Personal PAC marked 25 years of advocating for pro-choice candidates with the organization's annual awards luncheon, featuring a rousing keynote address by former Michigan Gov. and Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, to a packed house of approximately 1,000 people Oct. 11 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.
Personal PAC Board Chair Melissa Widen opened the event by highlighting Personal PAC's victories and the work that needs to be done now and in the future to ensure pro-choice candidates win locally, statewide and nationally on Nov. 6.
Widen also spoke about a number of anti-choice candidates Personal PAC is working to defeat, including Governor Bruce Rauner, GOP Illinois Attorney General candidate Erika Harold and GOP Illinois state Reps. Tom Morrison and Peter Breen, among others.
"My body is a Trump-free zone," said Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia ahead of recognizing the many elected officials, candidates and former elected officials in attendance.
While introducing Granholm, state Sen. Heather Steans said her office and others in the Illinois General Assembly have been getting calls from across the country about how they made pro-choice HB-40 a reality; her answer, she said, is Personal PAC President/CEO Terry Cosgrove.
"I love the feel of estrogen in the afternoon," said Granholm, who spoke about meeting the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards just as she was facing an uphill battle with the GOP controlled Michigan House and Senate. Richards said to give the legislators the finger.
"We do not have the luxury of wallowing at the current state of affairs," said Granholm. "We have to put our anger into action in the days leading up to the election."
Granholm recounted the history of women in elected office, beginning in 1992, "the year of the woman," when five women got elected to the U.S. Senate. Now, there are 23 women there, but Granhold said there should be 50-plus women in the Senate, further noting that there are also only 19 percent women in the House of Representatives. Granholm said that, in the last election cycle, Emily's List heard from 900 women wanting to run for office; this cycle, the number has risen to 40,000.
"I am so tired of being tokens," said Granholm. "I want fair representation. I am not greedy."
Women are tired of not being heard, especially after what happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she added, noting that when the GOP committee members pushed through Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate, they were "putting their hands over all of our mouths so we could not be heard."
Granholm said, "This election is critical because we have to overthrow the Trump administration."
The Pro-Choice Leadership Award was given to Chicago Foundation for Women ( CFW ) President and CEO K. Sujata and the Illinois Handmaids, while Chicago-based Men4Choice received the Irving B. Harris Spirit of Choice Award.
Ahead of presenting Sujata with her award, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, "Last week was heartbreaking for all of us. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sent a chilling message to our youth by formalizing and dismissing sexual assault."
While accepting her award, Sujata spoke about the work CFW does to advocate for women and girls, including what they did to help get HB-40 passed in the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Rauner.
Illinois state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz presented Illinois Handmaids with their award. She explained that after the 2016 election, Illinois Handmaids did not let the results demoralize them, but instead mobilized them to action using the imagery from the television show The Handmaids Tale to get their message across. Feigenholtz said the Illinois Handmaids actions across the state made a huge difference in raising awareness about HB-40 and its eventual signing into law.
Accepting the award were Illinois Handmaids Mary Ewert of McHenry County, and Annie Williams, also of Indivisible Illinois. Ewert spoke about how the group conveyed their message across the state while Williams explained that as soon as HB-40 was signed into law, GOP anti-choice Illinois House members drafted a bill, HB-4114, to repeal HB-40.
"Elections matter," said Williams. "We have to elect pro-choice candidates, and remember: Do not let the bastards grind you down."
While presenting Men4Choice with their award, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx explained that the organization's mission is to "support women and educate men." Foxx said it is so important to have allies like Men4Choice advocating for women in this fight.
Accepting the award on Men4Choice's behalf were Board Members Ben Head, Mrinalini Chakraborty and Oren Jacobson. Head thanked all the women who have guided them over the years, while Chakraborty spoke about her involvement with the organization. Jacobson said it is vital to educate men about sexual violence and a woman's right to control their own reproductive choices.
"I have never been more frightened for the future of reproductive rights than I am today," said Cosgrove.
John H. Stroger, Jr. Cook County Hospital once had a septic obstetrics ward to treat women who performed illegal abortions. Cosgrove said this ward could become a reality again in this current political climate. He said that HB-4114 already has 42 co-sponsors and the only way to make sure it does not pass the Illinois General Assembly is to elect more pro-choice candidates statewide.
This moment, Cosgrove said, reminds him of various times in history where other groups had to fight back, including those who helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad; suffragettes who were beaten and jailed so women could have the right to vote; Oskar Schindler, who helped save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust; and LGBT people who stood up against New York City police officers during the Stonewall Riot.
Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker sent a video message expressing his regret at not being able to attend the event due to an already-scheduled debate downstate that day.