.
Sen. Warren's environment, on the other hand, wasn't as physically isolating. But she too was standing alone in a field of mainstream politicians who have, until now, given timid, tepid, and downright contrarian responses to black Americans' simple call for human rights and justice. For her to stand up and speak without a lot of public allies took a boldness and authenticity that is not popular among her peers.
3. People will have your back.
When you're standing alone and telling the truth on behalf of people who otherwise aren't being heard, it's highly likely that those people will make sure you actually aren't alone.
Cecile Richards may have been one woman sitting in that room. But online and off, thousands were standing with her. Literally. #IStandwithPP and the first ever National Pink Out Day engaged men and women of all ages, races, and backgrounds to publicly stand behind the core truth of her testimony: Planned Parenthood is necessary and good. They were her chorus as she spoke for them.
And the response after Warren's speech was no different. Black Lives Matter activists and anyone who has been working hard to end discrimination and inequality praised her for her boldness, her depth, and her willingness to say what they already know to be true: that America still has a long way to go in ensuring true equality. And in the meantime...
We live in a world that has made it pretty darn hard for those in power to say what needs to be said.
But even for the the rest of us, telling the truth isn't always easy, especially in the face of those who challenge or threaten what you believe in. These brave women not only showed us how it's done, but they empower us to do it ourselves with authenticity, dignity, and grace.