Monday, January 2, 2017

Progressive Women of MI Summit – A Call to Action

On Saturday, December 10th of 2016, I was one individual in a sold-out audience banded together by a common recognition: the need to organize.  This compulsion – fueled by the need for racial justice, for the progression of LGBTQ rights, for the long-overdue fight to end violence against women, for the need for congressional representation, for economic equality, or for the right to one’s own body (to name a few) – this compulsion took the form of a packed house in the Royal Oak Music Theatre.  Whatever the issue most important to those individuals or organizations who attended the Progressive Women of Michigan Summit (since changed to: Women Organize Michigan Summit), this feeling was inspired, or at least heightened by the huge step backwards our country took on election night.  In response to these feelings of disbelief and outrage, people pulled together and collaborated, creating this event of mourning, education and most importantly – ACTIVISM.

These summits seek to further the progressive causes most important to women through intersectionality, accessibility, inclusion, support and ACTION!

For those who could not attend (tickets sold out early and there are other summits in the works due this overwhelming response), let me share some observations.  It was a powerhouse of recognition and safety, a conversation of inspiring and needed accountability, and perhaps most importantly in our current society, individuals felt accepted and empowered to create change.  Check out the program:

Rev. Theresa Ines Soto, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint – Opening Words
Julia Pulver, Founder PWM – Welcome
Rashida Tlaib – Take on Hate
Gretchen Whitmer – What Next?
Lori Carpentier – Planned Parenthood
U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell
Rep. Christine Greig and Rep. Kristy Pagan – Progressive Women’s Legislative Caucus Panel
Danielle Atkinson – Mothering Justice Panel
Beth Kelly and Suzanna Shkreli – Emerge Michigan
Rebecca Thompson – Run for Office
Nicole Bedi – Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Dana Nessel – Fair Michigan
U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence
Terry Campbell, Detroit Regional Manager for U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

All speakers were relevant; both building upon the seasoned activist’s agenda as well as informing new feminist participants of the historic struggles that still challenge us all.  Highlights included the summit Founder Julia Pulver’s passionate assertion that “the personal is political”, Rebecca Thompson’s devotion to changing the face of power in her community and at a larger global scale, and U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence’s personal narrative of overcoming blatant discrimination in order to be a woman at the table.  There were plenty of amazing women in attendance, but I want to share two particular messages from two different yet intersecting organizations that are changing lives for women on a personal and political level.
Lori Carpentier of Planned Parenthood was a much needed storm on the stage.  Though Planned Parenthood is celebrating 100 years of healthcare for women, Lori provided a sobering look into the upcoming Trump/Pence administration and the systematic dismantling of women’s rights.  In the simplest terms – we are bracing for a fight.  With an expected anti-choice Supreme Court Justice nominee, we are expecting a woman’s body and personal health decisions to remain politicized in the hands of the patriarchy.  Furthermore, we are expecting further unjust targeting of Planned Parenthood – a devastating truth for the millions of women and men who depend on the organization for their healthcare.  Lori’s declaration that the President-elect’s administration plans to defund and potentially eradicate Planned Parenthood as soon as legally possible only further cements a woman’s second class citizenship in America (a leading healthcare provider in our country, approximately one in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life).  Though we as women are not unfamiliar with this role, we are over it.  Enough is enough, and in the words of the 2nd wave Feminists in America who remain on the front lines: I can’t believe we still need to protest this sh*t.  Likewise, in the words of this 3rd wave Feminist: Stop pushing your ideology on my rights and my body!
As I jot down the historical reference to feminist waves in our country, I must acknowledge the problem of inclusivity that often relabels the movement of sex/gender equality in the mainstream as “white feminism”.  I am not the right person to lead this discussion, because I am a white female.  My role in addressing this issue is simply – as the Mothering Justice panel said during the summit, “…to hold the door open”.
For me, one of the most essential sessions of the summit was listening to an informative discussion regarding racial justice intersecting with feminism, led by Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice.  Conversations like this one are critical because women are still not equal to men, and women of color are still not equal to white women.  It is an unfortunate truth that needs to be recognized before it is solved.  As the panel discussed in their Q&A, white allies only need to ask “How can I help you?” in order to be of assistance.  

Women need to empower other women, and to start, we just need to hold the door open.

To sum up the summit: women need to support women.  As a Feminist, as a woman, and as a human being, I cannot stress this enough: women need to stand up for women.  This is a call for action in your everyday life.  So call out injustice, speak up, and stand up.  Join an organization, suit up with facts and an agenda, make some noise and be an ally in the fight for equality.  Women’s rights are human rights, and we are all stronger together.

Written by: Aj Cooke, Social Media Chair, Oak/Mac MI NOW