By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Labor kicked off Women’s History Month with a spirited forum urging women to resist, insist and persist in following their passion and achieving visibility and inclusion.
“The energy in this room is amazing and what is about to happen will be magical. This is the Year of the Woman!” said Lelani Levin of SSEU Local 371, who co-chairs the Women’s Committee with Carmen Charles, president of Local 420.
The diverse and outspoken panel included leaders from various fields: AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Elissa McBride, the Honorable Lisa Ottley, Dr. Una Clarke, City Council member Adrienne Adams, Dr. Sophia Lubin, Judaline Cassidy and Gessie Thompson.
Jahmila Joseph, the union’s assistant associate director, enjoyed an “Oprah moment” as moderator of the discussion.
“If you want something, go after it, if it’s not there make it yourself,” said Cassidy, a plumber by trade who mentors women and youth. “It’s empowering to work with your hands. At a young age I got to see that my possibilities are limitless.”
The panelists shared life experiences and sagacious advice that helped them over life’s challenges, hurdles and obstacles to nontraditional careers in the trades, medicine and the judiciary. They spoke their truth on how to handle naysayers and haters and old-school patriarchal loyalists who assume only men can be leaders.
“You insist, persist and move the ball forward,” said Clarke, a former City Council member and longtime community activist.
With just 11 women on the New York City Council, a statistic panelists called “abysmal,” they told the audience of 250 women to believe in themselves– and each other– and run with help from grassroots support groups like Emily’s List and the Murphy Institute for Worker Education. Charles said it’s her goal to see 21 women elected to the 51 City Council seats in the next cycle.
“Don’t underestimate this is #MeToo moment,” McBride said. “Our democracy is under attack, voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights human rights are threatened. But look at the teachers striking in West Virginia, at the Dreamers fighting anti-immigration policy, the women standing up to harassment, the students calling for stricter gun control, the workers who turned out February 24 to support unions.”
The forum included questions from the audience and closed with advice to our younger selves.
“I’d tell my younger self to have faith in your passion,” McBride said. “Be willing to take risks and stretch into challenges without fear and you will show up differently.”