By Jody Rabhan, NCJW Director of Washington Operations
“Why are you here?” A question I heard throughout last weekend in Detroit. “Because I went to the Women’s March in January.” A surprisingly common response, but maybe it shouldn’t be. An awakening happened in November 2016 among many who hadn’t been politically active or advocacy minded. The Women’s March in Washington and “sister” marches across the globe provided a time and a place to channel the anger (or frustration or sadness) after the election. What is clear after being at the Women’s Convention — nine months later — is that the fire continues to burn strong.
The Convention, organized by the same people as the Women’s March, aimed to bring activists and allies, movement leaders and local leaders, and political stars and those considering running for office, together for a weekend of workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums, and intersectional movement building. Tapping into the power of women in leadership as the fundamental, grassroots force for change, the Convention was meant to leave us all more inspired and motivated, and fortified with new connections, skills, and strategies for working towards collective liberation for all women.
I was honored to represent NCJW at the conference with my workshop on the federal courts, Courts Matter: Especially to Women, Especially Now. I was joined by members of the NCJW Greater Detroit Section to offer resources at our table in Social Justice City, the area of the convention that brought together local and national organizations including the ACLU, MomsRising, End Rape On Campus, Planned Parenthood, Michigan Clinic Escorts, *All Above All, and dozens of others. Despite seeing some familiar faces, what was striking to me was the number of people who came to the Women’s Convention on their own — unaffiliated with an organization, yet fueled by the fire ignited the morning after Election Day. The Women’s Convention was a really powerful statement not only on the motivation of the movement, but the potential it has to bring change.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar and Representatives Debbie Stabenow, Debbie Dingell, and Brenda Lawrence addressed the conference with energy, determination, and yes, fire for the work ahead. Sessions and workshops ranging from #RepresentHer: Demanding Better Representation to GOTV: Voter Turnout Strategies to Fighting for Survivors of Sexual Assault in the Age of Betsy DeVos to Confronting Anti-Semitism and White Supremacy to — perhaps the most popular — Confronting White Womanhood, featured a range of diverse panelists. The Sojourner Truth Luncheon, with keynote speaker Congresswoman Maxine Waters, was a moment in time I will never forget. The passion and power of the people in the room, and the possibility for the movement, crystallized for me right then — giving the entire weekend greater meaning and purpose.
We all know that “women” are not a monolithic group. The organizers were clear that the weekend would be sensitive and inclusive. In order to ensure that attending the Women’s Convention wouldn’t be a financial burden, the organizers awarded almost 1,000 scholarships. Priority was given to individuals from the local Detroit area, queer people of color, and other disproportionately underrepresented communities. Attendees ranged from babies to seniors. And, they aimed to make it accessible to people of all faiths, disabled participants, and anyone, frankly, who required an accommodation. In fact, the organizers provided space and food for a Kabbalat Shabbat, and joined us for services.
I believe what I experienced in Detroit is simmering beneath the surface in cities and communities across the country — a groundswell, a movement, a fire. And with that, an opportunity to reclaim the future of the issues we care about. To reclaim our time. Let’s do this.