During Spring Break this year, the three staff members, Alex Nichipor, Brianna Vear and Skyla Seamans, as well as STAGE treasurer Emily Follin attended the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C. While there, they had the opportunity to interact with 500 other young feminists from 37 states and 140 colleges, hear speeches from feminist leaders such as Eleanor Smeel (current president of FMF), Terry O'Neil (current president of NOW), Hilda Solis (Sec of Labor) and Steph Hillard (creator of IAmDrTiller.com) as well as many others. They also had the opportunity to lobby congress.
The Students would like to thank those that made this wonderful opportunity possible.
The Students Reactions
The National Young Feminist Leadership Conference was a truly eye-opening experience. We met young feminists from around the country and heard stories very different from our own. We met two women who had come all the way from Idaho to speak to one of their congressmen about the defunding of family planning services. My heart went out to them when they told us how their meeting with him didn’t go very well. They told us that he didn’t even listen to their side of the argument and shot them down at every point. Their story made me grateful to live in a state that is more progressive. Our meeting with John Olver’s women’s issues representative went very well and she was very open to what we had to say and gave us some ideas about how to help Congressman Olver fight to defend women’s rights in Congress. The conference left all of us feeling extremely pumped and ready to do our part and participate in the democratic process.
As a proud and outspoken feminist, I often find myself in the minority in any room; I discover I need to provide people with the most basic lessons on sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination in society.
At the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, I found myself surrounded with people who shared my philosophy. I was able to discuss food politics and body image with another aspiring young professor, and I met an HIV counselor who inspired me to seek volunteer work at a family planning clinic. I went to workshops where I learned about homophobia, reproductive justice, and birth control/abortion. I was also able to connect more closely with my fellow MCLA feminists. It’s hard not to bond when wandering the streets of D.C., desperately looking for a restaurant that serves vegetarian, tomato-free, AND non-spicy food.
Marching to Capitol Hill was the most thrilling part of the conference. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we conducted ourselves well and spoke our truth clearly to politicians.
“Democracy” derives from the ancient Greek words, “Demos,” meaning “people,” and “Kratos,” meaning “power.” In a democracy, the ones in authority don’t hold power over the people – the people themselves hold power! This experience taught me that I can have influence over what goes on in our country.
I have always wanted to visit Washington DC. I have also always wanted to come together with hundreds of other young men and women who share the same passion for feminism that I have. The Young Feminist Leadership Conference provided me with the perfect opportunity to fulfill both of these wishes.
Being at the conference, I felt more at home than I often do when I actually am at home. Having the chance to meet a variety of strong feminists from leadership roles around the country was an enlightening experience. Learning about what I can do to face gender issues, like the wage gap and reproductive health, gave me a feeling of hope and determination. After attending a number of sessions on feminist issues, listening to the voices of women in power, and talking to young feminists about what they are doing on their campuses and in their communities, I was ready to face Capitol Hill. With the three other strong women from MCLA, we let Senator Brown and Congressman John Olver’s women’s issues representatives know that this is what a feminist looks like. There are no words to describe my gratitude towards those who made this experience possible.
Call: “Show Me What a Feminist Looks Like.” “This is what a feminist looks like”, responded over 500 young women who were attending the Feminist Majority Leadership Conference. This conference was, and will remain, one of the best experiences of my life. The speakers were motivating, the workshops fascinating, and the lobbying empowering, but it is those 500 young women that left me with a feeling that will be hard to come across again. For all my life I will remember the energy, the empowerment, and the camaraderie. We were instant friends with all those around us, connecting on something that is so misunderstood. This friendship wasn’t only at the actual conference but on the subway, at the hotel, and in the streets as we got lost in D.C., twice. Everyone was clad in “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” gear. Those pink letters became a beacon calling us in where we found a judgment free zone, encouragement about what we are planning, and a helpful hand to find the mixer. This was a great change from those in the airport who actually harassed us for wearing our pin with pride, but of course this did not stop us.
It is often generalized that young people are apathetic, with little desire to get out and do something about the injustices in the world. The wonderful young women who attended the Feminist Majority Leadership Conference easily proved everyone who believes that wrong. They lobbied Congress, created clubs and women’s centers, they changed their schools’ sexual assault policies, and they raised money to help end domestic violence. They are speaking out about gender based injustices and are making real change in their worlds. With them, I felt a sense of acceptance that often takes years to achieve, but here it was instant. I thank all those who helped make it possible for me to attend this conference.