Convention shows women persist

November 15, 2017

From the November-December 2017 issue of News & Letters

“This is your convention,” proclaimed “proudly Muslim” organizer Linda Sarsour at the opening plenary of the Women’s Convention Oct. 27 in Detroit, Mich. Four thousand women, despite a $300 entry fee, gathered to continue the moment of the Jan. 21 massive global Women’s March as an ongoing movement.

While mainstream media focused on actress Rose McGowan, the first to speak out publicly against Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein, organizer Tamika Mallory, who declared she was here to “tell the truth,” drew the most passionate response:

“Your feminism does not represent me if you only support abortion rights, if you leave men out, if you don’t care about gun violence, if you are only concerned with Bernie versus Hillary…and if you don’t care about the women in Detroit who could not afford to come here.”

Some of the participants at the Women’s Conference. Photo:


Other speakers underlined the determination of the organizers to realize not just diversity but the multi-dimensionality of the resistance, which had burst forth so massively on Jan. 21. Tarana Burke, who originated “me too” in 2007, hailed the current hashtag campaign as a sign of a united community of survivors of which there are “many leaders…ready to topple the system that allows” sexual harassment and abuse.

Rosa Clemente called herself a “Black Puerto-Rican woman” born in the South Bronx. She described the ongoing misery on the island despite a full-on military occupation. She contrasted thousands of containers of supplies sitting at the port to the lack of food and safe water in the interior, and called out the AFL-CIO for not allowing non-union local workers to help get supplies distributed during the emergency.

It is puzzling that with such a broad comprehension of the complexity and connectedness of issues that the majority of breakout sessions emphasized electoral politics, as if more women running for office would solve everything. Nevertheless, in the workshops that did address social justice issues, many of the hundreds who attended had not just questions but knowledge and understanding to share.

Oxfam’s “Refugee Road” was especially moving. Participants role-played refugee experiences, guided by leaders who had fled Syria with their families still in danger. A young Syrian-American woman told us her brother’s family had completed all 20 steps of the vetting process to come to the U.S. only to be told that since his wife was pregnant, the family would have to wait until the baby was born so he too could be vetted!


The contradictions that were revealed at the convention will need to be worked through for the movement to grow. A fund to offset the high cost of the convention was not well publicized and clearly insufficient. A panel, “Nevertheless We Persisted: Women and the Fight for Clean Water, from Flint to Puerto Rico,” discussed legal and health violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in great detail, but did not call either Flint water activist Melissa Mays or radio host-activist Lela McGee Harvey up from the audience to speak. In the panel on hyperlocal organizing, a white woman new to activism who had done an amazing job bringing three high school girls concerned about racism as co-panelists had to be chided by an audience member for doing most of the talking herself.

One way to overcome these contradictions is for participants to deepen their vision to that of a non-capitalist society that values the wholeness of human beings working together to sustain the struggle as new challenges arise, never losing sight of the kind of society we strive for.For more, go to and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

—Susan Van Gelder

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