We heard them before we saw them. “This is what a feminist looks like,” the young women chanted as they made their way to the front of the university auditorium at the University of the District of Columbia. As they marched down the aisles, row after row of young women and men rose to their feet and raised their voices. “This is what a feminist looks like,” reverberated around the chamber until the group reached the front.
That’s how the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation, opened.
There were 390 young feminist leaders, representing 122 colleges from 30 states, plus the District of Columbia and Canada. Any doubts I had about the commitment and energy of young feminists dissipated immediately. And after the stirring opening, the conference only got better.
The young feminists welcomed Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and shared her outrage at those members of the House and Senate who put “reproductive rights up for auction.” They had cellphones in hand when Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, asked them to call the House switchboard to protest the latest development in the fight for abortion rights. They took note when Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine, told them how they can get involved in defending abortion clinics.
The conferees filled classrooms for workshops on international family planning, access to affordable birth control, exposing fake clinics, LGBTQ isues, sexual assault and the impacts of climate change. Each workshop was lively with discussion, as people shared their successes, challenges and plans for their next action.
Exposing fake clinics was a popular workshop, due to the proliferation of so-called crisis pregnancy clinics in college towns. Supported by anti-choice organizations, they lure young women in by advertising themselves as “pregnancy resource centers,” but in fact only exist to promulgate an anti-abortion message and not to offer real health care. The Feminist Majority Foundation has developed a campaign to expose these clinics and the students in the workshop were eager to get involved.
The workshop on defending abortion clinics also drew an impassioned group of student leaders, who learned how to support clinics under siege by participating in the “Adopt-A-Clinic program.” Participants were eager to help defend clinic staff from the kind of anti-choice harassment and threats that resulted in the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas.
The halls filled with eager feminist voices as workshops emptied and people spilled into the courtyard on their way to the next sessions. They planned, organized, networked and exchanged phone numbers as they walked in the bright light of a beautiful spring day in Washington, D.C. I am happy to report what a feminist looks like: strong, secure, confident and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.
Learn more about the anti-abortion movement through Ms. coverage.