On October 20th, the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) hosted Women Lead: A Conversation on Social Justice. This live fundraising event was centered around the importance of putting conversations about social justice at the forefront of our efforts in philanthropy.
The event, which took the place of NYWF’s annual fundraiser (cancelled due to COVID-19), featured conversations with the Foundation’s President and CEO, Ana Oliviera, as well as activists Nikole Hannah-Jones and Cristina Jiménez, with appearances from actresses Beanie Feldstein and Yara Shahidi, both of whom were honored for their work for women and girls during the event.
The webinar opened with a recap of the 2019 NYWF fundraising event, which was focused on the concept of “radical generosity.”
Yvonne Moore and Grainne McNamara, Board Chairs of the New York Women’s Foundation, kicked off the night’s conversations with a welcome to the night’s speakers, presenters, and sponsors, including the event’s premier sponsor, Morgan-Stanley. McNamara introduced Cristina Jiménez and Nikole Hannah-Jones, the speakers of the night’s conversation, and moderator Maria Hinojosa.
Since the organization’s founding, NYWF has invested more than $87 million across 400 organizations committed to economic, gender, and social justice. McNamara placed an emphasis on celebrating the Foundation’s victories, as well as emphasizing the successes and hard work of the organization’s grantee partners.
Next, Hinojosa took over with the encouragement for participants to use the hashtag #WomenLead2020 and ask questions in the event comments. She introduced Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, who was meant to be the honoree at NYWF’s annual breakfast. After some technical difficulties, Hinojosa asked for a “temperature check” on Hannah-Jones.
“Every day can be a struggle,” she said. “I just try to remind myself of the things I should be grateful for — and one of them is being able to have this conversation with you.”
Social Justice Impacts of COVID-19 on Women of Color
“All of the inequities that have always existed are just being exacerbated,” said Hannah-Jones.
She spoke to the unpleasant impact of COVID, in the ways that the pandemic could have presented an opportunity for the country to come together. Instead, the pandemic divided our nation further, and left many women and communities of color hit the hardest with suffering.
She also shared the positivity she feels from seeing so many people coming out in droves to vote, explaining that this is an unprecedented time for American voters, but it is encouraging that so many people are “showing up with chairs, with snacks, with coolers” and “refusing to give up their franchise” by exercising their right to vote.
The Engagement of Women of Color in Pandemic Campaigns
Hannah-Jones shared that Black women do not “buy into” the message that the power of the vote is in not voting. She explained that disinformation campaigns, which were common in the 2016 election, are targeting the racial divide in America.
“We might want to think about why that is,” she said. “Why people in foreign countries know that this is the right place to wreak the most havoc in our elections.”
Hannah-Jones mentioned her excitement over the choice of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s VP candidate, but expressed concern that this event it too little, too late. “Black women are the most loyal constituency in the Democratic party,” she explained. “And yet, once we get someone elected, we get dropped like a bad habit.”
Yara Shahidi on Social Justice Activism for Girls and Women
Following a video collection of NYWF’s work in the sphere of racial justice, the conversation moved to actress and producer Yara Shahidi, known for her work on Black-ish as well as her activism for women and girls of color. Honored as a Changemaker by the NYWF, Shahidi uses her public platform to carry on her family’s legacy of activism.
“It’s not only the wellbeing of women and equity that you are broadly supporting, but you have specifically chosen to invest in women in all of our intersections,” said Shahidi. She encouraged people to connect “not in spite of our different identities, but because of them.”
Shahidi also spoke to the importance of her peers, mentors, family members, and community who have helped lift her to where she is today, and offered her heartfelt thanks.
Cristina Jiménez on Connecting with the Community
“I’m exhausted from everything that 2020 keeps on bringing,” said Jiménez. “But I’m also keeping my eye on the prize.”
Jiménez is currently working to get voters to the polls leading up to the 2020 election. “Despite everything we’ve been going through with the pandemic and attacks from the administration, we’ve seen an amazing uprising.” Jiménez noted the impact of young people working on voter registration campaigns, finding time to make phone calls and send text messages and help get people to the polls.
On the subject of engagement in Latinx voters, Jiménez noted that most voters are worried about the impact of COVID. “Folks are not disengaged, they are feeling in their bones this moment of injustice.”
Jiménez also mentioned that voter turnout numbers among young people are breaking records, almost tripling early voting compared to 2016. Jiménez called this turnout “unprecedented,” pointing to the urgency in young voters’ families and personal values as the impetus behind these record early voting numbers.
Racial Disparities in the COVID Economy
Hinojosa pointed out the unpleasant juxtaposition between the US’s disdain for immigrant and Black and Brown communities, and the US’s reliance on these very communities in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Jiménez. “While some people can work from home, you have a lot of people within our communities, immigrant workers and others, who are keeping this country fed — and also are the ones being impacted the most by the virus.”
“I want to also share the resiliency, ingenuity, and courage of these communities,” said Jiménez. “People are coming together to create mutual aid funds, to act. …It’s inspiring to see how people are coming together to organize, but we also need to be real — it’s not going to be sufficient. We need the government to get involved.”
Beanie Feldstein on Advocacy for Women and the LGBT Community
Next, Beanie Feldstein gave her acceptance speech for the NYWF’s Changemaker award. She spoke to her experiences as a sociology major in college, learning about the layers in our society and the ways we can “dismantle, disrupt, and debunk” the rigid institutions that make up so much of our society.
“They’re too rigid, and they’re too binary, and I’m so sick of it,” she said. As both an actor and an activist, Feldstein hopes to rely on her personal experiences and those of others to shape her choices as she moves forward.
Hannah-Jones and Jiménez on Moving Forward in This Moment
Hinojosa opened up the conversation to ask about “what we should be learning” from COVID and the 2020 election.
“Women of color are leading the most vibrant social justice movements and movements to get the electorate out to vote,” said Jiménez. She spoke to the importance of capitalizing on this momentum, and ensuring we stay politically and socially active post-pandemic and in future political campaigns.
Hannah-Jones added that organization and resiliency are key to guaranteeing people exercise their right to vote. Black women did not get the right to vote until 45 years after white women did, and Hannah-Jones spoke to the importance of never letting go of that fight. “Women understand that the stakes are very high right now,” said Hannah-Jones. “This is the most important election of my lifetime,” she added, emphasizing that she stated that with “no hyperbole at all.”
The unprecedented level of voter registration, electorate campaigning, and early turnout voting represents a unique opportunity Black and Brown women have to “tip the election.”
How to Hold our Politicians Accountable
Hinojosa brought up the difficulty in Kamala Harris standing up for fracking rights, as well as the dual hypotheticals of who will win the Presidential election. She asked the speakers how we can move forward in holding politicians accountable, no matter what happens in the election.
Jiménez remembered the difficulties of Obama’s presidency, when he did not deliver on the immigration reform plans he promised in his election run. She shared her personal experiences campaigning and protesting to “hold his feet to the fire.” After his first two years in office, Obama did finally pass the immigration reforms he had promised, and Jiménez looks back on that time as a victory.
“If Trump wins, we cannot lose hope,” she added. She stressed the importance of continuing to campaign together in an intersectional and supportive way in order to fight “pain and injustice” as we move forward.
In terms of holding politicians accountable and remembering the injustices faced by immigrants and communities of color in the US, the fact that people have had to march in the streets in protest of injustice says a lot about the US’s failings as a just society.
“If we do not get to the root of that, then we cannot solve it,” said Hannah-Jones, speaking to the history of white supremacy in the United States. “We understand that things that happened a long time ago shape the society we live in now, but we can’t ignore that they shape things in ways that are vastly unequal and vastly unfair.”
“We can’t ignore that the American people watched a Black man get lynched on national television,” she added. “It’s not going to be enough for our communities to just have ‘someone besides Trump’ in the White House. We need someone who is going to speak to our issues and our concerns, and actually move this country to be more fair and equal.”
“Black and Brown women vote for community,” she said. “We do not vote for ourselves.”
The event closed with a Q&A with selections from the audience, as well as final calls to share the #WomenLead2020 hashtag on social media, and donate to the New York Women’s Foundation by texting NYWF to 44-321.
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