What Is The Women's Convention? The Creators Of The Women's March Are Assembling This Activist Gathering In Detroit
As we approach the one-year mark of Election Day 2016, the creators of the Women’s March have announced the movement’s next action: The Women’s Convention, an activist gathering which will take place in Detroit from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29, 2017. According to the Women’s Convention website, the event “will bring thousands of women, femmes, and our allies of all backgrounds to Detroit … for a weekend of workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums, and intersectional movement building to continue the preparation going into the 2018 midterm election.”
Ever since the Women’s March, many people — including the march’s organizers — have made the point that it’s not enough to have just gone to that one march; the Women’s March needs to have been the beginning of something, not an isolated event. Indeed, said Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March, to USA TODAY, “People have always asked us how we are going to change from a march into a movement. It’s not just enough for us to mobilize in the streets.” That’s what the Women’s Convention hopes to accomplish: To continue to make the Women's March more than a single moment. Added Bland, “Bringing us all back together, I think, will truly be a historic turning point for the women’s movement and all of the most marginalized groups in this country who, as you saw from Charlottesville, are under attack.”
Linda Sarsour, who currently serves as assistant treasurer on the Women’s March board of directors, told the Detroit Free Press, “We’re expecting about 5,000 people. It could be more than that, but that’s what we’re expecting.” And, honestly, judging from the turnout at the Women's March — which was much, much higher than anticipated — we can probably expect something in that upper range, or maybe even more.
The Women’s March was (rightfully) initially criticized for its lack of intersectionality. In its early days, it featured only white women in leadership positions while co-opting the name of a 1997 event led by black women — prompting many, as Bustle’s Char Adams put it, to think, “Oh great, it’s just another event by white feminists, for white feminists.” Additionally, when many women of color stepped forward to point out where the march was failing, some white women responded by saying that they now felt “unwelcome” at the march — which, honestly, is not the best response to valid criticisms. Wrote Adams about why:
When white women claim they are being alienated by women of color who demand to have their voices prioritized in the march, that is simply code for, “Please, let me march and feel good about myself without actually addressing my own privilege.” In order for intersectionality to find its way into the march, white women, though oppressed in many ways, must acknowledge their status as oppressors.
Intersectionality is not optional; as Flavia Dzodan now famously wrote, "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be b******t." And for white, cisgender, heterosexual, and/or able-bodied women, that means acknowledging your privilege.
The organizers of the March made strong efforts to remedy the initial issues, bringing aboard three prominent women of color — gun reform activist Tamika Mallory, juvenile justice activist Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour of New York’s Arab American Association — to leadership positions and developing an intersectional set of Unity Principles which comprise the backbone of the movement. Even so, though, despite the fact that the march was a success in a number of ways — turnout, coverage, visibility, and more — it still failed in others. As Bustle’s Mariella Mosthof wrote in the days following the march, “It … suffered from the same problems the women’s movement has been plagued by for a century: Centering cisgender, heteronormative, able-bodied white women in its execution.”
Hopefully, though, the Women’s Convention will drive home its intersectional point as strongly as it intends to. Not a ton of information is available about it yet, but according to the event’s FAQ page, it’s hoped that by “tapping into the power of women in leadership as the fundamental, grassroots force for change, participants will leave inspired and motivated, with new connections, skills, and strategies for working towards collective liberation for women o fall races, ethnicities, ages, abilities, sexual identities, gender expressions, immigration statuses, religious faiths, and economic statuses.” The convention aims to bring together “unprecedented numbers of activists and movement leaders, rising political stars that reflect out nation’s changing demographics, and thousands of new grassroots leaders who’ve organized sister marches, huddles, rallies and resistance actions large and small since January 2017.”
The attendance fee is $295 per person, which isn’t cheap; however, the organizers say it's “necessary to help us cover the expense of holding the conference.” There’s a big push to make sure that it’s accessible to all women, femmes, and allies regardless of economic background, however; the convention is currently raising funds specifically for this purpose, and hopes to release information about discounted admission, group registration, and scholarships soon. If you’d like to donate, check out the Women’s Convention’s Crowdrise page. There’s an accessibility page, too; if you’d like to request accommodations for disabilities, you can find info on who to contact about that there.
As Jezebel’s The Slot points out, the convention’s location is not an accident. Reads the location page on the Women’s Convention website:
Detroit is a beautiful city, full of historical and political significance, and a multitude of lived experiences — a perfect setting for women, femmes, and our allies seeking to strengthen our growing, intersectional movement. Many of the issues that led us to march in January 2017 are starkly visible in Detroit and its surrounding areas: economic inequality, environmental injustice, de facto segregation, ICE raids, violent policing, and overall unequal access and opportunity. At the same time, Detroit is home to a rich musical history, a vibrant art scene and a long and radical history of grassroots activism -- something that continues today.
Just like our movement, Detroit cannot be compartmentalized.It is important and valuable to learn from and alongside local organizations, advocates and citizens within this city while we build and nurture our movement on a national and local level.
Heck, and yes.
Ultimately, it’s going to rely on us — on those who attend — to make sure that the convention is as intersectional as it needs to be. We need to speak, yes, but we need to listen, as well, and we need to do so without getting defensive. We need to acknowledge that intersecting identities result in different experiences, and in different people dealing with different systems of oppression. We need to work together, not against each other.
We’ve made a good start so far. Not a perfect one, but a good one. And it’s up to us to keep trying to be better than we previously were. Because that’s how we make the change we want to see in the world.
Stay tuned to the Women’s Convention website for more information as it becomes available.