Brandishing signs, vowing to resist and asserting their power to impact American politics, women turned out in force for a lively gala hosted by Emily’s List on Wednesday in the nation’s capital.
More than 1, 300 women—from community organizers to elected officials to celebs—packed the Washington Hilton for the annual dinner and awards ceremony. The event capped off a day-long conference of panels, strategy sessions and speeches hosted by the group, which supports pro-choice, Democratic and progressive women candidates.
“When I think about our community of more than five million activists across the country…I can say: We are rising up. We are fighting back,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “And we are ready to resist run and win!”
In the 2016 election cycle, Emily’s List raised about $90 million dollars from donors, which helped elect eight new members of Congress and nearly 100 victories at the state and local level. Four of the five new Democratic senators elected in 2016 were EMILY’s List candidates. History was made when three women of color—including Kamala Harris (who attended the gala)—were elected to the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, EMILY’s List officials report that since the November election, more than 12,000 women have contacted the organization seeking information about how to run for office.
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Yet even while celebrating their victories and record interest from women candidates, Schriock said it was hard not to think about the fights their supporters didn’t win—especially for the White House.
“This one hurt more than most. And it still does,” she said. “It hurts because Donald Trump is so manifestly unfit for the presidency. It hurts because Hillary Clinton was more ready for the challenges of that office than any candidate in generations.”
She wasn’t the only one who criticized Trump. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), was among those receiving the We Are EMILY award. While accepting on behalf of women leaders of the resistance ranging from Black Lives Matter, to Ban the Wall, to Voting Rights organizations—the veteran Congresswoman blasted the Commander in Chief. Terming Trump a “disgusting poor excuse of a man,” she declared, “I do not respect him, and I will resist him and his cabinet of ill-prepared, right-wing billionaires.
Health care, reproductive rights, police reform, and economic empowerment were among the topics addressed during the conference and gala by speakers who ranged from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, actress Danai Gurira and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Among those on the list to receive We Are EMILY awards were activists, advocates and organizers. They included Janaye Ingram, Jehmu Green, Patrisse Cullors, Higher Heights founders Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen, Aisha Moodie Mills, to name a few.
The head of EMILY’s List noted the election results in November opened the eyes of many women. It began on January 21st, she said, when millions of women took to the streets—not just in Washington, D.C., but in cities and towns across the country. “Among us were women of color who know what it’s like to stand in an unfairly long line to cast a ballot on Election Day. Women who know what it’s like to drive hundreds of miles across the South to have an abortion. Women who know what it’s like to turn a tap on in Flint, Michigan, without knowing the water will poison their children. And women who had never stood up or spoken out before.”
That day, said Schriock, no woman was alone.
“That day, we marched together. And when we marched, it wasn’t just for ourselves. We marched for our sisters being unlawfully detained in airports, or held in private prisons, or separated from their children at the border. And we marched for our brothers, too.”
“See, women’s leadership isn’t just about so-called women’s issues. It’s about recognizing that every voice deserves to be not just heard…but listened to,” she continued.
“It’s about treating your struggle as my struggle, and asking you to treat my struggle as your own. Because we are, to borrow a phrase, stronger together.”