More than 4,000 women of every age and ethnicity gathered in Detroit over the weekend for a three-day convention put together by the organizers of January’s post-inauguration women’s march.
Among the women who attended the Women’s Convention was Sarah Schulz. Before the 2016 presidential election, Schulz called herself a Democrat, but that “was pretty much the extent of my political involvement,” she said.
Within weeks, the 40-year-old mother of two co-founded a local group of liberal activists, Women of Michigan Action Network (WOMAN), that now counts more than 1,300 members in the Midland area, where Schulz lives.
The day after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Schulz joined tens of thousands on the Mall in Washington for the women’s march, which is believed to have been among the largest single-day political demonstration in U.S. history.
Now she’s trying to figure out: What’s next?
Friends are urging her to run for office. But what office? And how?
“I don’t know the nuts and bolts of it,” said Schulz, who works in human resources for a nonprofit. “I don’t know how to fundraise. I don’t know where one gets a campaign manager.”
The Women’s Convention had various workshops for women like Schulz. Sessions throughout the weekend focused on gathering community support, lobbying and grassroots advocacy and public speaking. Resisting President Trump was a running theme at the convention.
“We cannot afford to be shut down or shut up by any man, particularly not one as indecent and deplorable as Donald Trump,” declared keynote speaker Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
But it was about more than Trump.
“I want to push back against the values he represents, but also fight for progressive values that I believe in,” Lebanese American Fayrouz Saad said.
Saad, 34, is running for an open congressional seat in the Detroit area that both parties see as competitive. If elected, she would be the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress.
Identity issues were a theme of many of the convention events, which included a workshop titled “Confronting White Womanhood,” for “white women committed to being part of an intersectional feminist movement to unpack the ways white women uphold and benefit from white supremacy.”
Other workshops focused on combating sexual violence.
During a panel called “Fighting for Survivors of Sexual Assault in the Age of Betsy DeVos,” panelists discussed sexual assault on college campuses and what they say are the dangers of the secretary of education’s reversal of Obama-era sexual assault guidelines for college campuses. They shared experiences of being sexually assaulted on campus and conveyed the importance of Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law.
Actresses Rose McGowan and Amber Tamblyn also spoke about their experiences with sexual assault.
"I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been slut-shamed, I have been harassed, I have been maligned, and you know what? I am just like you,” said McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of raping her. “What happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in this society. It cannot stand and will not stand.”
The gathering was plagued by early organizational problems, including a backlash against a decision to showcase a male politician — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — with a prominent speaking role. Sanders backed out amid the complaints. Democrats Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) were invited but declined to attend.
However, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), both of whom are being talked about as possible presidential contenders in 2020, did speak on the opening night.
During the 2016 election cycle, Emily’s List, a leading funder of female candidates who support abortion rights, had discussions with what was then a record 920 women interested in running. “We called it our ‘Hillary bump,’” said Stephanie Schriock, Emily’s List president.