It is no secret that our most sacred institutions are under threat in the United States. We have reached an inflection point in American society where we are reckoning with our past and present, and the potentiality of the future. At this year’s NOW Racial Justice Summit, Connected by Justice and Intersectionality: Facing the Realities of Race in America, over one hundred feminists joined together to hold space for one another and recognize the nature of our current reality. We welcomed distinguished guests, from Representatives to grassroots organizers, that spoke about the need for intersectional approaches to the housing crisis, reproductive justice, and voting rights. Together they highlighted the need for authentic advocacy, for activism cannot be true if it is not indicative to the needs of all.
The event opened with a panel on housing with opening remarks from our first Keynote Speaker, Congressman Jamie Raskin, (D-MD). Moderator Shawna Tarboro, Deputy Director of the Arizona Fair Housing Center, introduced panelists Renee M. Willis, Senior Vice President for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Donald Whitehead, Executive Director at the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. They each brought different perspectives to the conversation on the housing crisis. According to these thought leaders, there is a need to invest in low-income, redlined districts, without gentrifying them. Additionally, we must uplift our communities in a way that centers on their needs, and not the needs of government or developers. This would look like the prioritization of building affordable housing, and making it more accessible to apply and live in these places. Our panelists concluded with housing is a human right, and therefore one should not have to explain why they deserve it.
For our conversation on reproductive justice, we welcomed Keynote Speaker Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Moderator Joi Dean of NOW’s Young Feminist National Committee, and Panelists Chiquita Lockley, Executive Producer and Director of Eggs Over Easy, Black Women & Fertility Healthcare, Cindy Luquin, owner of Howl at the Womb, and Farah Tanis, Co-Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint. There was a focus on how rollbacks in abortion protection will disproportionately affect members of the BIPOC community, and this will cause an increase in women taking matters in their own hands in desperation. Racism in medical practices do not allow BIPOC women to make their own decisions about their bodies in the context of spaces that oppress them. Therefore, activists must encourage health care providers to be aware of these biases, and also encourage non-western, holistic approaches to medicine to combat this long history.
Finally, for our third panel, we welcomed our final Keynote Speaker Bishop Leah Daughtry, President & CEO of On These Things, LLC, Moderator Quiana Dickenson, Political Director at National NOW, and Panelists LaTosha Brown, Co-Founder of Black Voters Matter, Vanessa Gonzalez, Executive Vice President of Field and Member Services at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Rubén Lebrón, Voting Rights Director of Building Back Together. They discussed how we must shift the paradigm about what it takes to evolve a democracy and foster a sustainable society. There is a new age of political advocacy unfolding that bridges the gap between policy, activism, and electoral politics. Representation in these spaces matter, for there is a necessity for voices that are representative of us all. Safeguarding our right to vote, expanding it, and becoming aware of the power one’s vote has, will carve out that path for positive change.
In essence, allies must contribute, not co-opt. There is space for everyone in this revolution. There is a need to connect with one’s community to create effective, long-lasting change. Although traditional routes of advocacy are important, we must acknowledge that these institutions, by design, are not meant to support everyone who exists in them. In a fight for equity and equality, we must uplift each other to foster change from the bottom up.
Jessica Taddeo, PAC Intern