2020: Women Stepping Up in Benicia
By Phyllis DeBois, Progressive Democrats of Benicia
(See also: video coverage by Constance Beutel)
What a great evening – the Progressive Democrats of Benicia’s Women’s Caucus celebrated International Women’s Day with a leadership forum “Women Making a Difference”. Over one hundred people gathered Friday night at Arts Benicia for this energizing and sparkling occasion.
After Maggie Kolk, Spokeswoman for the event, introduced Supervisor Monica Brown who read a Women’s Day Proclamation, Kari Birdseye, Planning Commissioner and moderator for the evening, officially opened the forum.
Commissioner Birdseye introduced Mayor Elizabeth Patterson who spoke about childhood experiences that strongly influenced and motivated her to make a difference through community action and leadership. She concluded by encouraging women to join a board, commission, or run for public office.
After these opening remarks, the evening was humming when Commissioner Birdseye introduced the panel: Betty T. Yee, California State Controller; Susannah Delano, Executive Director, Close the Gap CA; Linda Escalante, So. CA Legislative Director, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Cora Young, Field Representative for Congressman Mike Thompson.
The work of the panel began when Moderator Kari Birdseye asked each woman to briefly describe childhood events that awakened concern for the needs of others. With gravity and humor the panel responded.
Betty T. Yee at a very young age learned what commitment meant as she worked at her family’s business interacting with customers and counting change. At the age of 13 with her knee’s knocking, she was her community’s advocate speaking in front of the local school board concerning a busing issue.
At age 14, Susannah Delano traveled to South Africa just when apartheid had officially ended, but the country’s situation was still dynamic, unstable, and sometimes violent. By being there and learning about the struggles of the South African people, it kindled the ‘outrage that fueled her desire for justice.’
As a ten-year-old immigrant, Linda Escalante felt the uncertainty and fears that come with the unknown and the responsibility of being her family’s advocate. Unsure of her future yet motivated to achieve, she worked hard in high school and had her first political post as student representative on the school board.
Fifteen year old Cora Young deeply felt the loss of a bullied gay, 13 year old student who committed suicide. His lack of support – no one to go to – no one to stand up for him, drove her to become involved in the LGBTQ program and as a peer counselor for sexual assault victims.
While each panelist spoke about different early life challenges and opportunities, the qualities of resiliency, concern for others, and a desire for change were their shared reactions. These experiences were perhaps the seeds that led them to follow their intellect, instincts, and hearts and make a difference.
As the evening progressed, the panel was asked: How can women step up? What advice would you share with women interested in getting into politics? The panel’s advice was strongly expressed: women are gravely needed in politics to make a difference. To make this difference women were encouraged to find their niche and get involved; to pursue one issue that promotes passion and work that is enjoyable even if it is difficult; and to rely on the support and sisterhood that is developing as they take on these new challenges. The panel emphasized that to make these difficult changes all voices are necessary, and encouraged women to run towards the issues and not away.
What an invigorating evening for the Benicia Women’s Caucus to launch its work. Throughout the night reoccurring themes fueled the audience: make a difference to make the world a better place, feel passionate about the issue, stand up for others, bring compassion to the differing sides, and achieve good through politics. Mix this heartfelt, spine-tingling philosophy with some humor and the women power created is real and fresh and largely untapped. The energy and sparkle that started the forum grew and by the end of the evening, the hum in the gallery had turned more to a roar… as one panelist said, ‘the roar of the lioness.’ Now let us use this power and passionate roar to take a seat on a board, commission, or to run for public office as our mayor encouraged.
I felt very fortunate to have spent the evening with this incredible group of women. If you missed this opportunity, view it online at ProgressiveDemocratsOfBenicia.com, and plan to attend the next Progressive Democrats of Benicia’s Women’s Caucus event scheduled for May 23rd. Details to follow.