18th Annual Issues Conference: Women’s Leadership Forum

Last week, I got an email from DC College Dems, forwarded to me by the President of AU College Dems. It announced that free tickets to the Women’s Leadership Forum were available to all members of DC area college Democrats. (Tickets to the Conference ranged from $250 to $75,800. Not quite in a college student’s budget, not when I have Easy Mac and coffee to buy…and college loans to pay off.) The selling point was that Barack Obama was speaking at 5:00 on Friday, the day that the free tickets were good for, so of course I was going to go.

I have to say, “women’s issues” isn’t really my thing. I’m more interested in education, healthcare, jobs…stuff that affects nearly every single person in the country. Women’s issues, to me, included reproductive rights (contraceptives, abortion, etc.), pay discrimination based on gender, and not much else. But I figured since I knew practically nothing about “women’s issues,” I should go to the Conference if no other reason than to become educated.

Having attended, I can say that I am 100% more informed than I was before. I found that “women’s issues” aren’t really just women’s issues–they are “family issues, economic issues,” according to the President and other speakers. Equal pay is not merely symbolic of sexism–it truly affects the entire family. Reproductive rights are a basic right and should not be determined by an employer or the government. Choosing birth control is an economic choice in that it allows women to choose when they want to have children–when it is financially feasible for them and their family, and this can make all the difference in the upbringing of a child.

Aside from everything I learned, I had an absolutely incredible experience as a student pursuing a career in public service. I heard some incredible speakers, some who really changed my priorities as far as public policy, some who shared moving stories, some who have had huge influence in their fields…and I was in awe the whole day.

My favorite speakers were Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Chairman of the DNC Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Lilly Ledbetter, Senator Barbara Mikulski, President of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards, and President Barack Obama (of course). I got my picture taken with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (my new idol–I swear, she has the best job in the world), Lilly Ledbetter (took three tries to grab her, but I got it!), Cecile Richards, and Former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin. I briefly spoke with Richards, Wasserman-Schultz, Kunin (who’s going to come speak for AU College Dems!), and panelist Irene Natividad. And, after the President gave an address, I SHOOK BARACK OBAMA’S HAND!

Aside from hearing, meeting, and touching (haha) some truly incredible people, I also opted to partake in a video shoot for a movie by Obama For America with three other students also in AU Dems. We were asked who we were voting for, why we supported Obama, what the most important issues were to us, why we were at WLF…so long story short, I’ll be featured in a video on Obama’s campaign website! (I’ll definitely post the link when it goes up.)

I had a fantastic time at the Friday portion of Women’s Leadership Forum, and I am so grateful to be a studying political science in the District! There are so many opportunities for students like myself, and I don’t think I’ll be able to pass anything up ever again after the experience I had at WLF. Who knows whose hand I might shake next?

(Side note: While live Tweeting the event, we used the label #WLF, and I quoted someone who said “whisker burns.” And turns out, #WLF has been previously used by the ‘Whiskas Liberation Front’…who knew?)