Thousands Went To The Women’s Convention. And It Was Just What They Needed.

October 30, 2017

HuffPost: Thousands Went To The Women’s Convention. And It Was Just What They Needed.

By Catherine Pearson

The day after President Donald J. Trump took office last January, millions of people joined women’s marches around the world, setting attendance records and elevating expectations about what organized resistance to the ideals that gave rise to the 45th president could look like.

Nine months later, the crowd gathered in Detroit for the inaugural Women’s Convention — which was put together by the same organizers — was a fraction of the size, but for the reported 4,000 attendees, that same energy was still there.

“I was like, this is something I have to be a part of. This is somewhere I need to be,” Jennifer Onwenu, a 25-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, told HuffPost. “The women that I have met, the lessons I have learned to take back to my community as far as organizing and mobilizing people, have been so useful.”

“It’s a national women’s conference in Detroit. Why wouldn’t I be here?” echoed Deborah Bunklay, 63, also from Detroit. Bunklay received a scholarship to the convention, covering the nearly $300 cost of a three-day ticket. 

She and her friend, Cheryl Bukoff, 72, said they were particularly struck by the diversity of the gathering. A heterogenous crowd of women — and a few men — networked under soaring banners that declared they were “reclaiming our time.” 

“One of the the things I think is most important is that there are many younger women here, and that for many of us have been active for a long time, we know we need to have the young women taking leadership,” Bukoff said. “I’d be glad to support any of them.”

Over three days, attendees listened to panels like, “94 percent voted against Trump: following black women in 2018” and “How to organize a protest/rally in less than 24 hours!” EMILYs List, the group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, hosted a free half-day training for those interested in running for local elections. Indeed, much of the convention focused on the goal of Democrats gaining ground in the 2018 midterm elections.

There were also addresses from public figures such as Rose McGowan, who spoke publicly for the first time since accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape, and fiery speeches from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), both of whom have been floated as potential presidential candidates. Both Congresswomen were met with standing ovations and raucous cheers. 

On Saturday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) led an enthusiastic crowd in chants of “Impeach 45!” and told cheering attendees how thrilled she had been to march with them last winter.

But several women HuffPost spoke to said they had not marched. They felt driven to go to the Women’s Convention because they wanted to join what organizers have taken pains to paint as an ongoing movement, rather than a one-time event.

“I feel like I really missed a lot,” said Zitlatlli Roman, 27, from Illinois who was sponsored to go to the convention. “It’s just very inspirational to be able to be a part of it from now on.”

Another attendee wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt and a pink “pussy hat” covered in feminist pins that she’d made specifically for warmer weather. Her “winter pussy hat” was too warm.

Whether or not the convention is considered a success is largely a matter of spin and perspective. News outlets have called it a “test” of the movement that grew out of last winter’s marches, and it is not certain whether organizers met the ticket sales goals they’d initially set forth.

But at the Cobo Center, where the mood was frequently jubilant, it was clear that many attendees got exactly the kind of camaraderie they had come for. 

“Overwhelmingly what I heard was, ‘Your voice counts,’” said Susan Slattery, 68, of Detroit. “After everything that’s happened, it still counts and we still have to keep fighting.”