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Category: Art and Entertainment, Girls

The 2008 Women's Conference: Californians Turn Out For an Idea Fix

| October 24, 2008

Celebrities, coping advice, products and services are lavishly available to thousands of women at this annual event hosted by Maria Shriver. Backing up the show is a well-organized network of state organizations offering women and girls support and connection throughout the year.

The 2008 Women's Conference drew over 14,000 energetic, good-humored women to the Long Beach Convention Center October 21 and 22. Perhaps they were cheerful because they got a ticket to the coveted event before it sold out (just three hours after tickets went on sale in July). Or it could have been the free canvas conference bags they carried, overflowing with information packets, purchases, books, and giveaways. In "the village" food and exhibit area, lines formed for free hand and back massages, free bra fittings, free makeup matches, popular book signings, and drawings for prizes from books to travel.

Exhibitors ranged from the useful (among them, Wells Fargo, State Farm, Google, Lean Cuisine) to the fun (Wii and Nintendo, for example) to the serious (you could check out the green cars parked at one end of the arena, learn about saving the environment, ship a box of goodies to the troops, get up to speed on disaster preparedness, or talk to members of South Africa's Children or Bread for Life). On the lighter side, you could visit a resale clothing boutique, buy handmade jewelry or crafts, investigate vendors of beauty, cooking, fitness, and fashion products.

Attracting big names is apparently not a problem for hosts Maria Shriver and her husband, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Where else could you see, in one fell swoop, Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour, Lance Armstrong, Sarah Ban Breathnach, Bono, Warren Buffett, Diahann Carroll, Sister Joan Chittister, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sally Field, Michael J. Fox, Jesse Garza, Billie Jean King, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Matthews, Jenny McCarthy, Deborah Norville, Bonnie Raitt, Rachael Ray, Condoleezza Rice, Deborah Roberts, Lynn Sherr, Timothy Shriver, and Rita Wilson?

That's only a third of the luminaries and newsmakers who spoke, signed books, and discussed dealing with life's catastrophes, living an authentic life, creating self-confidence, empowering your faith life, avoiding stress, starting your own business, working toward wellness, changing the world, being a caretaker, achieving financial security, and evaluating the presidential election. In one of the most popular conversations, moderated by NPR host Farai Chideya, Gloria Steinem (a Women’s Media Center co-founder) and Marian Wright Edelman discussed their take on issues facing women today.

If 14,000 women under one roof sounds like too big a family, not to worry.  Hundreds of volunteers directed, pointed, helped, and generally made it all workable.

Begun more than 20 years ago as a small government initiative for women business owners, The Women's Conference has been transformed by Maria Shriver into the largest annual gathering of women in the country. The nonprofit, nonpartisan event lives out its motto of "Architects of Change" by serving as a hub of ideas, energy, networking, and information that attendees carry back with them to their homes, communities, and businesses.

Shriver and the board of directors have elaborated on their central themes with their "We Empower" signature. They've formed partnerships with California organizations in the fields of investment (We Invest); social, medical, and legal support for women (We Care); education (We Educate), leadership programs for young women (We Lead), support for military families (We Support), the Minerva Awards for outstanding contributors to human wellbeing (We Honor); support for working families (We Connect), a website (We Reach Out); ensuring that women are remembered in the history books and museums (We Inspire); and a network to connect volunteers (We Serve).

If this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of in 2009, go to and bookmark it. Eventually, they'll have a place to submit your e-mail address to be notified when tickets go on sale next year. Until then, go be your own architect of change wherever you are.