DETROIT – Thousands of women have packed Cobo Center to learn and discuss the need for better representation, that women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and how to successfully organize a campaign, a coalition or even just a neighborhood group.
“What’s important is we take January 21 and put it on the ground,” said Tamika Mallory, an activist and national co-chair for the Women’s March, referencing the National Women’s March on Washington earlier this year.
Mallory was one of several women to give opening remarks at the weekend-long event, whose total attendance is already, before official opening remarks later this evening, tipping the scales at around 5,000, representatives are saying.
The morning began with an introduction and song by several Native American women part of the group Indigenous Women Rise. The women said the song was a reminder of the “painful past of how America was created – a painful history that has been omitted from history books.”
The opening was a recognition of the conference taking place on indigenous land, said Phoebe Hopps, founder of Women’s March Michigan.
“When you acknowledge the people of the community you live in, you raise visibility of the issues they face today,” said Sara Eagle Heart, CEO of Native Giving and a leader in the Indigenous Women Rise organization. “We are not in the past – we are still here.”
Mallory, speaking shortly after Eagle Heart, said the road to the Women’s Convention has been one of “love and pain,” but in the process, there has also been a sense of sisterhood – something that cannot be forgotten if women are to make the culture changes they seek in this movement.
She spoke highly of people like Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and one of the organizers of the 2017 Women’s March, but also warned attendees that to make the impact being sought, they must stand up not only for each other, but for others being attacked, such as Muslim Americans, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) registrants, Mexican Americans, Black people, children, and members of the LGBTQ community.
“Your feminism does not represent me if it is only about our right to get an abortion. If you do not care about the fact that I can’t even have children because I’m too poor, then your feminism does not represent me. If men are not a part of this movement, your feminism doesn’t represent me,” Mallory said. “I have an 18-year-old son I cannot leave behind. He must be protected.
“If your feminism does not include how gun violence impacts our communities; it doesn’t represent me,” she continued. “If your feminism is the difference between Bernie and Hillary – it does not represent me. Don’t call me about Bernie Sanders – I’m not interested in that conversation. I want to know what you’re doing on the ground.”
Celebrity Rose McGowan, one of the first women to call out Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault, also charged up the crowd prior to their breakout sessions that focused on specific topics like organizing, entrepreneurship and community needs.
“I came to be a voice for all of us who were told we’re nothing, for all of us who’ve been looked down on, for all of us who’ve been grabbed by the motherf***ing pussy,” McGowan said. “No more – name it, shame it, call it out. Join all of us as we amplify each other’s voices, and as we do what is right for our sisters, for this planet Earth.
“We are no nation. We are no country. We belong to no flag. We are a planet of women, and you will hear us roar,” she said, met with very vocal support from the crowd. “We are given one view (from Hollywood), and I know the men behind that view. They should not be in your mind, and they should not be in mine – It’s time to clean house.”
She was followed by Rosa Clemente, an activist who spoke about the needs of people of color, and especially folks in Puerto Rico for whom the “white supremacist, predator-in-chief and megalomaniac” president has paid little attention to, she said of Donald Trump.
“Everybody who stands with him is complicit in normalizing him. Not just Republicans – including some well-meaning Democrats (too) who should never attend the State of the Union again,” Clemente said of Trump supporters.
Sarsour closed out the opening remarks, discussing how the Women’s March and this convention came to be, but also what she hopes attendees take from the conference.
She quoted Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal woman and activist, telling attendees, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
“We’ve got no choice but to win. I love you all. Power to you all,” Sarsour said. “The people united will never be defeated.”