Women’s Convention kicks off a weekend of empowerment

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Detroit — Over 5,000 women, men, children and people from across the world packed Cobo Center Friday for the first-of-its-kind Women’s Convention in 40 years.

The theme of the event ending Sunday is “Reclaiming Our Time,” in honor of Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ viral catchphrase “reclaim my time.” Waters, D-Calif., is expected to speak Saturday afternoon.

The program will feature more than 100 sessions and 450 panelists and speakers. Discussions range from organizing tactics such as how to plan a rally in less than 24 hours as well as empowering topics such as fighting for gender equity in the “Age of Trump.”

A highlight during the opening ceremony Friday morning was when actress Rose McGowan rallied the mostly female audience.

“We are no country, we belong to no flag. We are a planet of women and you will hear us roar,” said McGowan, speaking publicly for one of the first times since accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

McGowan, 44, referred to Weinstein as “the head monster of all” and said that “we are all MeToos.”

Since planning began in August, dozens of Metro Detroit women have helped organize the event, making sure sessions highlighted local issues in Detroit and Flint and getting Michigan activists and politicians involved.

“The local host committee has been working so hard to be inclusive and have women of color lead this operation. That’s the most important thing for us,” said Phoebe Hopps, president and founder of the nonprofit Women’s March Michigan and a local committee member.

The Friday night opening remarks featured Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Democratic Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who spoke to hundreds of attendees.

Klobuchar highlighted that over 19,000 women have signed up to run for office since President Donald Trump took office and that there are now 21 women senators.

“People always say to me, ‘Well, what’s the right number?’ And I always say, ‘well, maybe 100,’” she said.

Stabenow acknowledged decisions in Washington over the past 10 months have angered many in the audience.

“I know it’s frustrating. It’s maddening. And I know you feel that too, but this weekend is about taking all of that and continuing to turn it into action so that we, in fact, are reclaiming who we are,” she said to roaring applause. “We need to effectively organize and communicate and fight for what we believe.”

She touched on Michigan topics, reminding the crowd that the Flint water crisis is ongoing, but also touted Detroit’s successes, saying “the neighborhoods are being rebuilt and the streetlights are being switched back on.”

“I may be a little biased, but I can’t think of a more wonderful place for you to be,” she said.

Ellie Hockenbury, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said Friday evening that Stabenow gave her word when Trump was elected that she would find ways to work with him, but “clearly her word doesn’t mean too much.”

“As Senator Stabenow takes the stage tonight to speak to a one-sided, liberal conference that aims to resist, she would be well served to remember that not only did Michiganders vote for President Trump and a conservative vision for America last year, but so did four in 10 women nationwide,” Hockenbury said in a released statement.

There was only a handful of men at the convention, but they made it known that women had their support.

East Lansing resident Chad Guerrant, 30, co-organized the Women’s March at Lansing’s capitol in January with over 10,000 participants. He told attendees Friday afternoon that he’s gearing up to plan another “anniversary march” on Jan. 21 in 2018.

Guerrant has spent the last decade organizing for various causes and people, including former President Barack Obama. He told the Detroit News that he believes it’s important to organize events like this to address the discrimination women face.

“My mother has always taught me; ‘you come from a woman, the world doesn’t move without women, women have it 10 times as worse as you do.’ All those key points have been drilled into me that I also believe in,” Guerrant said.

In a lactation room for mothers, A’Nova Ettien was changing her 15-month-old son, Caleb Lane. The 39-year-old flew from Portland, Oregon, to attend the three-day conference.

Ettien, a self-proclaimed feminist, was laid off from a nonprofit before her son was born.

“I don’t have an income at the moment, so it was a significant investment for me to figure out how to get here, but it just felt really important to be here,” she said, slipping Caleb into blue overalls.

Ettien also attended the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and noted there were a lot of objections over how it was convened and the people who organized it. She said she was a little worried about how this convention would be handled, but her hesitation faded when she saw the national organizers were activists Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour.

“If these women who are my activist heros are involved in this event, then it’s going to be representative of an inclusive and intersectional movement as opposed to a white women’s movement, which I think that we all as feminists need to be moving away from.”

While there has been criticism from conservatives that the event doesn’t represent their values, several of the Friday sessions including “Engaging Women of Color in Detroit’s Economic Development Plans,” “Asian American Women in Politics” and “Evolutionary Southern Women Organizing: Building Power in the Deep South,” made clear that diversity and acceptancewas a priority.

Many sessions also addressed national issues, but there was a strong presence of local speakers and vendors.

Detroit-based women-owned companies, including The Lip Bar, Bon Bon Bon and Rebel Nell had booths to sell their products.

Corliss Elizabeth Williams, owner of the vintage shop The Lowry Estate, brought her collection of brightly colored and patterned apparel. She’s opening a shop in Farmington next month, but typically sells her clothing in Eastern Market and at pop up events in Detroit.

“This is my hometown,” said Williams, 37. “The whole Women’s March (values of) empowerment, confidence, that’s what my brand stands for, so it was truly an honor to be accepted to be a vendor here.”

For Sacramento, Calif., resident Micaela Newman, it was her first time visiting Detroit. She came to the convention with a friend and has enjoyed exploring the downtown restaurants.

“It’s a lot different than we thought,” she said. “We haven’t heard super positive things about Detroit, but we’ve had a really great experience so far.”


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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg