The 2019 Women’s Legislative Briefing drew a record-breaking 700 activists intent on “Igniting and Achieving Change.” The Montgomery County Commission for Women, along with a multitude of co-sponsors, including the Woman’s Democratic Club, has organized this nonpartisan, issue-oriented conference since 1980, when 200 women showed up.
Attendees had the opportunity to visit a wide array of information booths representing organizations and issues (e.g., WDC, NARAL, NOW, AARP, Emerge). WDC ‘s booth, staffed by Andrea Grossman, Dolly Kildee, Enid Light, and Daisy Thompson, was visited by women of all ages, including high school and college students, interested in keeping the “blue wave” rolling.
Numerous Democratic leaders addressed the Briefing, both virtually and in person. Among these were Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, as well as Congressmen Jamie Raskin and Paul Sarbanes who greeted the attendees by video. Following these greetings, Commission President Nicole Y. Drew introduced the theme and history of the conference and its Status of Women Report.
Maryland’s Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz, representing Governor Larry Hogan, spelled out his priorities for his second term, which he has dubbed “The Opportunity Session”: Secretary Schultz highlighted human trafficking, STEM-focused schools, tax deductions for students, and investment ln opportunity zones of low employment as priority issue areas.
Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich stressed the importance of bipartisanship. In order to get needed state funding, Elrich said that we must tell the whole story of Montgomery County and not just tout its successes. That story includes racial and gender inequity. Regarding schools, he suggested that we need to further the understanding that the (liberal) arts, including history, are as important as math and science.
Congressman John Sarbanes praised women’s involvement in the recent elections, declaring that politics will never be the same. Tiffany Harvey, representing Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, stated that their county planned to focus on human trafficking, education, and the environment.
Keynote Speaker Monica Romirez—author, attorney, and civil rights activist—stressed the importance of “showing up,” especially as a community, to demonstrate an investment in women and girls. As the daughter and granddaughter of migrant workers, Romirez feels it is her duty to stand up for migrant women survivors of sexual abuse and mistreatment. According to Romirez, the “ground shook” when actress Alyssa Milano launched the #MeToo revolution, with 19 million people across the globe tweeting about their experiences.
When she started working with the women farmworkers, she found that 90 percent said that workforce violence was a part of their lives (e.g., sexual blackmail for paychecks). These women are now speaking up, something that is critical to creating change. “These are the women who keep us alive every day. No one anywhere should have to experience this kind of violence.” With their “Dear Sister” letter, these women have now aligned themselves with the Hollywood #MeToo movement. Romirez’s group has formed the Times’ Up Movement with a Legal Defense Fund that has helped 3,000 women so far. Many attorneys work pro-bono.
“What comes next? How do we get meaningful change?” We must challenge norms by pressuring counties and states to fix gaps in existing law and ensure that “all work is safe work.” She concluded by exhorting the conference attendees to “stand up, show up, speak up and act” to create a world of safety, equity, and dignity for all—what she called “radical, inclusive leadership with love.”
There followed eight workshops on subjects of importance to today’s women: Safety & Justice for Women; Creating Change Through Leadership; Health Care for Women; Justice-Involved Women; Human Trafficking—Safety & Justice for Women, Part II; Breaking Down the Status of Women Report; Economic Justice for Women; and Creating Healthy Work Environments
Also included in the Briefing were workshops for “Emerging Leaders,” which emphasized taking positive approaches to body image and cultivating resiliency, targeted at grades 6-8, and promoting positive wellbeing in future leaders, targeted at grades 9-12. Through this program, teens gain an understanding of the skills needed to take part in the legislative process.
All of the organizational representatives, community leaders, and activists who attended this Briefing truly had something to gain from this enlightening and informative Briefing.
*Millie Kahn contributed to this article.