By Tery Amaya, PWR Communication & Marketing Consultant
This past weekend, I attended the United States of Women’s 2018 Summit at the Shrine Auditorium with the ladies of Powerful Women Rising. Overwhelmed with the many session options, I was finally able to grab a seat for two different sessions. The first “Women of Color Leading the Resistance” which was led by Professor and Author Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro and included an influential panel of women activists including Chrissie Castro (Vice-Chair, Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission), Emiliana Guereca (Founder of Women’s March LA), Surina Khan (CEO of Women’s Foundation of California), Winter Minisee (EMPOWER National Student Leader), and Alexandra Suh (Executive Director of KIWA). The discussion highlighted how women of color have been on the forefront of activism and remain within the resistance. This session resonated with me a great deal as I grew up in Compton and was raised by Mexican immigrants who taught me early on about the resistance.
My parents were always vocal about pro-immigrant and women’s rights, and it is because of them I have participated in movements like the annual May Day March, worked to register voters within South Central during the 2008 election, and continue to support pro-immigrant and women’s rights. For this reason, I was excited to hear the messages of each speaker as they shared their grassroots efforts from community organizing, mobilizing citizen to vote, and fueling marches (like Women’s March LA). The panel also offered tips for women interested in growing their own movement. And for those of you who were unable to attend – Surina Khan shared that collaboration is vital. She advocated that by simply showing up and supporting each we can form relationships and inspire others to join or support our causes. Because #Solidarity! Am I right?
Lastly, I particularly impressed with the passion shared by Chrissie Castro’s as she continues to fight for rights of native tribes, and by Winter Minisee (who is only 17 years old) who is energizing her digital native generation to…dare I say ‘stay woke’? In all, this was a fantastic session!
The second session titled “Can Stories Help Save Us? How to Use Our Words to Shape the World We Want” was hosted by Erica Williams Simon of Snapchat and included a diverse and inspiring panel like Maytha Alhassen (of USOW), Elisa Parker (See Jane Do, #50WomenCan), and trans rights activists Camila Concepcion and Ahya Simone. The discussion focused on how stories have the power to shape our worlds, especially now in our connected world. This session interested me a great deal as a communicator because (as communication experts) we know first-hand the power of effective storytelling and I wanted to hear about how others share their story to build bridges. Often, it is through the simple act of sharing the personal stories, that many afraid to share, that we can educate others, and connect people who may have felt alone to a community that shares the same story and purpose. I mean, look at the #MeToo movement – if not for the bravery of a 13-year-old sharing her story of sexual assault with Tarana Burke, the ‘Me Too’ movement may not have been established.
And back to the panel – listening to Maytha Alhassen speak so passionately about Syria, or Elisa Parker on how she ‘gave up her power’ according to society’s standards, and most importantly learning about the struggles of trans women was an incredible experience. Femme Queen Chronicles’s Ahya Simone’s spoke about her role in the resistance for years by first taking back the harp as a black instrument and then by using it as a tool to share her own trans story. Similarly, Camila shared how she fought against machismo and social expectations of being male by rejecting the norms and coming to terms with her true feminity. Now living as two proud trans queens, they also shared the new struggles they face, much of which I myself did not even know. One struggle Camila spoke about was the injustice that trans women face in the workplace, putting trans women of color in the highest unemployment and discrimination bracket. And despite Camila’s ivy league education, she finds herself unemployed. Each speaker from this session was so moving and inspiring with their personal stories and struggles.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what we were all thinking from the start, when and where do I meet Michelle Obama?!
After a days’ worth of encouraging sessions, mingling with the hundreds of pro-women vendors and organizations in the expo hall, the grand finale ended with none of than former first lady, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama entered the stage alongside fellow queen Tracee Ellis Ross, looking elegantly (as always) and excited to address the jam-packed auditorium. Michelle spoke about being a mother to young women, on how we need to shift the concept of perfection, and on her concerns about women, due to the outcome of the 2016 election. Mrs. Obama said, “I’m concerned about us, as women, and what we think about ourselves and about each other”.
Her concern has been the topic of conversation throughout women organizations since the election, which is focused on how did we (as women, as a nation) elect the least qualified person over the most qualified woman. Politics aside, Obama touched on what many of the other speakers of the #USOW2018 event spoke about, which was that women, despite race or political parties, really need to unite and support each other in order to bring the change our world really needs.