More than 1,000 women from all walks of life convened at McCormick Place to kick off the United State of Women Galvanize Program on July 15.
The two-day Galvanize Program is an outgrowth of former President Barack Obama's Council on Women and Girls ( created in March 2009 ) to improve the lives of women and girls in every Obama White House policy or initiative.
Valerie Jarrett ( former senior advisor to President Obama ) and Tina Tchen ( former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama ) were the council's co-chairs, with Tchen as executive director.
One of the results of the council's work was last year's first-ever United State of Women national summit at the White House.
"The energy and enthusiasm in that room was like nothing I've ever seen," said Jarrett in her letter on the newly created Galvanize Program website. "Throughout the program, we heard from women and allies about how to break down gender equity barriers and empower ourselves as advocates on critical issues ranging from health, to violence against women, economic security, entrepreneurship, human rights and education. The Summit brought together people from diverse backgrounds and identitiesgrassroots organizers and CEOs, scientists and activists, local elected officials and national leaderswith one common goal in mind: equity for all women."
This year, the summit will take place in a variety of cities across the U.S. with a diverse group of speakers and workshops.
Tchen opened the Chicago summit by urging women to "Learn how to do amazing things."
Later that morning, Tchen said, "What Galvanize means is to bring together people from all communities to support gender equity across the issues whether it is healthcare or violence against transgender or cisgender women and girls.
"One of the things I am most proud of during our eight years in the White House is how far we came on LGBT rights. The day the marriage equality decision came down from the Supreme Court was one that I will always remember and I loved seeing the White House lit up in the rainbow colors that night. But that is all under threat. It is more important now than ever to speak out and get involved."
Channyn Parker, a trans advocate from Chicago House's TransLife program, told the audience her existence defies logic, since the statistics show, according to her, that most transgender people are dead by age 35. She explained that her mission is to ensure transgender people not only live, but thrive. Parker noted the best things cisgender people can do is acknowledge that transgender women are women as well as challenge anti-transgender remarks and laws whenever they crop up. She said it is important to put one's words and passions into action.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx explained that the fullness of herself includes growing up in poverty, having an abortion and being a survivor of sexual abuse and assault and all of those experiences have informed her life's work. She noted her status as the first African-American woman to be Cook County state's attorney.
Later that morning, Foxx said events like Galvanize Chicago are important to give women the tools and information to get involved in the political or non-profit worlds. She noted that running for office is hard and one needs to know why they are embarking on this endeavor.
"I think it is really important for women to support each other, to talk about our collective power and empower one another," said Foxx.
In terms of LGBTQ people and folks with HIV/AIDS, Foxx explained that her mission and policy decisions as state's attorney center around people living free from harm so they can grow and thrive. Foxx said this is especially true for communities that have been preyed upon and marginalized and this includes prosecuting hate crimes and fighting to remove the panic defense as an excuse for people who have hurt or killed LGBTQ folks. Foxx noted that she hired a chief diversity officer and from that came employee resource groups ( including one for LGBTQ employees ) who advise her on various issues. She said it is important for LGBTQ folks to be at the table for every policy decision that comes out of her office.
Sen. Dick Durbin spoke about wife Loretta's organizationthe Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership ( IWIL ), of which she is a founding board member. The IWIL was formed more than a decade ago to assist women who espouse Democratic ideals in their quest to become elected or appointed officials. Durbin also invoked the late Shirley Chisholm, including her quote, "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."
In a query from this publication, Jarrett explained that the magic of Galvanize is its inclusivity and one of the things she wants attendees to realize is the unique challenges women of color and LGBTQ women face as they think about how they want to achieve their goals. She said 150 attendees had already expressed interest in running for office that morning.
Among the other July 15 morning session speakers were Rep. Robin Kelly, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago CEO Dorri McWhorter, Women Employed CEO and President Iliana Mora, Kids Off the Block Founder Diane Latiker, Illinois Business Immigration Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Shi, Organizing for America National Organizing Director Jennifer Warner, Chicago Foundation for Women CEO and President K. Sujata, Bright Pink CEO Katie Thiede, Illinois state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action CEO/President Jennifer Welch and Access Living CEO/President Marca Bristo.
After a series of training workshops, the evening program included LGBTQ artist Sam Kirk, Youth for Black Lives co-founder Eva Lewis, Valerie Jarrett, and Hamilton singer Ari Afsar, among others. On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, state Rep. Juliana Stratton, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, city Treasurer Anna Valencia, LGBTQ attorney Nabeela Rasheed, and several others addressed the crowd.
Other cities slated to hold local summits include Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Miami; Albuquerque; and Philadelphia.
See www.theunitedstateofwomen.org/ for more information .