Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Sharon Gittleman
DETROIT – A conference held in Detroit next weekend has two big goals.
“We really educate and provoke,” said Jacqueline Steingold, chairwoman of the event’s local organizing committee and president of the Detroit chapter of the National Organization for Women.
NOW’s “Fast Forward: Women Take Charge” conference and “Young Feminist Leadership Institute” will be held July 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn. More than 1,000 delegates from across the country are expected to attend workshops covering topics from reproductive rights to the treatment of women in prisons.
Gender diversity will be the subject of one session, while actions that lesbian, bisexual and transgender women can take to improve their lives will be discussed at another.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm will speak at the conference, and lesbian comedian and activist Robin Tyler is just one of those who will entertain the delegates.
The Young Feminist Leadership Institute offers a series of workshops and activities designed to help women develop the leadership and organizing skills necessary to create changes in their communities.
Steingold describes NOW as a civil rights organization for women.
“We’re an activist organization,” she said. “We expose where there are inequities.”
Detroit was a natural choice for the conference, Steingold added, since “We have a diversity of population.” Despite this factor, it can be difficult to inspire women’s rights supporters to come to conferences like this in the city. Everyday economics and the distances some have to travel have lowered attendance estimates expected this year, she said.
Yet while some believe women have made great strides in their efforts to attain equality, Steingold sees a need for improvement.
“I’d like to see women reflect our numbers in the legislature and another woman on the Supreme Court. We’d like to see women in positions where they are in power and authority,” she said.
Women’s sports could use a feminine energy infusion, she said.
“The number of scholarships women get pale in comparison to young men,” she said.
Steingold also wonders why homemakers can’t qualify for Social Security outside of their husband’s income production.
NOW has been in the forefront of LGBT rights, she said.
“I want to see the breakdown of discrimination,” said Steingold. “No one should be fired because of their sexual orientation.”
As vice president of the event’s planning committee, Steve Walker shares Steingold’s vision.
“There are a number of men involved,” he said. “I do it because I believe in civil rights. Everyone should be able to fulfill their own potential, whether it’s as a homemaker or a scientist.”
One factor would prove the conference a success, he said: “If people got energized and ready to work on things.”
There are just a few members in Walker’s downriver chapter of NOW who take on the tough tasks, Walker said.
“You’ve got to have more active members to accomplish more,” he said. “Our membership has declined – about six to eight people keep it going.”
Many are misled into thinking things are better than they actually are, he said.
“A lot of the younger professional women may take their rights for granted,” he added. “There’s a general decline in civic participation.”
Juli Siagkris-Seymour rejoined NOW this year to show her support for an organization she believes is moving forward with women’s rights.
She’s attending the conference, thanks to a scholarship offered by Wayne State University.
The Young Women’s Leadership Institute is one factor that drew her attention, she said. Several years ago, Siagkris-Seymour worked hard trying to establish Royal Oak’s failed human rights ordinance.
“I was shocked it didn’t pass,” she said. “It made me more interested in learning how to become more involved in the process of change and creating change.”
Siagkris-Seymour has hope for the future.
“I think a lot of people think their one voice can’t make a difference,” she said. “I was raised by independent women. I was given the impression I could do whatever I wanted or be whatever I wanted to be.”
For more information about the conference, turn to www.now.org/conference.