“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so much personal history, and so much future,” Gloria Steinem opened.
Yesterday, Ms. Magazine and Ms. publisher, the Feminist Majority Foundation, celebrated grassroots feminist activism at the 2014 Ms. Wonder Awards Luncheon and Ceremony.
Know Your IX, Black Women’s Blueprint, the #CarryThatWeight Movement, and End Rape on Campus all were honored for their work to end campus sexual assault at colleges and universities nationwide. Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward organizers representing four major cities and the state of North Carolina were honored for their work to raise the wage for fast food workers through direct action and some of the largest labor strikes in recent history.
Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy and Research Gaylynn Burroughs presented Wonder Awards to the organizations working to end sexual violence on campus. “I had the chance to meet some of them earlier,” Burroughs said, “And they are fierce.”
Know Your IX is a grassroots, survivor-run, and student-led campaign to end gender-based violence on campuses across the country. The organization focuses on educating students about their right to an education unencumbered by violence and harassment, and they advocate for stronger federal enforcement to protect that right. The organization takes its name from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which explicitly “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”
In 2013, Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW Program delivered over 100,000 signatures from organizers, survivors, and student activists demanding that the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights conduct more transparent, timely investigations and issue meaningful sanctions against non-compliant schools – something it had never done for violations of Title IX related to sexual assault. Dana Bolger, Founding Co-Director, and Chandini Jha, the Outreach Coordinator for Know Your IX, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
The Black Women’s Blueprint works within black communities and on historically black college and university (HBCU) campuses to fight rape and sexual assault. Last week, the organization testified before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland, where they called on the UN to hold the United States accountable for the rape and sexual torture of black women by law enforcement and public officials, as in the case of Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. “Thank you for making us visible,” said Farah Tanis, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the organization.
Black Women’s Blueprint also spearheaded the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Violence, which combines civil and human rights research and action, as well as community organizing and public education campaigns to prevent sexual assault of black women and girls.
Through her extremely personal endurance performance artwork, Emma Sulkowicz launched a national movement and made the fight against campus sex assault visible in a new way. The #CarryThatWeight Movement was born out of Sulkowicz’s own experience as a rape survivor. Columbia University did not expel the student who raped Sulkowicz and two other females on campus. That prompted the idea for her senior thesis project, titled Mattress Performance: CarryThatWeight. Every day, Sulkowicz has carried a dorm room XL twin-size mattress to symbolize the weight she carries as a survivor who must still attend school with her rapist.
A coalition of college students and activists who advocate for stronger campus policies on behalf of domestic violence and sex assault survivors coordinated the national #CarryThatWeight Day of Action. On October 29, students across the country carried mattresses and pillows across their campuses to stand in solidarity with survivors, and to show their support for the movement to end sexual violence and rape culture.
Feminist Activist and Ms. Co-Founder and Consulting Editor Gloria Steinem gave Sulkowicz a standing ovation as she received her Wonder Award. Sulkowicz thanked her family and friends for supporting her “crazy idea” to carry a mattress for nine months.
Andrea Pino, Co-Founder of End Rape On Campus, thanked the sponsoring organizations for recognizing the work of the awardees being honored, but encouraged the room of more than 400 feminist activists to remember all the ways campus sex assault impacts survivors long after the violation has occurred. “Perpetrators are graduating while survivors are dropping out of school,” Pino said, stopping to share her own fear that she may not get her bachelor’s degree, or go on to law school because of the sexual violence that disrupted her education.
Pino became the first person in her family to attend college when she was awarded a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After being raped by another student, running into retaliation, and meeting other survivors, Pino and four other students filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education against UNC. Pino also helped draft the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which was introduced and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of US Senators this summer.
A group of young activist leaders and fast food workers from Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and North Carolina accepted Wonder Awards for their work fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to unionize. Ashona Osborne has worked for McDonald’s, and now Wendy’s, for a total of six years. As the mother of a young child, Osborne said the fight is about more than a wage. “We don’t only need $15, we need a consistent schedule,” she said. Osborne recalled paying for childcare and paying to take public transit to work, only to be told she wasn’t needed for work. “I’m here today because I want to change that,” Dijon Thornton from New York City said.
The workers represented have been arrested and, even now, risk losing their jobs because of their work to raise the wage, but they are not deterred. Ashona Osborne and Brittney Berry from Chicago have been arrested twice. “Both times I felt like I was the modern day Rosa Parks,” Osborne said.
Dolores Huerta, President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and member of the Feminist Majority Foundation Board of Directors, thanked the workers for their courage, and urged the audience to join this modern day labor movement. “They know that if they don’t do it, no one is going to do it for them,” Huerta said.
Gloria Steinem stressed the need for cohesive grassroots organizing to push the work of feminist activists forward. “Only bottom-up organizing can defeat this kind of inequality, and there is inequality everywhere,” she said, pointing to the outcome of the 2014 midterm elections, and stressing the power of the masses to push back against disenfranchisement and unrepresentative leadership. “It is crucial that we pay attention to the state legislatures,” Steinem remarked. “They are redistricting themselves into perpetuity.”
She called on the audience to engage in contemporary feminist struggles like the fight for workers’ rights, and to draw energy from the young activists being honored. “There is a wave of organizing in the ‘pink collar ghetto’…something we haven’t seen since the 1930s,” she said.
“(You) in this room can do it…this is what defeats the money power of the Koch brothers.”