“What can we do now?” was the question for many after President Donald Trump’s election win back in November, particularly at the Women’s March — a day after his inauguration in January — which saw thousands of women protest Trump’s policies and behaviors towards women and minorities. Many activists considered his presidency the embodiment of discriminatory policies and thought.
After the end of the afternoon’s main event, one of the Women’s March co-chairs, Linda Sarsour, told all women to “get to work.” The Women’s Convention, set in the Cobo Center of Detroit, was organized around the idea of giving women and allies the political tools to understand the problems in the country and turning concerns into action. A central message seen this weekend was to support female politicians in 2018, when Congress is up for grabs.
Despite the priciness of the event — tickets were $295 — scholarships and group registrations were provided, over 5,000 were in attendance from across the country.
The host city was also a focus in the discussions across the three nights — according to Sarsour, Detroit represents many of the systematic concerns the speakers and panelists hoped to address.
“We actually intentionally chose Detroit as a place we wanted to invest our resources in,” Sarsour said earlier this year in the Detroit Free Press. “As a city that reflected a lot of the issues that people were working on across the country with poverty, police brutality, gentrification, we thought there was a lot of really great organizing already going on in Detroit and wanted to give a platform to those organizers with the conference.”
The morning welcome saw #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and actress Rose McGowan; #MeToo is the hashtag created to bring awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in women’s lives, created shortly after the take down of former media mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Friday evening saw prominent female politicians, including Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., as an emphasis throughout the event was the importance of electing women in office. According to the Women’s March organizers, more than 20,000 women have committed to run for office.
“Do not wait for some white knight in Washington,” Gillibrand said. “It is the grassroots … it is you. The resistance is you.”
Lawrence expanded on the concept of losing birth control but still having Viagra covered by insurance companies.
“The conversation changes when a woman takes a seat at the table,” Lawrence said. “It’s the women who stand up and lead.”
Saturday centered around headliner Congresswomen Maxine Waters, D-Calif., with the Sojourner Truth Luncheon. Waters was introduced by speaker Michaela Angela Davis, as the voice the Democratic National Convention ignored. Davis insists when women of color are in the room, they are bringing a plethora of different voices with them.
Before Waters took the stage, Women’s March co-chair Tamala Mallory clarified the Bernie Sanders controversy that clouded the convention a few weeks before.
“The media likes to lie,” she said, explaining while they are disappointed Sanders could not speak due to his choice to travel to Puerto Rico, Waters was always the main speaker for the event and was in fact consulted over their slogan, “Reclaiming our Time”.
Waters took the stage, focusing on rampant sexual harassment and assault women face in all aspects of the industry. She referenced former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened”, in which Clinton described her discomfort of Trump’s behavior during the 2016 debate.
Waters said Clinton was advised to not speak up but she should have ignored that advice. No longer, Waters said, should women tolerate sexual harassment and should call it out when they see it: “Keep your hands off!” she said to a standing ovation.
“Every day (Trump) is in office is an affront to this nation,” she said.
Throughout the event breakout sessions were held on various topics including discussions on the Muslim travel ban, women in the media and the Flint Water Crisis— were “Little Miss Flint,” Mari Copeny herself, was a panelist.
Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer was one of the speakers for the Planned Parenthood event. She continued the theme of the lack of female representation in the government.
“There were more people named ‘John’ in the room than women,” Whitmer said, referencing that there are only two female Democratic governors in the country.
Another panel, “Say Her Name: Police Violence Against Women of Color is a Feminist Issue,” featured University of Michigan Rackham student Maryam Aziz. Aziz is one of the organizers for Ann Arbor Alliance for Black Lives, a civil rights group that, among many tasks, hopes to bring light to the police shooting of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser.
Aziz said Ann Arbor has been able to ignore its anti-Blackness within the police department because of its reputation as a “neo-liberal,” smaller Midwestern city. She emphasized to the crowd that it did not matter whether there are less deaths caused by police in the city compared to New York or Cleveland— Rosser’s still needed attention.
Earlier this month, the Ann Arbor city council members received backlash after kneeling during their Monday meetings. Criticism from activists argued the members distanced the intentions of taking a knee from former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, especially since the council did not discuss Rosser’s death.
Aziz said in an interview with The Daily while large panels can be overwhelming, she enjoyed the experience.
“It was really great to be a large convention that is about handling so many issues, to be on a panel that is talking about women of color and equity and how to lift up women of color and be in a room where the audience can be in the hundreds,” she said. “It was great.”
The panel also featured Lilianna Angel Reyes from “Tran Sistas of Color” and Tamika Mallory, who was forced from an American Airlines flight after a seating dispute on her way to Detroit. The pilot, she said, demonstrated “white male aggression” and consistently belittled her by telling her to “behave herself”.
Martese Chism, a Chicago resident, was one of the participants that weekend and is on the board of the National Nurses United.
“It’s an incredible weekend,” she said. “One of the best conferences I have been to in a long time. It kind of reminded me of the urgency of the Civil Rights movement, because I come from a civil rights activist family. I feel the same urgency I did in the 1967, in the 60s.”
One convention volunteer was Detroit teacher Therese Yglesias.
“I am so happy to be a volunteer and a native Detroiter and welcome everyone all across the United States. (Detroit) is the place to be right now,” she said. “This city is coming back, it is rejuntivated and being able to welcome people who were not able to come to Detroit forever or maybe this is the first time in twenty years, it’s an exciting opportunity. A lot of other Detroiters volunteered so we could put on the face of Detroit to say, ‘Hey, listen. This is the place to come back to.’ Not just for the Women’ Convention but our city has many of the human rights issues that we are talking about.”
Sunday focused on Trump and how to actively organize in the future. Donnell White, executive director of the Detroit NAACP, was part of the closing panel.
“There is enough power in this room to deliver the first woman president in 2020,” he said.