Women's Convention faces backlash after Bernie Sanders lands a prime speaking slot

Friday , October 13, 2017 - 5:39 AM

Samantha Schmidt

(c) 2017, The Washington Post.

In two weeks, thousands of people will convene in Detroit for the Women’s Convention, the first national convention led by the organizers of the Women’s March. The January march drew millions of participants worldwide in protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The event aims to bring together an “unprecedented” number of activists and leaders to share strategies, and build on the momentum from the march, according to its website. The convention theme? “Reclaiming our time.”

But organizers came under fire Thursday after announcing that a prime speaking slot will go to a man: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate will address the crowd on Oct. 27, the opening day of the three-day event, convention organizers said on social media.

The announcement immediately drew backlash. Among the critics was Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, one of the convention’s sponsors.

“This choice sends the wrong message,” she tweeted, saying Emily’s List has reached out to the Women’s Convention organizers to “share our disappointment and offer our help.”

“We have more women leaders in elected office than ever before,” she added. “Women ARE leading in the Senate. This is a moment to highlight them.”

Sanders is one of only two men among the more than 60 people scheduled to speak at the convention, organizers said on Twitter. In a statement on Facebook, the Vermont senator said he is honored to “join the women at the front lines of our struggle for economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

“In January, millions of women came out in an extraordinary and unprecedented display of power and resistance,” Sanders said, referring to the Women’s March. “Now more than ever, we must support the leadership of women across the country and fight together to advance our progressive agenda.”

A number of women leaders will also deliver remarks at the opening event, organizer Carmen Perez said on Twitter.

After the outcry over Sanders, organizer Tamika D. Mallory clarified on Twitter that he is not the event’s headliner. That slot is going to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Waters inspired the theme of the weekend. In July, when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dodged her question during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, she chided him for wasting her allotted time and repeated the phrase, “reclaiming my time.” The exchange inspired a hashtag and scores of memes.

The Women’s Convention is led predominantly bywomen of color, Mallory said on Twitter, who defended the Sanders decision to critics: “We announce one man as a speaker among over 60, and y’all start saying he’s our leader?!”

Organizers said they invited many elected officials to attend the convention, including Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., but the event did not work with their schedules.

Still, a number of women and men on social media criticized the choice to schedule Sanders on the convention’s opening day.

“Unbelievable,” tweeted Leela Daou, co-founder of political site Verrit. “There are countless women who deserve that stage time.”

Organizers expect upward of 3,000 people to attend the convention - by late last month 2,300 people had registered, The Washington Post reported. The registration fee is $295 per person and $125 for those under 25. The convention is pegged to be one of the largest of its kind, and will offer a variety of workshops and training sessions, according to its website.

In contrast to the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, which was an emotional protest, the October convention will focus on instruction and training on leadership and activism, organizer Linda Sarsour told The Post last month.

“These are people who are still fired up,” Sarsour said. “What they are looking for is another opportunity to build, and feel inspired and motivated.”

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