6 Questions for Heidi Hess, CREDO’s lead women’s rights campaigner

Hess of CREDO Action meets with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Harry Reid in D.C. to deliver more than a million petition signatures in support of women’s rights. Source: Flickr/CREDOmobile

Heidi Hess is a Senior Campaign Manager with CREDO Action. If you passed by her on the sidewalk, you probably wouldn’t guess that she’s our strategic campaign mastermind on all things women’s rights. But she’s that and more, including a mom of two boys who fill her non-work time with basketball, reading, and lots of silliness.

1. How did you become a progressive organizer?
I worked in public education for a long time, as a teacher and a coach. Then in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, I worked with my husband James Rucker and our friend Van Jones to start ColorOfChange.org. ColorOfChange’s mission is to strengthen Black Americans’ political voice in order to improve the lives of Black people all over the country. Helping with ColorOfChange’s early campaigns was how I got my start as a progressive organizer.

2. Why is the right wing intensifying its attack on women? Why now?
Actually, attacking women is nothing new for the right-wing. It’s an essential part of the Republican platform, a key way Republicans pander to their anti-woman base, and it’s rooted in a fundamental desire to take away women’s rights. I think we’re seeing an increase in rhetoric now because of the Republican presidential campaign. The candidates are all trying to bolster their anti-choice, anti-Planned Parenthood credentials.

In the last couple of years, we’ve also seen an unprecedented rise in attacks on abortion rights at the state level. Nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced last year across the country. That’s part of a longtime strategy by anti-abortion extremists to pass legislation that chips away at the constitutional protections guaranteed to women by Roe v Wade. They have closed clinics and put up roadblocks, like waiting periods and mandatory ultrasounds that make it almost impossible for many women (especially low-income women and women of color) to get abortions.

3. How do CREDO members help support women’s rights?
There are two huge ways that CREDO members support women: through the actions they take and the donations they make possible.

In just the past year, CREDO activists have taken action on a range of issues related to women’s rights, from standing up for Planned Parenthood to defending abortion rights at the state and federal level to fighting military and campus sexual assault to working to remove a federal judge from the bench for abusing his wife.

We are living in a world where politicians want to marginalize,stigmatize and even eliminate abortion care. It’s vitally important to support groups that fight for choice not only with our activism but with our financial resources.

CREDO gives close to $200,000 each month to three progressive groups. Typically the three organizations are working on different progressive issues. But this month we decided to put 100% of our funding behind women’s rights. We selected an all-star slate: NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Each organization plays a unique and important role in standing up for women and fighting for abortion rights.

These donations are only possible because of our Mobile, Long Distance and credit card customers. Every month, we donate one percent of CREDO’s business revenue, plus about $50,000 in bill round-ups. CREDO customers fuel these donations, from the revenue they generate and through their active participation in our donations voting program.

4. Are there any recent CREDO victories that stand out in your mind?
The right-wing campaign against Planned Parenthood last summer, that used secretly recorded, selectively edited smear videos to try to take down Planned Parenthood, was straight out of the right-wing playbook. This summer, we worked closely with Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America and Daily Kos to make sure that Senate Democrats held a firewall against cuts to Planned Parenthood funding .

From the time the first smear video was released until the end of Congressional budget negotiations in December, CREDO members submitted more than 1.3 million petition signatures and made more than 16,000 calls on behalf of Planned Parenthood. CREDO members also directed over $80,000 to Planned Parenthood in July, matching our activism with concrete financial support. Republicans tried to defund Planned Parenthood at every turn during the months of budget negotiations and we blocked them every time. It was a huge win for the progressive community.

5. What campaigns are you focused on going into 2016?
As state legislatures come back into session, we’ll be working hard to hold the line against more attacks on women’s rights in the states. We’ll also be continuing to put pressure on Congress to pass paid family leave and measures to ensure equal pay. We’re going to ask President Obama to take action on the Helms amendment, which keeps women in other countries from accessing abortions because of constraints on U.S. foreign aid.

6. What inspires you to keep working hard for women’s rights?
The world that right-wing Republicans want to create is one where women are kept small, where women’s voices count less than men’s, and where women are fundamentally not trusted to be in control of their own lives. I reject that world and feel constantly inspired by the chance I have to be part of building a different one.