Later this month, the organizers who brought us the Women’s March (in January) are holding the Women’s Convention in Detroit. Attending the weekend event will cost you just over $300, unless you’re a student. That gets you in to hear from a long list of progressive women including Sally Kohn, Rep. Maxine Waters, and Symone Sanders. But today the group announced the kick-off speaker for the event will be…Bernie Sanders?!
— Women's March (@womensmarch) October 12, 2017
The Detroit Free Press spoke to one of the organizers who defended the choice:
He was the right choice to be a headliner for the first national Women’s Convention in 40 years, said Tamika Mallory, co-founder of Women’s March, because Sanders knows how to mobilize a new generation of activists.
“I think that right now, no one can deny that Bernie Sanders is probably one of the most powerful U.S. senators … on progressive issues, women’s issues, mobilizing millennials. He is really in line with the principles of the Women’s March,” Mallory told the Free Press in an exclusive interview Wednesday night.
But not everyone sees the brilliance of having a man kick-off an event devoted to women’s empowerment. In fact, lots of progressives who support the Women’s March are trashing the idea:
126 million women in America and you couldn't find one to open a feminist convention? Wow I guess we really need feminism. https://t.co/H1CpiHAdBb
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) October 12, 2017
— April (@ReignOfApril) October 12, 2017
So inspiring to see an old white guy finally get a crack at leading the women's movement! https://t.co/3RHOUc6gEJ
— Andi Zeisler (@andizeisler) October 12, 2017
So… there were no women available … to open the womens convention…? https://t.co/m1QDj2KX4N
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) October 12, 2017
I’ve consistently been very positive about Bernie Sander’s post-primary work.
But it’s wrong for a man, any man, to open the #WomensMarch.
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) October 12, 2017
A white man who attacked Planned Parenthood & supported an anti-choice candidate headlining a woman's convention is just so 2017.
— Sarah Lerner (@SarahLerner) October 12, 2017
Countless brilliant women out there. Innumerable. Picking Bernie Sanders to keynote a progressive women's convention is incredibly stupid.
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) October 12, 2017
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) October 12, 2017
It’s Marching backwards. We don’t need a man to delineate our mission. Men have “spoken” for us for eons. https://t.co/2Y2SPMZnRw
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) October 12, 2017
You could've invited a woman, ANY woman to open your @womensmarch convention but instead u picked the old white dude who lost to the woman.
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) October 12, 2017
The crowd is hushed.
The lights come down on 1st women's convention in 40 years.
And there is a 75-year-old white man shaking his finger. pic.twitter.com/L5iOIKXFmO
— Tom Watson (@tomwatson) October 12, 2017
Seeing this white man (even if his campaign didn't hurt Hillary's vote count) as the face of the convention really feels like a gut punch.
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) October 12, 2017
To have a man open a women’s convention is absolutely a disgrace. I’m embarrassed for you.
— roxane gay (@rgay) October 12, 2017
I’m just barely skimming the surface here. There are thousands of people complaining about this decision on Twitter. In fact, someone has already started a petition intended to pressure the organizers to change their mind:
We, the undersigned, urge the Women’s March to reconsider giving Sen. Bernie Sanders a headlining role at the Women’s Convention on October 27. The convention represents the first gathering of its kind for 40 years, putting it at the center of an intersectional feminist movement. For an event of this kind to center a white, male politician over emerging women leaders, particularly those of color, is very disappointing to us.
It goes on like that for several more paragraphs. In four hours, over 1,700 people have signed it.
The women behind this event are professional organizers who, supposedly, have their finger on the pulse of the nation, or at least a substantial part of it. To make Sanders a kickoff speaker suggests they didn’t spend even 5 minutes talking to anyone about what the response to that might be.
I don’t think there’s any way this stands. The backlash from would-be allies is strong and growing. I suspect Sanders will be asked to bow out. He’ll agree and some alternate speaker (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Hillary?) will be announced. Everyone will gripe about whoever is chosen but most will agree it’s an improvement. The show will go on.
But the bottom line here is that two full weeks before the event, the organizers have already marred both it and their own reputations. The tone could change, but right now there are hundreds of women saying they are tuning out and unfollowing the Women’s March. They have really shot themselves in the foot with this. Let’s see how long it takes them to reverse course.