Women’s Con­ven­tion ze­ros in on up­com­ing elec­tions

Trump, sex­ual ha­rass­ment are ma­jor focus

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Mon­ica Davey

DETROIT — Nearly ev­ery­one here had a story about where they were in Jan­uary, the day after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was in­au­gu­rated.

Some packed into the streets of Washington in a de­fi­ant demon­stra­tion against the new lead­er­ship and what it would mean for women. Oth­ers re­called march­ing be­side grand­moth­ers and daugh­ters in Los An­ge­les; New York; Tulsa, Okla.; Ann Ar­bor, Mich.; and else­where.

Nine months after the Women’s March, about 4,000 peo­ple, mostly women, gath­ered in Detroit this week­end for the Women’s Con­ven­tion, which was seen as an ex­ten­sion — and also a test — of the move­ment that grew out of those marches.

In the halls of this con­ven­tion, which at times had the mood of a rau­cous cam­paign rally, women were tack­ling a broad and sprawl­ing list of is­sues, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, threats to the en­vi­ron­ment, mass in­car­cer­a­tion, re­pro­duc­tive rights, work­place rules, the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of child care, treat­ment of im­mi­grants, pro­tec­tions for trans­gen­der peo­ple and more.

But with sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, from Hol­ly­wood to state leg­is­la­tures, a focus of na­tional dis­cus­sion, those is­sues emerged again and again in meet­ing rooms here.

Women shared per­sonal sto­ries and urged one an­other to speak out, and they booed men­tions of Betsy DeVos, the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, who re­scinded Obama-era guide­lines on cam­pus sex­ual as­sault.

De­scrib­ing the is­sue as “the go­rilla in the room,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., told a cheer­ing crowd: “What you’re watch­ing is an awak­en­ing of women — an awak­en­ing that says we will not tol­er­ate sex­ual ha­rass­ment.” Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, DCalif., urged women to keep com­ing for­ward, declar­ing to a crowded hall: “We’re not go­ing to take it any­more!” Train­ing can­di­dates

Yet for all the dis­parate top­ics at this meet­ing, one thread ran through them all: op­po­si­tion to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and a pointed focus on elec­tions next year.

In small rooms, speak­ers led de­tailed train­ing ses­sions for can­di­dates at all lev­els: how to get out the vote, how to give a cam­paign speech, how to register vot­ers, how to run for of­fice.

No one knows how many women will ul­ti­mately seek elected of­fice next year, but the lead­ers of Emily’s List, a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to ad­vanc­ing Demo­cratic women in pol­i­tics, said that since the day Trump was elected, more than 20,000 women have con­tacted the group to say they want to run for of­fice.

By com­par­i­son, the group had heard from only 920 such women in the two years be­fore the elec­tion, and that num­ber had been a record high for Emily’s List.

“The goal here is for peo­ple to go back to their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and pre­pare for 2018 and to build power, register vot­ers, en­gage more peo­ple, or­ga­nize on a very hy­per level,” said Linda Sar­sour, one of the or­ga­niz­ers of the Women’s March and of this con­ven­tion, which lead­ers here view as the first of its kind since women met in Hous­ton in 1977. “We’re ex­cited to see what hap­pens in 2018.” ‘Grass-roots ef­fort’

The con­ven­tion, held in the vast down­town Cobo Cen­ter and ti­tled “Re­claim­ing Our Time” (a play on re­marks by Wa­ters at a House com­mit­tee meet­ing), drew a wide range of women: old and young, and of dif­fer­ent races, eth­nic­i­ties, re­li­gious back­grounds and home­towns.

Some peo­ple paid $295 to at­tend the con­fer­ence, though many said they had been granted schol­ar­ships to come.

The gath­er­ing in­cluded a lineup of fe­male Demo­cratic sen­a­tors, but also lo­cal ac­tivists, would-be can­di­dates and or­di­nary vot­ers.

Some men also at­tended, al­though Sen. Bernie San­ders, who had been ex­pected to speak, did not.

The con­ven­tion was held in Detroit, or­ga­niz­ers said, be­cause the re­gion had suf­fered many of the prob­lems peo­ple were fac­ing around the coun­try: eco­nomic strug­gles; ques­tions about po­lice con­duct and race re­la­tions; a cri­sis, in nearby Flint, over a poi­soned wa­ter sup­ply.

Women here said it was es­sen­tial not to judge progress too quickly; change, they said, took time and could head in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, not a sin­gle line.

“One of the things I was con­cerned about early on was maybe we’d get numb to this en­vi­ron­ment we’re in, and we haven’t at all,” said Gretchen Whit­mer, a Demo­crat run­ning for gover­nor of Michi­gan, who spoke at a Jan­uary march in Lans­ing, Mich.

“This is not just a one­week­end event,” Whit­mer said. “This is about giv­ing peo­ple tools to stay ac­tive and to grow our grass­roots ef­fort.”

Laura McDer­mott / New York Times

Me­lanie Wit­thoft, cen­ter, cheers as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., ad­dresses the Women’s Con­ven­tion at the Cobo Cen­ter in Detroit.

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