How Attorney Skye Perryman Fights for Democracy in America

  • After the events of Jan. 6, Skye Perryman was inspired to leave her job to fight for democracy.
  • As the CEO of Democracy Forward, she hopes to create a more equitable society through legal strategies.
  • This article is part of “Me, First,” a series about successful women who prioritize their passions and well-being.

In the spring of 2021, Skye Perryman, an attorney, was doing work she loved. She was the general counsel for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, aka ACOG, a national association of over 60,000 physicians. At the time, she worked on legal and policy initiatives for women’s healthcare at the local and federal level while leading the organization’s government relations and communications departments.

“In many ways, my work at ACOG was such a dream job,” said Perryman, who, among other efforts, challenged the FDA’s pandemic-era restrictions on mifepristone — a drug used to terminate pregnancies and manage miscarriages.

But after the events of Jan. 6 — a “seminal time for the entire country,” Perryman said — the attorney felt called to do more to protect women’s rights and democracy as a whole.

Perryman decided to give up a job she loved and became the CEO of Democracy Forward, a legal organization that fights anti-democratic movements and policies.

“To be a general counsel of a major institution before the age of 40 is the type of thing that most people don’t leave lightly, especially to go to a younger, smaller organization as its president and CEO that has a really hard goal ahead of it,” she said. “But for me personally, this was the type of decision that I knew I needed to make because of where we are in the country.”

Working in public schools encouraged Perryman to become an attorney

Perryman grew up in Waco, Texas, earning her undergraduate degree from Baylor University. She eventually began working in Waco public schools as a part of an organization called Project Democracy, which taught debate and critical thinking to middle-school students.

As she got to know her students, Perryman often reflected on the fact that “the schools that I worked in were schools that had historically existed in segregated parts of town,” she said. It was the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education that had integrated Waco’s schools, and Perryman began to see ways in which the law and policy could continue to improve the lives of her students. She applied to law school at Georgetown and dove into legal-advocacy work.

Skye Perryman wears a navy blue top with a white pearl necklace while smiling.

At Democracy Forward, Perryman hopes to create a better world for future generations.

Democracy Forward

“I had a real desire to be able to serve my community,” she said. “I think there’s a real satisfaction, right? When you’re able to lighten someone’s load even just a bit, even if it’s in small ways and local ways, or then in larger, national ways.”

As the CEO of Democracy Forward, Perryman now pushes for change at all levels of government, from working to overturn an anti-abortion ordinance in Lebanon, Ohio, to combating book censorship in Texas, to defending the $15 minimum wage for federal contractors.

The shift has not always been easy. Unlike ACOG, which has been established for decades, Democracy Forward was founded in 2017. The work the organization does has fewer precedents; as Perryman puts it, “there’s no playbook for what we do now, given where our country is in democracy.”

There’s a personal toll, too. “While my hours used to be very long, they’re longer now,” Perryman said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the family and the friends that I have, that give me a really long leash and have a lot of grace and support me.”

Perryman’s Texas childhood showed every shift in American democracy

In Texas, Perryman grew up with “a state that represented a variety of ideological perspectives,” she explained. “People from both parties held statewide offices.”

But as she’s grown older, she’s seen Texas change, largely due to anti-democratic efforts such as gerrymandering. “My home district was redistricted multiple times,” she said. “Our long-standing congressman of 20-plus years, who was a mentor to me, was ultimately defeated after multiple rounds of redistricting.”

Through her work, Perryman hopes to turn the tide for democracy in America, creating a level playing field for elections and protecting marginalized communities, like women and girls and the LGBTQ community.

For her, it’s a question of creating the future she wants to see for the next generation.

So if her son and godchildren ever ask her about her efforts during this time in US history, she’ll know just what to say: “To me, the answer was to fight for democracy and to take on fights that have really low odds, because at the end of the day, it’s actually a lack of hope that could be the thing that seals the deal here. We know that the vast majority of the American people want a country that’s as good as its promise.”

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