Building across difference: inciting a movement of our own

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Berkeley, CA – The rain did not stop feminists from gathering on Saturday, February 19th for the 26th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference at the University of California at Berkeley. The theme of “Building Across Difference: Inciting a Movement of Our Own” echoed throughout the nation’s oldest and largest one day gathering of women of color. Workshops, speaker presentations, panel discussions, performances, networking and vendors, encouraged, challenged and implored participants to focus on mental health and strengthen bonds across identities.

A brief summary of the conference speakers that does no justice in capturing the energy and authenticity they all emanated in a packed ballroom at UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Union Pauley Ballroom:

Opening Speaker: Dylcia Pagan, a Puerto Rican activist/television producer. By sharing descriptive stories of her activism and struggles as a Puerto Rican woman in the United States and in Puerto Rico, Dylcia’s warm, unfiltered talk reminded us that freedom/libertad comes from within and through community building.

Afternoon Speaker: Ericka Huggins, activist and professor at California State University, East Bay. “Humility and openness is the root of activism,” she said while discussing how the academy doesn’t teach students or researchers humility though it is often humiliating for academicians. Professor Huggins ended by noting that “service to humanity & to the academy can be balanced,” so long as we replenish ourselves through self-care.

Closing Speaker: Angela Davis, Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz, warned us of many things. One warning that is particularly relevant to those of us in the field of sexual violence?  “Do not assume that the category of women represents all women.” The hierarchies around race, class, gender identity, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and age among other identity markers are part of the negotiating, deconstructing, and healing process that is building movements based on acknowledging histories of subjugation.

Professor Davis succinctly summarized the conference theme when she ended her discussion by saying, “whatever you do, don’t do it myopically.”

A post on the EWOCC workshops and panels will follow later this week.

Livia Rojas, MSSW, is the Training and Resource Coordinator in the Campus Program at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where she provides training and technical assistance to recipients of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Grant to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking on college and university campuses across the United States and territories. Livia has eleven years of working to advance human rights and student organizing through practice and research.

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