Famous people in the Diana Event Oval

Yesterday evening, Gloria Steinem and a host of other activists came to Barnard to participate in a panel on making change in the wake of the Women’s March on Washington. The event was part of the Athena Film Festival, and preceded a screening of the film Dolores.

I was beyond excited to hear Gloria Steinem speak yesterday, but the real treat was hearing from the other activists present. Sunday evening’s panel included labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Women’s March organizers Carmen Perez and Paola Mendoza, writer Jamia Wilson, and two Barnard students, Camila Puig Ibarra and Naomi Tewodros (both ’17).

The panel was refreshing it its willingness to tackle contentious issues and engage in self-criticism. The March organizers talked about the important discussion of intersectionality that spawned from the Women’s March. Carmen said she saw it as a catalyst that ignited a spark for change and activism. She and Paola continue to fight the fight, along with many others. Just prior to the panel, the two had met with leaders in Silicon Valley to discuss activism in the tech sector.

Dolores brought up an issue close to home–that of the Barnard’s contingent faculty union’s tireless efforts to gain better benefits and pay, and the uncompromising stance of the administration. With the February 21 strike imminent, Dolores spoke of the necessity to support and fight alongside our adjunct professors.

Gloria spoke after Dolores, and praised her for teaching her “how to march in the street.” The global movement of the Women’s March, she said, has inspired her, and she wants everyone to keep fighting, eliminate ‘should’ from our vocabularies, and exchange the passive question “what do we do now” for impactful action.

She also spoke of older, married, white women who had voted for Trump in surprisingly large numbers. Not trying to excuse their votes, she analyzed instead the reasons why they may have voted: many of these women are stuck in financially dependent, caged marriages, with little freedom to voice their own opinions. “There’s a person inside every one of those Trump voters, and we’re gonna get them out,” she said.

Jamia Wilson discussed voting rights, in connection with November’s presidential election. She spoke of cousins in her home state of North Carolina who are denied their constitutional right to vote because they are ex-felons. She advocated fighting back against voter suppression and gerrymandering in hopes for a better democracy.

Naomi echoed this message with a call to stay aware, and stand in solidarity not just with words, but with actions.

Camila spoke of a need to “own the word radical,” and radicalize in our everyday lives and actions.

After each panelist had a chance to speak, the event was opened up for questions, which took the better part of the hour. It was inspiring to hear the activists engage with and encourage the audience.

Though calls for change often galvanize with pretty rhetoric and lack real substance, I felt that the energy and determination in the room was palpable, and promising, of a continuing fight for our rights.