By Robin Clough, AAUW, Santa Clarita Branch
What happens when you get a large group of women together? Many would assume the answer is deafening chatter. But the chatter was anything but idle at the 2017 AAUW National Convention in Washington D.C. the week of June 14, 2017. There was only the kinetic resonance of strong, smart, bold women determined to be agents of change.
Nearly 1000 delegates from every corner of our nation converged on the Renaissance Hotel Ballroom united in a mission to advance equity for women and girls. The room instantly fell silent as the meeting commenced, each member intently focused and absorbed by the vital message of AAUW leaders.
Since 1881, AAUW (American Association of University Women) has led the fight to improve the lives of millions of women and their families, and is a fervent leader in fighting for women’s empowerment in education, the workplace, and society.
AAUW’s in-depth and leading edge research and public policy advocacy addresses the spectrum of women’s issues such as the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, the pay gap between women and men, and sexual harassment in schools and on college campuses. The voices of its 180,000 members are a powerful force and catalyst for change.
This was my first conference and I was overwhelmed, excited, and amazed by the level of energy and commitment for the cause. Everyone I met had a story such as a second-generation AAUW member whose mother had been active in AAUW for 50 years and still chairs public policy at the age of 94. Another shared her relief and gratitude that she attended school because of Title IX and went on to become an infectious disease physician.
The first item on the convention agenda was to get our lobby marching orders and “speak truth to power.” Undeterred by sweltering heat and humidity, together we stormed Capitol Hill to meet with legislators on National Lobby Day. Our voices were heard and our presence felt. It was thrilling to be a part of democracy in action and personally bring AAUW priorities to the attention of our elected officials.
Each day I gained new insight into the value and impact of AAUW as extraordinary speakers shared how issues such as Title IX, fair pay, and education made profound differences in their lives.
There was not a dry eye in the hall as Dr. Tererai Trent described the poverty and abuse she experienced in Zimbabwe. Yet she never lost sight of her dream to go to America for higher education and to ultimately attain a Ph.D.
She was relentless, and initially earned a GED and then an undergraduate degree. Dr. Trent was devastated when told she could not continue her studies and had to return to Zimbabwe because of student debt. On that same day, she received a letter of financial support changing the course of her life. This letter came from AAUW.
Dr. Trent now leads the global charge in the fight for quality education and women’s rights. She has been a keynote speaker for the U.N. and has opened many schools for the underserved in Africa often in collaboration with Oprah Winfrey. Dr. Trent is a symbol of hope and proof that anything is possible. AAUW helped turn oppression into opportunity.
Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS News Hour, shared how she was initially turned away from a position as a journalist because “they already had a woman reporter.” Progress is being made, but challenges still remain.
Women senators, legislators, and advocates lit a fire, poignantly expressing raw emotion about courageous struggles and hard-fought successes. The highlight was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who graciously roamed the room embracing and shaking hands with members as she spoke about her life, her values, and the importance of AAUW’s mission. I could not contain my excitement as she approached me. Although my nervous efforts to take a picture of this inspiring occasion resulted in a photo of my foot, the moment will forever be imprinted in my mind.
One of Justice Sotomayor’s quotes is “If the system is broken, my inclination is to fix it rather than to fight it.” I am proud that AAUW works tirelessly to strategize solutions to fix systems in need of repair. Women are demanding action and our collective voice is not chatter – it is the music of women making a difference.