In seven days, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders role for the Women's Convention in Detroit went from a primary speaker to a panelist to not attending at all.
Sanders said he can’t attend the event because he’ll be in Puerto Rico to survey the devastating damage from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island about a month ago.
“I want to apologize to the organizers of the Women's Convention for not being able to attend your conference next Friday,” Sanders said in a statement. “Given the emergency situation in Puerto Rico, I will be traveling there to visit with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and other officials to determine the best way forward to deal with the devastation the island is experiencing.”
Instead, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will give an opening speech at the convention, which is the first national Women’s Convention in 40 years. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, also will speak at the event.
The gathering, scheduled for Oct. 27-29 at Cobo Center, is expected to attract more than 3,000 people and aims to take on social injustice and uphold the feminist nonviolent resistance principles of the Women’s March, which is organizing the event.
“It is unfortunate that Senator Sanders will no longer be able to join us at the Women’s Convention next week, but the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, which is being exacerbated by the inaction of our federal government, is a critical matter,” organizers of the event said in a statement. “We understand his leadership is needed in Puerto Rico and, as always, we deeply appreciate his commitment to communities in need.”
The announcement that he was going to be a speaker sparked a backlash on social media from women who found it ironic and disappointing that a man was being touted as a key speaker at the convention.
In a Twitter post on Tuesday, the organization acknowledged that the choice of Sanders as a convention speaker was controversial and that he wasn’t giving an opening night speech, but would merely speak on a panel.
“We know that it has been a painful week for women across the nation,” the post stated. “We realize we added to that pain when we announced Senator Sanders as a speaker at the Women’s Convention.”
By Thursday, Sanders said he wouldn’t be able to make it at all.
And that was just fine with the legions on social media.
“Delighted our outcry had an impact,” wrote one woman on Twitter.
“He never should have been asked to speak,” wrote another woman. “It's a women's convention. There are plenty of women out there worthy of speaking!!”
© 2017 Detroit Free Press