by Cassidy Ellis
If you weren’t at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, you really missed out! It was super engaging and provided a great “tool box” for young feminists. I highly recommend you attend next year if you can! On Monday, the last day of the conference, we young feminists took to The Hill – first for a feminist briefing, and then to meet with our Senators or Representatives (or their staffers) about various issues.
I am from the great state of Alabama, so I spoke with two staffers for Jeff Sessions. I was excited for the opportunity to voice my opinion on issues that are very important to me, and was hopeful that the meeting would prove productive. However, I was nervous at how I would be received. Despite that, I went into the meeting prepared and ready – and when it started off cordially with talk about the weather and my home state, I was relieved.
The issues I brought to the table were healthcare reform, a minimum wage increase, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Healthcare reform was the first issue I brought up, and when I did, that was also the exact moment the conversation began going downhill. After reproductive care and abortion entered the conversation, the staffer with whom I was speaking became condescending and hard to talk to. At one point when towards the end of the meeting, I was reading something in my notes when I looked up to find one of the staffers making faces at me with the other. Already angry at how I was being spoken to and the poor way the meeting was going, I resisted the temptation to snark back. It was very hard not to respond to how I was being treated – but the meeting had to go on.
Later, I learned that the staffers did not know what the ERA or CEDAW were. When I explained both, one called the ERA “a state issue that Senator Sessions cannot speak to” (despite being a spokesperson for, well, a state) and they then concurred that CEDAW wasn’t an immediate issue-at-hand since they had never heard of it before. (FYI – it’s been around since the 80’s.) They told me they would “get back to me.”
I’ll be honest. After this meeting, I had a brief moment wherein I thought “is this what I really want to be doing with my life?” But almost as quickly as that thought appeared, it disappeared – and determination was left in it’s stead. I am determined, now more than ever, to talk about these issues and encourage others to do the same; I am determined to educate voters on why these politicians have to be removed from office; I am determined to get as many people to vote for people who understand and respect these issues as possible.
Feminist Campus’ Get Out HER Vote campaign encourages young feminists to engage their peers on feminist issues and register them to vote in ensuing elections as they see fit. Following my meeting, I will be instituting this campaign on the University of Alabama campus – and I sincerely hope you will do the same on yours.
We have the power to change our country for the better, and it’s time we act on it!