the start of something big #persist2017
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde
As I drove home from UC Riverside last night, I could just make out the Man in the Moon squinting down from behind clouds that seemed strangely out of place above my stomping grounds: Southern California’s Inland Empire. A veiled glimpse, through which came peering back a ghostly performance of moonlight that even if fully hidden from our view still guides our tides, fortifies our gravity. Through those autumnal clouds I could see the outline of that wide-eyed face that we’ve gendered male, looking down on me, and I said to myself … aww, hell no! Why is the Moon a male? What is this patriarchal name-game about? I was ready to start a revolution, me around the moon, hashtagging out a campaign to take back the night: #Womoon #MooningTheMoon, #ReclaimingTheMoon, #Femoonist #GoodnightPatriarchalMoon–and then I remembered that we call Earth, Mother, that she is the one that feeds us, clothes us, sustains us. Scientists say that if we didn’t have the moon, it would take some getting used to, but we’d survive. So I talked myself down. Fine, I thought, it’s fair. Equal. I can let the men have the moon. But the earth is ours.
These kinds of thoughts go through my mind all day, every day, as they do for many women–thoughts that question why society does what it does, allows what it allows, continues what it continues. Questions like: Why are women still seeking justice for never-ending harassment and abuse? Why are we told to wait our turn when we’ve been standing in line for centuries? Why is there pushback whenever we try to create any kind of upward mobility? Why do we get paid less? Why are we held to a higher and double standard? These thoughts were especially pronounced as I pulled into Parking Lot 1 at UC Riverside Friday morning, November 3rd–before that Moon was accentuated by the evening–to attend the inaugural Women’s Political Engagement Conference aptly titled Persist 2017, a one-day event with the optimistic goal of “Preparing Women for Engagement in the Political Realm.” Chock-full of speakers and panelists from up and down California’s vast and talent-laden borders, Super Sheroes took the stage one by one to inspire and educate us as to how we can chip away at the immense underrepresentation of ourselves in government. California’s leading women came to share their stories so that as they pass the baton, they’ll find more women’s hands outstretched than ever before. These women put themselves on the ballot and ran campaigns, often under great odds and stress, so that they could begin balancing the scales of representation–so that they could walk up to the table, pull out their own chairs, sit down, and be a voice, our voice, in a conversation that has been going on for far too long without us. And as they spoke, over 300 students, faculty and community members sat rapt. They told us about what they’ve learned, what mentorship means, what doors they’ve had to tear down, so that every single woman in the crowd could step across that threshold to say: Hey boy’s club! We’re standing on the shoulders of these women you’ve already met to let you know one very clear thing: we’re coming for you.
Whether intended or not, it was pure genius that just one week after thousands of women gathered in Detroit for the first Women’s Convention in 40 years, the staff at UCR Women’s Resource Center scheduled their own first, borne of a lunch party last November that was meant to celebrate the first female president of the United States. Denise Davis, Director of the Women’s Resource Center said during that lunch, sixty students showed up to express how they were feeling, and among those feelings was the clear and present truth that women are more than ready to have a seat at the table, that they wanted to do something to help make that happen. And so a call to action was issued, and as this beatiful brain child made its debut, Davis launched the inaugural conference by setting the tone: Today marks the start of something big. While we didn’t have the first female president, we very well hope she is sitting in this room. And as we all turned to look at each other, to say, It’s you! It’s you! It’s you! – we knew that this truly was the start of something big. The women in this room, like women in rooms just like it all across this country, all across this globe, are gathering to say enough is enough. We are going to change the world by simply, and finally, taking a seat at the table. Our time is now. I was privledged enough to attend the Women’s Convention in Detroit last month, and the words from organizers Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory are still reverberating inside of me: Take it local. Start where you are. Run for office. Support women of color. Detroit was large, and now we have to go huge. And state and local IS the new huge. UCR Women’s Resource Center is helping to take it huge.
A compelling and brainy menu of workshops was crafted by the UCR Women’s Resource Center ranging from Why Women’s Representation in Government Matters to Public Policy Debates on Abortion and Birth Control Access to the importance and the necessity of having Women of Color and LGBTQ Representation and Visibility in politics. And as every woman spoke, the solidarity of change and action echoed through each room. We aren’t going to change the system tomorrow, but we will chip away at it woman by woman, until tomorrow becomes the next day and the next day becomes an election day where the story isn’t that the winner was a woman or a black woman or a brown woman or a gay woman. Instead the headline will become: The First Man in Several Years was Elected to Office Today.
I can’t possibly convey all that happened or express the energy and hope throughout the day, and you’d totally tl;dr me if I did. So I’ll share some highlights with you that stood out. If I could have attended every session, I would have, but since most of us can only be in one place at a time, you’ll have to settle with the small portion of the greatness highlighted below.
- People told me, this isn’t for me (city council), they told me, you’re the wrong kind of black, and that it wasn’t my time. So I ran, and I won! – Tonya Burke, Perris City Council Member
- I thought about what persist means to me. Persist means taking action, persistence means staying the course, holding on, keeping on, carrying on. Perisistence is not new to us womenfolk. For women, persistence is who we are and what we do. We come from a long ancestral line of persisters. – Kimberly Ellis, activist who has revolutionized California’s Democratic politics through her work as the first African American Executive Director of Emerge California
- I became an activist in 1963 when I saw what was happening in Birmingham. Later, I protested the Vietnam War. My generation learned the power of protest, but we made a fatal error – we didn’t beleive in the power of electoral politics. We thought social movement was enough. – Torie Osborne, a leader in LBGT rights and economic justice
- You never achieve success by yourself. When you enter politics, stay humble and have gratitude. It’s hard to put your name on that ballot, especially being openly gay and Latina. But you don’t need permission to live your dream. – Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes
- On harassment: Be better than me: I came up in a time when we put up with a lot of stuff. I’m 50. Now, if someone harrasses me I’m going to punch him in the damn face.— Senator Connie Leyva
- If I handed out 20 pencils, anyone in here could easily break them one at at time. But there isn’t anyone in here who could break them if they were all together. – Delaine Eastin, former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 2018 California Gubernatorial Candidate
- A word about power: Power itself is neutral. We must become fearless about it because it’s being used against us. We must become literate about power. Resistance is existence. – Torie Osborn
- When you run for office: be confident not cocky, be the most prepared, and pick your priorities – pick the mountain you’re willing to die on. – Senator Connie Leyva
- I realized I was wasting a lot of energy worrying about things that my male colleagues weren’t worrying about because women have been socialized to do so. So now I check myself: are my male collegaues worrying about these things (what to wear, for example.) – Dr. Melinda Ritchie, UCR Political Science Professor
- Be careful about what you’re harvesting in your mind because that is the blueprint for your future.–Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes
- Social movements are about coalitions. – Torie Osborn
- Women need to be present when policy decisions are made. Budgets are statements of values. If we had more women in government, we’d have a different set of values. – Delaine Eastin
- I subscribe to a feminist idea of leadership. The qualities I believe that are critical to good leadership: are Reliability, Decisiveness, Clarity of Purpose, Honesty, Active Listening, and Developing the skills of others. –Torie Osborn
- There are two types of women: those who run for political office and those who help women get elected. – Council-member Tonya Burke
- Women of color make white women look more Democratic than they are: 52% of white women who voted, voted for Trump. We have to start looking at things through an intersectional lens. –Nora Varga, VP of Community and Government Relations Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest and Trustee
- Sixty percent of Americans believe in civil rights, in feminism, in environmental justice. We’ve won the hearts and minds but we’ve lost the political movement. We have to be involved in electoral politics. – Torie Osborn
- We live in a man’s world ladies, and we don’t do enough to champion each other. Governement is a boy’s club, and women have to stop criticizing each other. Now that I’m here, it’s my job to bring women up behind me. – Senator Connie Leyva
- The doors are open. I am opening them for you. You just need to walk through them. –Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes
- This is not a divide. This is a time of great promise, but infighting is the luxury of the powerless. A group called the Lesbian Avengers used to say: The fire will not consume us. We take it and make it our own. – Torie Osborn
- Advice for the Campaign Trail includes remembering that the struggle for social justice never ends. Be grateful for the opportunity to persist in this movement. We have the privilege to persist for others in the world. It is a critical need to take care of yourself. Taking the time is not a luxury, it is a necessity. This is not a sprint. It’s a long, long marathon. Power cedes nothing, and it never will. For far too long we’ve relegated and delegated our power away.– Kimberly Ellis
- Feel like you need help understanding what we’re up against? Osborn recommends three books: Invisible Hands by Kim Phillips-Fein, Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean, and Dark Money by Jane Mayer. (Support a local or independent bookstore if you buy these!)
UCR Women’s Resource Center made November 3rd a day to inspire, influence, and help guide women who want to go into politics whether they run for office, help somebody run for office, or join an organization that enables both. Check out the #persist2017 site, to learn more about what and who you need to be Googling right now. These women are there for you whether you were in attendance or not. Call them, volunteer for them, let them lead you–it’s what they do.
Change can be slow, but it can also be fast. Last November, a group of students gathered in hopes of celebrating the first female president. Instead they gathered in solidarity to somberly express themselves. They could have stopped there. Instead they decided to turn adversity into action by creating a place where we all could come together to talk about how we were feeling, how we could turn those feelings into actions–to be reminded that we are enough. Those students and the Women’s Resource Center proclaimed: we won’t be held down! We will lift ourselves up. We will lift all women up.
And so we begin to rise. Like the Moon. So that in the light of day, when we think about those dreams we dream in the dark of night, we can find ways to give them fortitude in the light of day, to turn uncertainty and fear and desire into optimism and hope and action– to create a better world for women‚ and thereby all of humanity. If the Moon is up there guiding us from dusk to dawn, from dark to light, then those dreams can follow the same path from glimmer to spotlight.
Actually, I’ve changed my mind. I’m taking back the Moon. She’s ours too. She persists, and so shall we. For the gravity of women’s issues, we are standing our ground, forging ahead, making demands.
The. Tides. Are. Changing.