Speakers

Hala Ayala

An outspoken advocate for women and families, Hala Ayala won her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, beating a four-term incumbent, and becoming one of the first Latina to serve in the House. She now serves as the State Delegate for Virginia’s 51st District, serving Prince William County. Ayala is also a fierce champion for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and helped to lead efforts to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA.to the U.S. Constitution. In a stunning upset, the vote was lost by just one member, but the momentum built by the efforts of Ayala and her colleagues is still going strong and Virginia remains a focus of national ERA efforts. Ayala also has an extensive career as a cyber security specialist for the Department of Homeland Security and founded the Prince William County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (PWC NOW) and served as Vice President of the Virginia National Organization for Women (VA NOW). Her commitment to service and community is the heart of her passion which are evident through her various leadership roles 

Julie Blaha  

After a lifetime of serving as a labor leader and educator, in January 2019 Blaha became Minnesota’s state auditor. She oversees more than $20 billion in local spending and analyzes financial decisions that communities in her state are making. Standing up for truth in an era of misinformation, Blaha champions the power of accurate data in helping people make good financial decisions.  

Blaha served as the chief financial officer and treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the first woman to hold the position. A dedicated labor leader, Blaha was also president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, advocating for teachers, students and parents through the union’s work. She pushed for increased funding for public schools and supported anti-bullying legislation that protected LGBTQIA+ students from harassment. Blaha has also worked directly in the classroom, teaching math to middle school students, a role she says prepared her for the explanatory role she plays as state auditor today.   

Blaha earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree in education from St. Mary’s University. She grew up in Nowthen, Minn., and lives in the neighboring city of Ramsey with her family. In the 1990s, Blaha served as the president of the Minnesota NOW.  
 

Representative Angie Craig 

Rep. Craig represents Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, where she advocates for working families – and for a Minnesota where every member of every family gets a fair shot. That means an opportunity for an outstanding education, career skills and technical training for 21st century jobs of the future.  

She learned the value of hard work from her mother, a single mom who raised three children while earning her teaching degree. When Craig moved to Minnesota and fell in love with the strong communities and quality of life. She and her wife Cheryl Greene have four sons – three in college or tech school and one in high school. Craig is a small business investor, former head of Global Human Resources for a major Minnesota manufacturer and a former newspaper reporter. 

In Congress, Craig works to make sure that every young person has the opportunity to learn career skills and receive technical education. She also focuses on expanding access to affordable health care and prioritizes infrastructure investments, especially for family farmers and small business owners. She serves on the House Committees on Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure.

Professor Sarah Deer

Working to end violence against Native American women for more than 25 years, Professor Sarah Deer (Muscogee (Creek) Nation) is a professor at the University of Kansas’ Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and a 2014 MacArthur Fellow. She wrote about domestic violence and sexual assault in Native communities as an international human rights issue in the groundbreaking book Maze of Injustice. Her latest book is The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, which received numerous awards. She is credited with an instrumental role in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and again testified in Congress for important provisions protecting Native American women from violence in the 2019 VAWA reauthorization. She also serves as the Chief Justice for the Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals. She is being inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in the fall of 2019.

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan

Lt. Governor Flanagan is an organizer and longtime advocate for Minnesota’s children and families. She previously served in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now Minnesota’s 50th lieutenant governor.  

The principle of Flanagan’s career is to give back, particularly to children, families, communities of color, American Indians and low-income and working people. She brings her experiences of building coalitions and advocating for children and families to the lieutenant governor’s office, as she works in close partnership with Governor Tim Walz to build “One Minnesota.” 

Flanagan is a proud graduate of the University of Minnesota, graduating in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies and child psychology. She worked for almost a decade at Wellstone Action, where she trained tens of thousands of progressive activists, community and campaign organizers, and elected officials and candidates – including Governor Walz!  Flanagan also served as the executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.  

A citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, Flanagan lives in St. Louis Park with her daughter Siobhan and far-too-energetic dog Reuben. 

Betty Folliard

Folliard is a well-known Minnesota thought leader and founder of ERA Minnesota. She has worked in government at the local, state, and national levels: first as a school board vice chair, then serving three terms as legislator in the Minnesota House of Representatives and as a congressional aide in the Office of U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison. 

During her time as a state representative Folliard served on the Minnesota Commission on the Economic Status of Women and became the pro-choice lead on the House Health and Human Services Committee. Folliard earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and Master of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University. Her business acumen includes over a decade as co-owner of Strategy Partners, creating a feminist, progressive talk show called “A Woman’s Place,” and serving as the first board chair of Gender Justice – a nonprofit law firm in St. Paul. 

In 2014, Folliard founded ERA Minnesota, revitalizing the ERA movement in the state, and earning the highly coveted Minnesota Women’s Press Change Maker Award. This year she helped pass a state ERA bill thru the Minnesota House. She is currently helping spearhead a Women’s Economic Security Task Force. 

Commissioner Debbie Goettel 

Goettel is the District 5 commissioner on the Hennepin County Board. As commissioner, Goettel oversees areas of civic policy including transportation infrastructure, libraries, the sheriff’s department, public works and other social services. She is the chair of the Administration, Libraries and Budget Committee and vice-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.  

Previously, Goettel served 11 years as the mayor of Richfield, Minnesota where she promoted important development and infrastructure improvement projects. She also worked with the city to pass an ordinance that ensured equal rights for same-sex couples. The Richfield Chamber of Commerce awarded Goettel the 2018 Government Affairs Award.   

Goettel has a professional background as a civil engineer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) and completed graduate studies at the University of Minnesota and Harvard in environmental sustainability. Her past employers include Montgomery Watson, Medtronic, Nestle and Cummins NPower. She is the proud mother to two sons and one daughter, a grandmother of four, and she was recently remarried to her husband, Tor. 

Amy Hagstrom Miller

Hagstrom Miller is founder of Whole Woman’s Health and was key plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. She is a fierce advocate for women’s reproductive freedom and seeks to ensure that abortions remain accessible for all.  

Hagstrom Miller founded Whole Woman’s Health in 2003 with the goal of providing more holistic health care to women. It is her belief and the organization’s philosophy that “when a woman makes a decision about her pregnancy and her body, she undergoes an intense evaluation of her beliefs, identity, goals and dreams for the future.” The organization has six clinics nationwide that provide comprehensive gynecology services, including abortion care, and sees more than 30,000 women every year. 

In 2010, the Texas state legislature (and many other states) began passing regulations for abortion clinics that had no medical basis, making it nearly impossible for clinics to stay open. In 2013, Hagstrom Miller and pro-bono lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which made its way to the Supreme Court in 2016. As lead plaintiff, Hagstrom Miller was critical to shaping a narrative that would help Supreme Court justices see the underhanded efforts from some states to undercut Roe. In the end, the Court decided that these regulations were undue burdens that were a detriment to women’s health and ruled in favor of Whole Woman’s Health in a vote of 5-3.  

In 2014 Hagstrom Miller founded Shift and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. Both nonprofits work to strategically shift the stigma around abortion.  

Carol Jenkins

Carol Jenkins is the co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality, a group of 76 member and lead organizations that works to promote passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. An Emmy-winning writer, producer and media consultant, Jenkins is a sought-after speaker and writer on issues relating to the media, specifically the participation of women and people of color; women’s participation in the political and economic structures in the US; and the health of women in developing countries, particularly on the African continent. She has had an extensive career with several New York City news departments and was founding president of The Women’s Media Center, the groundbreaking non-profit aimed at increasing coverage and participation of women in the media. 

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School. Klobuchar practiced law before becoming the first woman to be elected U.S. senator from Minnesota in 2006. She was a partner at two Minneapolis law firms and was elected as county attorney for Hennepin County in 1998. 

Klobuchar’s introduction to political work came in 1995 when she gave birth to her daughter. Despite her daughter being born with a condition that restricted swallowing and required the use of a feeding tube, Klobuchar found herself getting kicked out of the hospital 24 hours after delivery. In response, she successfully lobbied the Minnesota State Legislature to pass a bill that would allow mothers a 48-hour hospital stay. The bill later became federal law under President Bill Clinton.  

As a U. S. senator, Klobuchar is described as the “rare politician who works across the aisle.” According to GovTrack, Sen. Klobuchar co-sponsored or sponsored the most bills enacted into law during the 114th Congress. Since then, she has either sponsored or co-sponsored over 60 Senate bills that have become law, including multiple bills that guarantee greater protections to victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse. 

Sen. Klobuchar’s voting record on women’s rights is admirable. She has consistently supported the right to abortion care, earning her a 100% alignment rating with Planned Parenthood. Klobuchar also has demonstrated strong support for the LGBTQIA+ community and has pushed for measures to combat LGBTQIA+ discrimination.  

Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein

Mary Kunesh-Podein is a representative and Assistant Majority Leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing District 41B. As a descendant of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Mary advocates for Native Rights, and was a founding member of the POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) Caucus in the Minnesota State House in 2017. She has been the primary author of over 42 bills in this most recent legislative session, including a bill to create a Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and an Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. 

Kunesh-Podein also worked as member and chair of the New Brighton Parks, Recreation and Environmental Commission, and as a library media specialist, and as a teacher at Robbinsdale Middle School. She was nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year in 2014. 

Commissioner Rebecca Lucero

Rebecca Lucero was appointed Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on January 3, 2019 by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.  Commissioner Lucero has extensive policy, legal, and nonprofit leadership experience, including her work as Public Policy Director at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and as Senior Community Representative for then Representative Keith Ellison. She has worked as an administrative law judge for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, and in private practice as a plaintiff-side employment lawyer. It is Lucero’s belief that everyone should have access to human rights. She now works to fight discrimination in the workplace along with advancing issues of racial equity and intercultural competence as Commissioner of Human Rights.   

Freda Williams Mckee

Mckee is currently the president of the Missouri NOW State Chapter and previously served as president of the Capitol Area Missouri NOW Chapter. Raised in a small town in rural Missouri, Mckee’s parents encouraged her to value her education and independence. While working at the University of Missouri, she stood with students to call for the resignation of a Board of Curators member who had made racist comments.  

Diving deeper into the political world, Mckee joined the NAACP and worked on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign, before holding various positions in the Missouri Democratic Party and the state government. In addition to her political work, she was a member of the Lions Club for 25 years, attaining the role of district governor. Today, she works to prevent gun violence as a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America and Everytown for Gun Safety.  

Sen. Jennifer McClellan

Virginia State Senator Jennifer L. McClellan co-sponsored the ERA Ratification in the Virginia Senate, where it passed for the sixth time. She’s served in the Virginia legislature since 2006. She is a corporate lawyer and is a longtime advocate as an African American woman on issues of racial equality, women’s reproductive rights and equality, ending violence against women, and strengthening families. 

McClellan is currently working on a strategy to ratify the ERA in 2020 in Virginia. She represents the 9th district in Greater Richmond, is vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia and a member of the Democratic National Committee. McClellan is chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission and serves on the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission and the Task Force on the Preservation of the History of Former Enslaved African Americans. She also is co-chair of the Capital Region Caucus, serves as vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and is a member of the Rural Caucus and Women’s Health Care Caucus. Jennifer also serves on the Southern Regional Education Board Legislative Advisory Council. 

Christian F. Nunes

Christian F. Nunes is an active community organizer and has spoken at events such as the March for Black Women in 2018. She is currently chair of NOW’s Racial Justice Task Force and has just been elected NOW’s Vice President. Along with her activism for mental health, Nunes also has over 20 years of experience advocating for children’s and women’s issues.  

Nunes is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Consultant, and Woman-Minority Business Owner. In 2006, she founded a behavioral health and consulting practice where she assists social service and behavioral health companies, as well as provides direct mental health services to individuals and families. As an advocate for social justice and mental health policy, she took up the role as Chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues and co-authored a community survey on police response to crisis. Additionally, she has worked tirelessly to elect progressive candidates to school boards and local office positions. She is often featured in media outlets including EbonyBlack Enterprise magazine, AZ News Channel 3Yahoo News and many more. 

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (Invited) 

Rep. Omar represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. An experienced Twin Cities policy analyst, organizer, public speaker and advocate, she was sworn into office in January 2019, making her the first Somali-American member of Congress, the first woman of color to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress. As a legislator, Rep. Omar is committed to investing in education and freeing students from the shackles of debt, ensuring a fair wage for a hard day’s work, creating a just immigration system and tackling the existential threat of climate change.  

Born in Somalia, Rep. Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, she moved to Minneapolis with her family. In 2016, she was elected as the Minnesota House Representative for District 60B, making her the highest-elected Somali-American public official in the United States and the first Somali-American State Legislator. 

Erin Maye Quade  

Maye Quade is an established leader and outspoken advocate for women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ rights. She represented District 57A in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2017 to 2019 and is currently the Advocacy Director for Gender Justice, a “nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization devoted to addressing the causes and consequences of gender inequality, both locally and nationally.”  

As a legislator, she advocated for working families, expanding access to affordable child care, ending childhood hunger, eliminating gun violence, and investing in treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, among other progressive issues. She was the primary sponsor for bills that banned conversion therapy and eliminated the so-called “gay panic” legal defense. Furthermore, her bravery brought the culture of sexual harassment in the state house to the forefront and exposed the inappropriate behaviors of fellow legislators. When she ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, she also became the first LGBTQIA+ person to be endorsed on the ticket of a major Minnesota political party. 

Eleanor Smeal

As one of the co-founders of The Feminist Majority Foundation, a former president of the National Organization for Women, and publisher of Ms. Magazine, Eleanor Smeal’s life and work has been dedicated to the achievement of women’s equality and human rights. Known as a political analyst, strategist, and grassroots organizer, Smeal has played a pivotal role in defining the debate, developing the strategies, and charting the direction of the modern day women’s movement. In her more than 40 years as a leader in the United States’ women’s movement, she has changed the landscape of women’s involvement in national life and culture. Smeal has been at the forefront of nearly every significant women’s rights victory, her participation was pivotal in the passage of landmark legislation including the Equal Credit Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and stronger enforcement of Title IX. Currently, Smeal serves on a number of boards, including the National Council for Research on Women, the National Organization for Women, and the Leadership Circle of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women). 

U.S. Senator Tina Smith

U.S. Senator Tina Smith serves the great state of Minnesota. In 2015, she took office as Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, and in 2018, she won the special election to become the state’s senator. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. She was a small-business owner, a nonprofit executive, a community activist and the vice president of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota before leaving to serve in public office.   

As lieutenant governor, Smith helped support funding for optional preschool for all four-year-olds, transportation infrastructure and rural broadband internet access. Smith also worked with Gov. Mark Dayton to lower Minnesota’s unemployment rate, make the tax system fairer for the middle class, and help narrow the economic gaps between white people and people of color.  

Since being sworn in as senator, Smith has introduced more than 50 bills that address issues such as healthcare, agriculture and sexual violence. As the only senator to have worked for Planned Parenthood, Smith has fought to protect health care for women and will continue to stand against the ongoing wars over women’s access to reproductive health care. 

State Senator Pat Spearman

Pat Spearman is a member of the Nevada Senate and has represented Nevada District 1 since 2012. In Nevada’s Senate, she is the Chair of the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. She has used her roles to pass countless legislation’s on LGBTQ Rights, Economic Development, Veterans Affairs, Equal Rights and Health Care. She sponsored a bill that passed the Legislature adding gender identity to the state hate crime law,  giving transgender victims of hate crimes an opportunity to receive justice. Sen. Spearman supported a constitutional amendment for marriage equality, fought to ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, introduced a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, advocated equal pay for equal work, and supported an assembly bill to extend voter registration that passed both chambers of the legislature. 

Nia T. Winston 

Winston is president of UNITEHERE Local 24, the Hospitality Workers Union for Michigan and Ohio. UNITEHERE represents workers in hotel, gaming, food service, airport, manufacturing, distribution and transportation industries. She is a driven labor leader with nearly two decades of experience. She leads the daily operations of UNITEHERE Local 24, which includes contract negotiations through collective bargaining and organizing labor as it relates to politics, in addition to advancing the economic and job interests of the union’s members.   

In January 2017, Winston became vice president and a general executive board member of UNITEHERE International Union and is a member of its Black Leadership Steering Committee, the focus of which is to develop and train Black rank and file leaders within the union. In October 2018, President Winston led UNITEHERE Local 24 workers who were striking at Detroit’s most profitable hotel, the Westin Book Cadillac. The resulting agreement created a historic contract that included a 20 percent raise for all workers (10 percent immediate upon their return), a 30 percent reduction in healthcare costs, groundbreaking technology language and protections for pregnant workers.

Meggie Wittorf

Wittorf is executive director of Women Winning, a multi-partisan political nonprofit that is dedicated to recruiting, training, and electing pro-choice women to all levels of public office, from park board to president of the United States. She is also a board member of OutFront Minnesota, where she works to protect and strengthen LGBTQIA+ rights.  

While obtaining her Master of Business Administration at the University of Minnesota, she led the Women’s Mentorship program, where she focused on addressing challenges in the opportunity pipeline, improving gender balance in higher-education programs, and securing mentors in underrepresented fields. Wittorf’s work as a marketing and strategy leader with a passion for politics and improving our communities continues to help lift women into positions of leadership. 

She also has nearly ten years of experience as a finance professional and brand manager at General Mills, where she developed strategic plans and led cross-functional teams.