Tuesday, June 14th 2016 was an incredibly special day. I spent it with 5,000 women. We discussed hard topics like violence against women, discrimination and the gender pay gap. We prayed multiple times for the victims in Orlando. But the United State of Women Summit was not a place of anger, sadness or frustration. Instead, it vibrated with love, optimism and the promise of a future, a not so distant one, where our daughters won’t face the same challenges we do.
It was amazing to hear from the likes of Kerry Washington, Patricia Arquette and Amy Poehler, alongside everyday women who had started companies against all odds and built organizations impacting change. It was a day of heroes, but the standout for me was “The Administration”. Collectively, I mean POTUS, FLOTUS, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi (and all the female congresswomen that joined her onstage), Megan Smith (CTO of the USA) , and Valerie Jarett & Tina Chen (who work for FLOTUS and serve on the White House Council on Women and Girls, which produced this historic, free event).
There has been no other time in history where we have had so many folks (women AND men) at the highest levels of government so whole-heartedly dedicated to advancing women and girls. Yesterday’s event crystallized this for me in a way that I am not quite sure I understood.
The morning started off with Vice President, Joe Biden. If you haven’t read Joe’s letter to the Stanford Rape victim, go read it NOW! Biden has been a powerful crusader in the violence against women fight for more than 25 years. In 1990, then-Senator Biden, introduced the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to Congress. The act was a landmark piece of legislation that changed the way our country responds to domestic violence and sexual assault. Since, its passage in 1994, rates of domestic violence have decreased by 50%. Upon accepting the VP position, Biden appointed the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. All Americans, especially women, should be grateful that we have had a man like Joe Biden serving our country as Vice President these past 8 years (and the many decades prior). Standout quotes from the VP were:
“We have to give women and girls a greater voice, but also have to assure their voices will be heard.”
“There is never, never, never a cultural justification for dehumanizing another human being “
Around mid-day Nancy Pelosi came to the stage. As the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy has an important place in history. Nancy is one tough lady. She told us war stories about rising through the ranks of the male-dominated House. They were stories the crowd could relate to – no matter field of work. At the end, she shouted, “when women succeed, America succeeds”, and then brought out a group of other women from the House onto the stage. The crowd stood in ovation for several minutes to honor these women. We need female representatives in government to make sure are voices and stories are heard and our issues are fought for. Unfortunately, the number of women in politics is going down, not up. Perhaps, HRC winning in November will reverse this trend. The power of “seeing is believing” can never be underestimated!
Shortly after Nancy’s speech, POTUS walked onto the stage (our Pres has some real swagger;) and kicked off his speech by proclaiming, “This is what a Feminist looks like.” He then proceeded to give a lengthy, impassioned speech. Mind you, in the wake of the tragic events in Orlando, he could have just stopped by the conference. That would have been enough. He also could have spoken to us for a few minutes. That would have been terrific. But he didn’t. He fervently delivered what should be considered a seminal speech for him on the advancement of women and girls. And it brought the house down multiple times. Here is a great clip where he is talking about his daughters and how they see the world and drops what will surely be a famous line, “Our country is not just about the Benjamins, its about the Tubmans too!”
At any other event, POTUS speaking would have been the highlight. But not at the United State of Women. FLOTUS, interviewed by OPRAH stole the show. Michelle Obama exudes confidence and authenticity effortlessly. She is at once the most powerful, sophisticated woman in the room and a woman you could easily shoot the shit with over a glass of wine. In referring to herself and her husband, she said, “We are regular folks – we care about people, we care about family…..we have not changed…” When asked what she is most excited to do after The White House, she quipped, “Go to Target, I hear it has changed.”
Michelle Obama dropped so many gems during the interview that even Ms. Winfrey shared in the collective awe and admiration that overtook the room. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire interview, as I am sure it is posted somewhere. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite (approximate) statements:
“Our first job in life as women is to know and please ourselves…..Take time to know who you are.”
“Know your value. That will provide you confidence and bravery.”
“Surround yourself with goodness, get the haters out of your life.”
“The best revenge is success and good work”
“What can men do? Be better at everything…. Be good fathers who love your daughters, who provide a good example of what it means to be a man in the world….. Be a better husband, father, employer…….BE BETTER, BE BETTER, BE BETTER!”
“You can have it all, but often times its hard to it at the same time. And don’t beat yourself up and feel less than cause you aren’t having all.”
Back in February, David Brooks published a spot –on piece called “I miss Barack Obama”. In it, he writes about President Obama’s integrity, authenticity and sense of basic humanity. The following sentence, in particular, speaks volumes after having attended the United State of Women Summit: “He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.” As I stated earlier, the heroes of the Summit were all the folks in “The Administration” that, not only put on the event and gave powerful speeches, but do the work on a daily basis to advance women and girls (and all minorities). Michelle Obama said, “Being President doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” What the Summit revealed is that we have been incredibly fortunate to have a group of incredible people in our government incredibly dedicated to making women’s rights/human rights a priority.
Tuesday, June 14th 2016 was a special day. To “The Administration”, I say “Thank you!” You will be missed. #TodayWeCanChangeTomorrow
**special thanks to The Girls Lounge for its unwavering devotion to the #powerofthepack and for bringing women across all industries together at events all over the globe.