Intentioning Democracy: 5 Power Moves Only You Can Make

Gloria Feldt
10 min readApr 9, 2024


Issue 256 — April 8, 2024

Women who fear they are losing hard won rights and leadership opportunities often ask me what to do about a world in which they see their daughters having fewer voting rights, equal rights, and reproductive rights than they have had.

So when I spoke on April 3, 2024 to the San Antonio 100, I tackled that question by starting with lessons from our history, inspiration that comes from knowing their power, and challenged them to make five power moves to shape the future they want.

This is an adapted version of my speech, because perhaps you have the same fears.

You are the women who have changed the world.

Who among you has been the first woman in a particular role? Or the only woman in the room?

We probably have some shared experiences. I was born and spent my first 12 years in Temple, Texas. After that, it was high school in teh small farming town of Stamford, and my young married years raising my children in Odessa.

So as a native Texan, you know I can’t be back in Texas without bringing a little of the late Texas Governor Ann Richards into the room. I don’t have the big hair, and my Texas accent has been sanded away, but humor me.

This is a story I heard her tell at many political fundraisers in Washington, D.C. and it’s one of my favorites.

It’s about a little pheasant who wanted to fly. She walked around the barnyard and flapped her wings, but couldn’t get lift off. There was a bull in the barnyard and the bull said to the pheasant, “I’m a strong animal. Perhaps if you peck around in my cow patties, you’ll gain strength and be able to fly.”

So the little bird pecked around, flapped her wings, and sure enough she began to fly. She was so happy that she flew to the top of a tree and started to sing.

As she sang, a hunter nearby heard her and thought, “There’s lunch.” Sadly, the hunter shot the pheasant dead.

The moral of the story (you have to imagine Ann saying this to get the full effect) is: “Bullshit might get you to the top, but it cain’t keep you there.”

Now, there is also another moral in my opinion.

Sometimes people stay more comfortable in their little pile of bullshit than in taking actions that could eradicate the injustices around us.

You can get so mired in talking about the problems, reacting to the attacks on democracy that are eviscerating voting rights, equal rights of all kinds, and reproductive rights, that you never get out of that nice warm cozy pile.

It’s risky to fly, to use your phenomenal power to bring about the change you want.

But you see, power unused is power useless.

It’s almost against human nature to be proactive, get off the defensive, to set the agenda instead of reacting.

But that is exactly what we must do now, if we don’t want to go back to the bad old days.

I did a podcast series with some friends a couple of years ago. We called it Lady Liberty is VERY Pissed — very being the operative word. We wanted to connect the dots among the attacks on voting rights, equal rights, and reproductive rights. We thought that acronym V.E.R.Y. was pretty smart.

It came from an article I had written for Ms. Magazine making the case that the shocking assaults on democracy on January 6, 2021 were in fact a toxic brew of those three interconnected rollbacks on freedoms that we thought we had won.

But my friends, in a democracy, nothing is won forever. It must be not just protected, not just defended — but re-conceived, re-won and reaffirmed over and over and over.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Journalist Elie Mystal described our current situation like this: “I will remind you all that the order of operations for the current SCOTUS was important. They had to take away voting rights by eviscerating the Voting Rights Act before they could take away abortion. They’re counting on voter suppression to blunt the backlash.”

Elie was right. But he didn’t go quite far enough into what is really at stake. For example, abortion has never been about abortion. It’s about whether women will have an equal place in the world, whether anyone will have the right to determine whether, when, and with whom to have children. It’s about human and civil rights.

Justices Thomas and Alito stated clearly in the Dobbs opinion that next goes birth control, next goes LGBTQ rights, and now everyone can see what their end game has always been.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos have the legal status of you or you or you says it all.

The Handmaid’s Tale is no longer fiction. How did we get here?

Since we just had Women’s History Month, let us learn from three critical strategic mistakes of the suffrage movement. They apply to us today.

First they pushed out their non-white sisters, narrowing the coalition rather than expanding it to include all groups with a stake in voting rights.

Second they narrowed their agenda to voting rights only, and tossed aside their broader agenda that had included things like safe working conditions and fair pay. This probably helped them appear less threatening to the male legislators whose votes were necessary to win but it also dissipated their power.

Third, they failed to follow suffragist leader Alice Paul’s advice that voting rights are just the beginning, not an end in themselves. It’s what you do with those rights that counts.

Remember, power unused is power useless.

Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 because she knew that political power comes from constantly moving forward with initiatives, not from standing on past victories.

Today, 101 years later, the ERA is still not in the Constitution.

YET the ERA would be a much-needed basis FOR reproductive rights and equal pay, and against gender based violence.

To be sure, women have made many advances toward equality.

We have opened doors and changed laws. We have seen a woman-first almost everything. Women earn 57% of college degrees. The business case is clear that companies with more women in leadership are more profitable.

Yet we hold just 25% of top leadership positions overall and 28% in Congress.

I cofounded Take The Lead and focus on gaining parity in leadership roles because I realized that without equal power, pay, and positions, we will keep fighting the same battles and never fully win them.

The women’s movement once again thought it had won when it had Roe. It became mired in its comfortable pile of defensive strategies rather than staying focused on a bold offense.

Democracy is a long game. And the need for vigorous, proactive advocacy never ends. Use it or lose it as they say.

Voting and other forms of civic engagement are leadership.

You are leaders. We are leaders.

Our task now is to work for all women of all diversities to have their fair and equal share of power, pay, and leadership positions across all sectors. That’s Take The Lead’s mission.

This is a blatant invitation to join Take The Lead at Sign up for our newsletter, plan to join us in D.C. for the annual Women’s Equality Day Power Up Conference and Concert August 25 and 26 when we will come together to plan for action. The theme is Together We Lead.

During my half-century of working for women’s equality, I’ve often thought the violent reaction to women’s progress was simply the last gasp of the patriarchy. Then, bingo, it rears its head again, like Groundhog Day.

I watched in horror as a vicious attack on the Capitol threatened to turn America into the authoritarian country my grandparents came to Temple Texas to escape.

The howling mob that was 86 percent male and 93 percent white took me back to my years leading Planned Parenthood at the peak of violent attacks, up to and including murders of reproductive health providers.

When the targets of such vitriol and violence were “just” women, law enforcement was slow to act if at all. Media reported with false equivalence, akin to those “good people on both sides” descriptions of the 2017 white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic mob in Charlottesville.

Those who have had the privilege of power don’t relinquish it easily.

Racism, sexism, anti LGBTQ, and antisemitism are joined at the head, and all are rooted in an oppressive view of power over others and an assumption that power is a finite resource so they have to fight to keep what they have and think they are entitled to.

Women are in a way blessed because we have not had that kind of privilege. Neither the court of law nor the court of public opinion has declared that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights after all. It took Hillary Clinton to say that in Beijing in 1995. I was lucky enough to be in the room where that happened. But all of us need to say it loudly now.

We have to remember that contraception was only legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, and abortion by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Unfortunately, these victories carried the seeds of their own demise, because the decisions are not grounded in an assertion of the moral and legal agency of women; instead, they’re based on an assumed right to privacy.

Paradoxically, the personal freedom to make childbearing decisions privately had to be won through the political process. Author Jane Smiley observed that pregnancy is the most public of conditions, and the state of a woman’s uterus is the most public of political battlegrounds.

What Do We Do About it? I promised you 5 power moves only you can make. Here goes.

1. Choose power over fear.

Say it again: CHOOSE POWER OVER FEAR. The #1 thing we must do is to master our mindset. My research for my book No Excuses informed what I teach women in Take The Lead’s leadership programs. Redefine power from that oppressive power over to the expansive and innovative power TO, a power that is an abundant resource and the more there is, the more there is. Then you can embrace your power with confidence, authenticity and the joy of a righteous fight.

But remember, power unused is power useless.

So the next step is:

2. Define your own terms, your agenda and your message rather than responding to others.

For example, consistently deliver the values-based message that reproductive autonomy is inherently tied to women’s civil, moral, and human rights to live as equal citizens, to contribute to the economy, and never again to be “barefoot and pregnant.” Leverage street theater if you like to march and picket, but don’t expect that to win what must be won at the ballot box, which brings me to the third point.

3. Mobilize the Power of the infinite pie, as I discuss in my book Intentioning. I learned from the Civil Rights movement that people working together even if they have little formal power can change anything.

Collaborate with diverse organizations whose missions intersect. Build the movement fearlessly. Then use that power of numbers to hold corporations and politicians accountable by visibly rewarding those who support voting rights, equal rights, and reproductive rights. Withhold your business and your vote from those that don’t. Women make 80% of family purchasing decisions. We have the power of the purse. Use it.

To quote another Texan famous for pithy phrases, Lyndon Johnson, “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

4. Use Your Powerful Voice.

You are the lucky ones. You have the power of your voice whereas previous generations didn’t — use it for goodness sake.

When women leaders spearhead or visibly support pro-democracy initiatives to secure voting rights, equal rights, and reproductive rights, other business, political, and nonprofit leaders follow. And then cultures change and it becomes just the way things are.

5. Keep the Pressure On.

We must be deliberate, intentional and persistent. Get out of that nice warm pile of you-know-what that becomes a comfort zone.

Work urgently to pass federal and state laws that guarantee women’s civil and human rights, including the big three: the Equal Rights Amendment, the Freedom of Choice Act, and restoring the voting rights act.

Be relentless in expressing your views and supporting those whose votes deserve yours in return.

YOU and Only you can make these 5 power moves.

Choose power over fear, define your own terms, mobilize the infinite pie, use the power of your voice, and keep the pressure on.

… to build a world where each of us has voting rights, equal rights, and reproductive rights, and true liberty and justice for all.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker, a global expert in women’s leadership development and DEI for individuals and companies that want to build gender balance. She is a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at and Find her @GloriaFeldt on all social media.



Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.