Women’s Convention In Detroit Shows Strength In Diffusion

By Nancy Kaffer
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Detroit Free Press Columnist Nancy Kaffer shares how the “Women’s Convention” which took place in Detroit over the weekend, is energizing a new wave of feminist activists.

Detroit Free Press

If you’re looking for one big takeaway from the Women’s Convention in Detroit, you’re probably out of luck.

But that’s a strength, not a weakness, of this inaugural gathering that brought between 4,000 and 5,000 activists, mostly women, to Detroit’s Cobo Center.

To call the convention’s agenda robust is an understatement; as many as a dozen concurrent sessions scheduled over the gathering’s three days offered attendees opportunities to learn practical tactics for organizing community activists, reaching out to new voters, run or launch campaigns themselves, delve deeply into the viewpoints of women of color, understand the proposed immigration ban or the importance of universal health care — a dizzying array of information and strategy.

If you think about it, it’s the only way a women’s convention could be.

United by gender, women’s identities diverge sharply — white, black, Asian, Indian, LGBT, immigrant, abled or disabled, mothers, childless or childfree — to be a woman is to live an inherently intersectional life, a term used by activists to describe the way individual people live in layered systems of oppression. “The fullness of my humanity,” as one speaker described it.

And among attendees, optimism seemed high. Rallied by the Women’s March, held last January after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, millions of American women got active in politics, some for the first time, others redoubling lifelong efforts. This conference, attendees told me, offered tools to further the work.

Friends Joey Kernstock and Linda Forster, septuagenarians who met working on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 bid for the presidency, traveled from Bay City. Petitions to put an anti-gerrymandering initiative on the state’s 2018 ballot in their totes, they hoped to become more effective organizers back home.

Kia Byrd, 25-year-old medical student at Harvard University, says she’ll take organizing tactics back to a professional group for women of color in medicine and dentistry she’s active in, and may run for office herself someday.

Educator Bianca Avery was here from Dallas, and the conference’s broad array of topics, she said, just meant that every attendee should find something to use, a new set of tools or tactics, in the areas to which she’s called.

Yet all the purposeful optimism of the Women’s Convention runs up against the depressing reality of what’s happening in this country. And that was present, too. Actress Rose McGowan, one of dozens of women who have accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment, spoke to convention attendees, saying that she is just like them, like all of the women whose lives have been turned upside down by a powerful, sexually predatory man.

Planned Parenthood was an event sponsor, with sessions throughout the weekend on organizing around reproductive rights.

But President Donald Trump has proposed a rule change that would allow employers with certain religious beliefs to exclude birth control from employees’ coverage. And the simple fact of Trump’s election — following allegations of harassment, and a tape that caught the president bragging about how he forced contact on women — was harrowing for many women.

If you think about it, this is what we ask of women, all the time. Surveys of American men and women show that while the number of hours women work outside the home has trebled since the 1960s, the number of hours women work inside the home has remained steady.

Women are expected to hold disparate jobs and identities — wife, mother, employee, daughter spouse — to be all things, to all who depend on us.

The convention didn’t offer unanimity, but clarity. Goals for women to support, or support for goals women might set themselves. And tools to achieve all of it. For anyone who wondered what the furor of the Women’s March might become, this is the answer.

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