Politics of Poverty

The United State of Women put our better angels on bright display

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Oprah Winfrey interviews Michelle Obama at the White House United State of Women Summit. (Photo: Getty Images)

A rare gift this political season: A day of hope for our nation’s future.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the White House’s United State of Women Summit.  A friend reached out to me the week prior and asked: “Do you know what this thing is?”  I told her, no, but that I was excited to find out.  Even the name, the first-ever “United State of Women” Summit – what does that mean?  That it’s the first White House Summit on women’s issues?  I doubt it.  I asked around, and most were sure other administrations had done similar events, just perhaps not at this scale or of this ambition.

And it was ambitious. There were 5,000 people.  It took an hour to clear security and the line to get in wrapped around the entire DC Convention Center.  It was by far the highest profile event I’ve ever attended.  President Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Warren Buffet, Oprah.  It was like a weird dream.  “I was having lunch and Barack Obama was there and then Nancy Pelosi showed up and brought in all of the female elected officials of the House and the Senate.  And then Sarah Jones came on stage, only she wasn’t Sarah Jones…”

It was definitely not a “conference.”  It felt very different.  I’ve decided it was a gift.  The Administration, together with the entertainment industry with some support from the private sector, was paying homage to the dedication and commitment of women’s rights activists.  They had given the gift of their infinitely valuable time to say thank you for the work of the courageous women and men in the audience fighting for greater women’s equality.

It was also America at its very best.  It was a repudiation of the exclusionary hate politics that have dominated way too much of the election season.  By choosing speakers such as Jaha Dukureh, outspoken critic of the practice of feminine genital mutilation and Founder of Safe Hands for Girls, and trans activist, Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO of [email protected] Coalition, the White House was elevating the same people who at many other times and in many other places might have been made to feel shame or victimhood for who they are or their experiences.  But here, thanks to our “better angels”, these ladies were superstars sharing a stage with Oprah Winfrey.

And speaking of Oprah, it felt like this day was in particular an exaltation of American women of color.  Michelle Obama was magnetic and the combination of she and Oprah together – smart, confident, funny and intrepid – made you feel like “there is nothing these women could not do.”  Add the insanely talented Sarah Jones and Attorney General Loretta Lynch and many, many other exemplary female role models.  Looking at them on stage made me feel like we’re going to be alright.  In the hands of these women, our country may actually be alright.

This feeling was only magnified by the talks given by two of the most dynamic speakers Mikaila Ulmer, age 11, Founder and CEO of Me & The Bees and Marly Diaz , also age 11, and founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks; both social entrepreneurs who confidently addressed the crowd of 5,000 on the causes that drive their work.  It was like the Administration was saying, “If you didn’t buy that this generation can turn things around, just check out these kickass youngsters and you’ll be convinced!”  In this political season, I often despair that things are getting irreversibly awful.  But how bad can it be?  We have Jaha, we have Bamby, we have Michelle, we have Loretta.  Not to mention, Mikaila and Marly.  And 5,000 other activists with tireless energy.  And we have this one day, where hate was overshadowed by possibility.

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