RALLY at USOW: Reflections and Inspirations

By Aarti Chandorkar and Candace Johnson

This past weekend, the United State of Women brought together thousands of women from all over the country to Los Angeles to speak about everything from mental health stigma, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, TIME’S UP, immigration reform, economic freedom, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, representation in media, gun violence, to what the future holds for the next generation of young women.

But one message stood out the most — through speeches, panels, breakout sessions and even the art displayed — intersectional feminism matters.

Our RALLY Hot Takes:

1.Build bridges across movements. The summit echoed what so many women activists have been pushing for since the Civil Rights movement (shout out to Audre Lorde) — intersectional feminism and the acknowledgement that women’s rights are human rights. The impetus for building bridges across movements is vital to women’s collective liberation and we can no longer ignore it or separate these issues from one another — because they’re all connected. Many of the speakers shared the same sentiment that our oppression and freedom are interconnected, and we must stand in solidarity with one another if we truly seek women’s equality. For that matter, if we want our schools, workplaces and broader society to be inclusive of all women, we should start by listening to and elevating the voices of trans women of color, because when we do so, we are implicitly fighting for everyone’s liberation — it’s not a zero sum game.

2.Community leaders are the issue experts — and we need to listen. Day One of the Summit was for education, inspiration, and pledging solidarity and action. And it all came to life on Day Two. Attendees were dispersed across Los Angeles for breakout sessions and trainings led by movement leaders and community organizations at the forefront of key issues. We didn’t meet back at the main stage to end the Summit, and there was value in that. We were forced to engage on a deeper level by learning from those whose experiences and bodies of work made them the most knowledgeable and powerful catalysts for change. From reproductive justice to equal pay to immigrant rights to the experiences of trans women, the Summit showed us the value of intentionally seeking out and listening to the voices who do the hard work everyday.

You see, to say we need to activate these voices would be wrong. These leaders are active. They are on the ground, day in and day out, working within the communities most impacted. Instead, what we can do is elevate. We can amplify. Too often, voices of women of color, trans women, immigrant women, and LGBT people aren’t at the table — and if they are, there is no guarantee of respect or real consideration. But if we ever hope to truly unify and achieve true equality, we need to sit, listen, and learn. Lifting up community leaders and movement builders and consciously sharing the platform is not a one-time, check-the-box act. Social change requires making the effort to know what we don’t know, and then asking ourselves, “Who is best suited to catch me up?” Turns out, the experts are everywhere. And they’re moving us forward everyday.

3.Get out of our echo chambers to study up and learn how to show up for each other. One of the most notable moments from the summit was when Jane Fonda and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, walked out on the main stage together to speak about race, white supremacy, police brutality and mass incarceration. Fonda’s speech took us all by surprise, but in the best way possible. She did, what so many of us, as women of color, hope we see white allies do — she showed up with humility, stood in solidarity, and spoke out.

She began her speech by saying, “When Trump was elected and the toxic bedrock of white supremacy in this country was exposed, I realized something…the lens through which I have been looking at race is too shallow — so I’m studying.” She continued, “It takes more than empathy. It takes intention, to even begin to comprehend what people of color, no matter their class, face every day.” When Fonda eventually passed the mic, Cullors proclaimed, “Every white woman in the audience, please take heed.”

Let’s be honest, there are many of us (particularly women of color), who don’t have the luxury of opting out of these movements — for some of us, engaging these issues on a deeper level is critical to our survival.

4.Representation matters — in what we display, in what we say, in where we meet, and in what actions we take. The message was clear from the moment we walked through the doors of the summit on Day One. From the artwork that lined the walls and featured different cultural symbols of empowerment, to the ceremonial opening by Native women at the start of the summit, to the neighborhoods we visited in every corner of the city during our workshops, the Summit welcomed everyone through more than just words. And that’s just it. If we are to say that inclusivity matters, we must make the effort to show what we mean. We are seeing conversations about representation across fields such as advertising, entertainment, politics, tech, and more. If we see ourselves reflected in art, culture, and leadership, it means that our identities, experiences, and voices have just as much worth as anyone else’s. When we choose what we say, or who to feature in our next ad, or where to host our next meeting, or who to turn to at the table for an answer to our question, let us do so with intention.

We feel energized. We feel inspired. We feel committed to fighting the good fight alongside our allies across communities. Let’s not forget, however, that nothing in history has been achieved in a day. Social change requires patience, persistence, hard work, and sometimes discomfort.

We hear a lot about why it’s not enough to preach to the choir about the issues we care about and the importance of getting out of our comfort zone. If we hope to achieve equity for all women, we have to challenge ourselves daily in our professional and personal lives. Ask the hard questions. Dig deeper. Create welcoming spaces to have the not-so-easy conversations with those who may not share our same perspective or passion. We at RALLY pledge to carry these tenants learned from the summit and continue to celebrate the interconnectedness of these movements we hold so close to our hearts — from our conference rooms to dinner tables.

But none of this is possible if we don’t take the time to maintain our own strength and resolve. We’ve all read about why it is important to practice self care, but as we face the road ahead, self care has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s an understatement to say that this presidency has been emotionally exhausting. So, if you’re the activist, organizer, or community member who does the work for social change all day, every day, take a bath, have a glass of wine, play with your dog, take a mental health day, or simply get outdoors. It doesn’t make you anything but stronger.

We’ll leave you with these timely words from Tarana Burke, the activist who started the #MeToo movement. “This work is gonna be here, but being alive, you living and thriving, that’s how you speak truth to power….if you don’t join nothing, if you don’t volunteer nowhere, I want you to live — and let your living, let your existence, be resistance.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Candace Johnson is an Account Executive and Aarti Chandorkar is an Account Associate. Both are located in RALLY’s Los Angeles office.