By Guest Contributor Ami Wazlawik
Thanks to the Women’s Center’s Sharon Doherty Award, I had the opportunity to attend the 8th annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. The conference, sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation, brings young feminists from across the country together for a weekend of learning and fun. I heard from a variety of feminist leaders, including some serving in state legislatures and others leading or working in national/international organizations dedicated to the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights in many different areas.
The first day of the conference, our morning panel discussion focused on many aspects of the “War on Women” currently sweeping the nation. In the past few months, legislative efforts to take away women’s rights to bodily autonomy, access to healthcare and even equal pay have been springing up all over the country. It’s given us plenty to talk about and take action on in our feminist and social justice-oriented circles.
Throughout the rest of the weekend, I attended workshops on the Affordable Care Act and the Occupy movement, met up with other young feminists from the Midwest, and listened to women leaders discusses international policy concerns. I felt excitement in the air among all of these young feminists, and was glad to hear that so many of them
were going to go back to their schools and their communities and continue in their efforts to create change.
The primary message that I received from this whirlwind of a weekend was this: we as feminists, activists, and simply as Americans, have plenty of reasons to be invested in the policy decisions that are being made in this country and in the election in November. And we have to once again flex our electoral muscles by educating ourselves on the issues and voting, and by encouraging others to do the same. We need young people, particularly women, to step into leadership positions, to run for office, and to work together to protect our rights and those of our fellow Americans, whose voices may not be loud enough to reach the halls of Congress.
Now that I’ve learned all of this great information, met some great people, and had some time to reflect, I’ve realized that there are important things that all of us – myself included – can do to push the feminist/social justice agenda forward:
- Learn all you can about the issues that you care about and educate others on those issues as well. Use personal examples and stories to demonstrate why an issue or topic is important to you.
- Vote and encourage others to do the same. There is a lot at stake in this next election and we need lots of feminist and social justice-oriented folks out there exercising their power.
- Align yourself and/or your group with folks who share your beliefs. Build relationships and collaborate with them in whatever ways you can. We have more power in numbers.
- If you have an issue or idea that you would like your elected officials to be aware of or want to encourage them to support (or not support), let them know. Call their office, shoot them an email, write them a letter or visit them in person.
Ami Wazlawik is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, earning her Master’s degree in public policy, with a focus on social policy and prevention science. The 2011 winner of the Women’s Center Sharon Doherty Student Leadership Award, she is a feminist activist who is passionate about many issues. Check out her personal blog, Minneapolitan Mademoiselle.