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The Political Power of Women in Virginia Comes Together at the Women’s Summit

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by Valerie Dutton

When you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu begins the Program announcement for the Third Annual Women’s Summit, set for June 28, 29 and 30 at the Hilton McLean of Tysons Corner. Only instead of this being a warning, it’s a rally cry to challenge what has been used against women to be a source of power.

In this current political climate, where so much of what women have gained is being deliberately slashed away, women are stepping up, speaking out, and joining together.

The assault on women and their reproductive rights has been a steady theme in American politics but intensified about a decade ago when the far-right Tea Party was ushered in to Congress after the 2010 mid-terms; from 2010 to 2012, 944 bills were proposed nationwide that targeted rollbacks in women’s access to not only abortion but to birth control.

The recent doubling-down on the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood and the “heartbeat” bills filed recently in so many states, like the one signed into law last week by the governor of Georgia, show us that conservatives are unrelenting in their attacks.

Disheartening, yes. But there’s also hope in navigating through, by looking at what society deems as a weakness but what the leaders of the Women’s Summit know to be a strength: women’s preference for a collaborative environment. That’s women supporting women. Politically, this is crucial: studies show that women raise more policies related to women’s health and issues impacting families, like family leave, than do their male counterparts.

And we know collaboration can work. We saw evidence of this in the 2018 midterms, when women harnessed our fury from the disastrous 2016 election results and organized and helped other women win more than 112 seats in Congress¾more seats than ever before in U.S. history. Virginia alone elected three women to Congress, wresting control of the House from the hands of the Republicans.

“Women are the backbone,” said Robbin Warner, a founder of the Women’s Summit, which is led by an all-volunteer committee. “We’re taking back power and selecting candidates that support our issues. When we pull together from a lifetime of connections and skills, the result is a blue wave.”

The summit includes 3-days of events, 3 stages and over 50 workshops and panels.

Special features of the event include a Friday night “Go LOCAL” rally celebrating local candidates and local issues and a Saturday night POWER Jam where the theme is “Telling our Story” and will include author panels, a suffragist tea room, music, comedy and a BADASS Boutique and bookstore. The Summit ends on Sunday with the BADASS Breakfast with national women leaders.

Here is just a taste of the over 150 speakers you will hear at the Women’s Summit: Congresswoman Elaine Luria (CD2), Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (CD10), Mark Keam (Delegate, HD35), Eileen Filler-Corn (Dem. Caucus Leader, HD41), Phyllis Randall (Chair, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors ), Gene Rossi (Atty. Carlton Fields), Kim Drew Wright (Liberal Women of Chesterfield County & Beyond), Lyzz Schwegler (Co-Founder, Sister District), Tarina Keene (NARAL VA), Krysta Jones (Founder, Vote Lead Impact), Sindy Benavides (CEO, LULAC), Jeanine Henderson Arnett (Executive Director, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority), Congressman Don Beyer, Senator Mark Warner, Susan Burke (BADASS Attorney), Neera Tanden (CEO, Center for American Progress), Sister Simone Campbell (Network Lobby – Nuns on the Bus), Toni Van Pelt (President, NOW), Ellie Smeal (President, Feminist Majority), Katie Fahey (Founder, Voters Not Politicians), and Terry McAuliffe (72nd Governor of Virginia).

And, in anticipation of prompting another blue wave to fill Virginia’s 40 Senate seats and the 100 seats opening in its House of Delegates in 2019, more than 50 candidates for the House of Delegates and the Senate plan to attend and introduce themselves, Warner said. Attendees have the opportunity to find out more about those candidates’ positions in the Adopt a Candidate component of the summit.

“Every year at the summit we make a point of connecting the grassroots with the candidates,” Warner said. “We’re going to have a big opening production celebrating the candidates and the work of the grassroots to get them elected.”

“It is at that moment when the candidates go from being people running for office to being ‘our’ candidates that we support and get elected.”

All along we’ve had the evidence that solidarity works to fight against being put on the menu. It’s what allowed the Silent Sentinels to prevail a hundred years ago as they lined up along the White House gates, together forming a human chain, expressions telegraphing determination, as they silently demanded the right to vote. Women promoting other women can counter this surge of animus against us, not just in 2019, but in 2020, as well.

For more information on the Women’s Summit, go to https://networknova.org