DETROIT - Women's March is coming to Cobo Center with its first national event since its January Women's March on Washington, which drew millions of protesters to Washington, D.C., on the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration.
Called the Inaugural Women's Convention, the three-day event will run Oct. 27-29 and will include resistance-training workshops, inspirational forums and leadership lessons as the group tries to mobilize in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.
"We're expecting about 5,000 people," said Linda Sarsour, assistant treasurer on the Women's March board of directors. "It could be more than than that, but that's what we're expecting.
"We actually intentionally chose Detroit as a place we wanted to invest our resources in. As a city that reflected a lot of the issues that people were working on across the country with poverty, police brutality, gentrification, we thought there was a lot of really great organizing already going on in Detroit and wanted to give a platform to those organizers with the conference."
"We think that Detroit is the perfect place to have this conference with its long history of union organizing, labor organizing, civil rights and just showing the power of a forgotten state."
The goal of the Women's March is to bring social change by uniting diverse women through activism on a range of issues, including ending violence, environmental justice and supporting women's reproductive rights, along with civil rights, and the rights of LGBTQ people, workers, immigrants and people with disabilities.
Phoebe Hopps, founder of Women's March Michigan, said the national organization has long eyed the city as a potential site for a big conference.
"The founders and cochairs of Women's March have always had Detroit in their mind," she said. "On July 31, we all met at United Way ... to decide how this event would go down. They want the heart of Detroit in everything."
That means a directory of metro Detroit women-owned, immigrant-owned and black-owned businesses is being compiled so people who come to the conference can support those businesses while they're in town, said Sarsour. Plans are also in the works to incorporate local artists and music into the event, "to bring some joy to these very hard issues," she said.
"We're trying to set a model of what it looks like when you do a conference in a place where you build relationships before you come to a space. We have many relationships on the ground in the Detroit area. We're excited to work with local folks on the ground."
Among the local people working with Women's March on the conference is Julia Pulver, founding director of Women Organize Michigan.
"They wanted to do it in Detroit because it's the epicenter of where we need to be focused," Pulver said. "Michigan is an area that needs a lot of attention and focus not just because it was a blue state that turned red. We've been trying to get a lot of national attention for a long time, and it really took the Flint water crisis for people to see a lot of the devastation that's been going on here for a long time, and that was really the most egregious of the devastation
"They're saying, 'Michigan, we see you. Detroit, we see you. We see not just the devastation.' This is not just the sort of poverty or devastation tourism that a lot of people have treated the city as. But really, they're looking to Detroit as the example of how areas of the country can go through such devastating times and come out of it and wanting to be part of that and also give a platform to the people in Detroit who have already been doing the work."
Pulver said she was thrilled that the national organizers want to give a voice to the people in the city and around the state who've worked hard on these political issues for years.
"One of the organizers said, 'Hey, we have these resources and we want to be able to do this, but we don't want to be outside people coming in and just putting on a party in Detroit. We want to hear from the people on the ground who have been doing the work for decades, and even the younger people who are doing the hard work now. We want to give you a platform and a microphone to shout to anyone who's listening what it is you've been working on and what you can do to help.'
"So many people feel powerless, and when they feel powerless or they just don't know what to do to help, it's really a way to fall back into your privilege, and drive back to the 'burbs and say, 'Oh, good luck with that.' But if we can give people direction and say, 'Here's how to help, and here's how it's appropriate to help.' We can say, 'Follow our lead.' "
The hope, Sarsour said, is to give a new generation of activists the tools they need to drive change.
"We want to work, learn, give people an opportunity to take back some skills, and resources so they can go back to their home cities and organize," she said.
"A lot of the women who will be attending live in red states where they feel there's a lot of potential in the 2018 elections to organize, like in the Deep South, places like Nevada and other places where we see some swing races. This is a great opportunity for these women to learn from seasoned organizers that we'll be bringing from around the country and the Detroit area to train them on the decades of work that they've already done."
The general attendance cost for the conference is $295. It's a fee that Sarsour acknowledged a lot of women will be unable to afford, but is needed to help defray the roughly $2 million it'll cost Women's March to have the conference at Cobo.
"It's pretty expensive to organize a conference of this caliber," she said. "We're raising money to ensure we're offering scholarships. A lot of folks won't be able to afford registration or to travel to Michigan."
What happened in Charlottesville, Va., where protester Heather Heyer was killed over the weekend demonstrating against white supremacists, is among the reasons Women's March chose to unveil news of the conference on Monday.
"Heather really moved us to come out with information about our conference," Sarsour said. "Because Heather is exactly the person, the young white woman we are trying to talk to with the Women's March, making them into better allies and integrating them into the larger movement that we do.
"It really broke our hearts. We saw a young amazing woman risking her life for truth and justice and equality and we hope we get to honor her and her work during the conference."
To learn more about the upcoming conference, go to www.womensmarch.com. Tickets are available on its EventBrite page: www.eventbrite.com/e/womens-march-presents-the-inaugural-womens-convention-2017-tickets-36830022589
Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.
© 2017 Detroit Free Press