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The resistance shows its strength at the Women’s Convention

Wmc Features Womensconvention Chagmion Antoine 103017
From left: Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, Tamika D. Mallory, Maxine Waters, Bob Bland. Photo by Chagmion Antoine.

Roughly 4,000 people gathered at the Women's Convention in Detroit this weekend, most of them women, many of them seeking and sharing tangible ways to resist a man they believe is not fit to hold the highest office in this country as well as the systems they believe help to prop him up. 

During the opening ceremony, Linda Sarsour, one of the event's organizers, told the crowd, “I still respect the president of the United States of America, but I still do not respect this president of the United States of America.” 

Sarsour, a Muslim-American activist, first asserted these sentiments last January at the Women's March, which she also co-organized along with activists Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland. The event, which drew almost 5 million people in more than 600 locations, was the largest single-day assembly in U.S. history, with sister marches happening simultaneously on all seven continents. Many had hoped such an unprecedented gathering of women around the world promised the beginning of a major movement of resistance to Trump and the ideologies that put him in power.

Women’s March organizers designed the convention as a way to keep the momentum of the march going — to promote women’s leadership, to inspire intersectional movement building, and to mobilize for the 2018 midterm elections.

Nine months later, judging by the convention, the resistance movement remains strong.

“The grassroots movement is growing, not fading, and it's you all who are holding it together,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told convention-goers at the close of day one. She praised the work of Emily's List, a national organization committed to getting pro-choice Democratic women elected, for actively supporting 19,000 candidates in their bid for public office this year. Gillibrand also thanked attendees for their vigilance against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“The only reason we don't have Trumpcare is because of you!” she said. 

Jenny Suidan, a Democratic campaign organizer who has recently worked with Emerge Michigan, an organization that also trains and recruits Democratic women to run for office, says that group has also seen a rise in interest.

“We had eighty women apply within the two weeks after the election,” she told me following a panel discussion she had helped facilitate titled “Asian Women in Politics.”

“We've seen women stepping up in a way that we haven't before, and there's so much value to adding women of every kind to every level of our government,” she said. 

She admitted that, as a woman of Arab and Japanese heritage, she had skipped the Women's March in January because she didn't feel safe traveling anywhere near D.C. after Trump was elected. She is, however, planning to run for the Michigan state legislature from the district of West Oakland County, where she grew up.

“That's my personal call to action. It’s no longer enough for me to just support other people. It’s my turn to step up and do,” she said. “I’m going to try to take back a seat from a Republican. It’s the district I was born and raised in. I feel good about it and really really excited to do it.” 

Women's rights advocates hope a groundswell of newly elected women will help beat back the onslaught of regressive legislation being pushed by the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, such as the repeated attempts at a Muslim travel ban, assaults on Planned Parenthood and reproductive freedom, and the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to roll back Obama-era protections against campus sexual assault.

Sexual harassment and assault was a consistent theme at the Women’s Convention. Actor Rose McGowan, who rocked the entertainment industry by going public with allegations of rape against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein last month, addressed attendees at Friday’s opening ceremony with fist held high. 

“What happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in this society.” McGowan said. “It cannot stand and will not stand.”

Throughout the three-day event, dozens of experts and leaders took to the mic to speak out about issues such as rights violations against Native women, police brutality against black women, the marginalization of transgender people, the criminal neglect of the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico, economic marginalization of women, the need for health care for all, organizing against the gun lobby, combatting violence against LGBTQIA people, and the need to support the leadership of women of color. 

All made urgent appeals for change, but it was Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a distinguished honoree on the second day of the convention, whose words most effectively captured the frustration and determination felt by women across the country. 

Waters, a 79-year-old African-American congresswoman from Los Angeles, has gained renown for her unflinching opposition to Donald Trump. In July, video of Waters confronting Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and repeating “Reclaiming my time” went viral. The phrase became such a rallying cry for women fed up with male interference in their lives that the title of the Detroit convention was “Reclaiming Our Time.”

“Enough is enough, and today we declare that we’re not going to take it anymore!” Waters announced to uproarious applause. 

“This is our country,” she continued, as thousands of convention-goers leapt to their feet, “and we intend to make it the country that it purports to be. And if we really want to do it right, if we really want to send that message, if we really want to show them our strength join with me. Impeach 45!”   

As a crowd of women and allies from disparate backgrounds joined Waters in chanting “Impeach 45!” it was clear that the march had become a movement and the movement is finding its power.

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