Women’s Convention to activists: Push for local change

Maureen Feighan

Detroit — The Women’s March may be a national movement but the real work lies ahead at the local level, said organizers of the Women’s Convention on Sunday.

That includes pushing for policy changes and supporting candidates locally “who look like us,” activists said, urging on some 5,000 women and men who attended the gathering to seek out more women for roles in politics.

If the weekend was about shoring up support and acknowledging the anger that has gripped many people over the decisions of the Trump administration over the past 10 months, speakers at the convention, whose theme was “Reclaiming Our Time” at Cobo Center, recognized that wasn’t enough.

“What we’ve seen over the last 11 months is we are really good at resisting,” said Bob Bland, a co-chair of the Women’s March, speaking during a closing panel Sunday. “But resistance is not enough.”

Speakers and activists urged the crowd to look ahead to reshape the political landscape by:

■Encouraging more women to run for office and train them how to develop their political instincts

■Establishing more Democratic clubs

■Flipping back counties that turned red in the last election

The three-day convention, a follow-up to the historic Women’s March in Washington, D.C, in January during President Trump’s inauguration, drew participants from all over the world. Topics ranged from everything from running for political office to building coalitions. More than 170 workshops and sessions were held throughout the weekend, some covering delicate topics about race and including people of color within the Women’s March movement. Workshops and speakers also talked about tackling “white privilege” and being more inclusive in discussions and policy making.

Organizers said Sunday that activists may be distracted by what Trump may do next, but “what we have to do is stay on course,” said Carmen Perez, another Women’s March co-chair.

“If we’re going to have tangible solutions, making a policy-based difference, we need to ensure that there are legislators who think like us and look like us,” said Angela Rye, a political commentator.

National organizers said they chose Detroit for the convention because it faces many of the issues that the country is grappling with, including immigration and school reform.

“ ... It is a microcosm of all the issues we’re dealing with on the national level,” said activist Linda Sarsour.

Jessyca Mathewsa teacher at Flint’s Carman-Ainsworth High School, said she wanted to learn more for her students. Mathews, who is black, said she talked to several women who are white about what they can do to be allies.

“People want to help,” said Mathews, 40. “... I found that to be really refreshing and inspiring.”

Attendees broke into statewide caucuses Sunday to discuss, plan their next steps. At the Michigan caucus, hundreds of attendees broke into groups based on county.

Convention inspires women to engage, speak out

In the Macomb County group — Macomb played a key role in helping Trump win Michigan last November — more than two dozen women gathered to discuss local Democratic clubs and the need for more female political candidates.

“We were a county that flipped” from Democratic to Republican, said Kathy Lohr of Harrison Township. “If we don’t do something quick, we aren’t turning back. We don’t have candidates. We are severely lacking.”

At a panel called “Running as Women of Color: Our Personal Stories,” four women — including Sommer Foster, the first African-American woman elected to the Canton Township Board of Trustees — shared the challenges they’ve faced and tips for others considering running for office. Studies show women have to be asked seven times to run for office before they will and minority women have to be asked two to three times more than that.

And while female minority candidates often face resistance, sometimes from within their own party, they need to keep persisting, said the panel. Some groups that train women on how to run for political office such as Emerge America had tables at the convention.

“What we’re trying to do is change the face of power, change the face of leadership,” said Fayrouz Saad, a candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 11th District who went through training with Emerge Michigan.

Waters to Women’s Convention: ‘We are reclaiming our time’


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Twitter: @mfeighan