Cal State Long Beach students crammed into the University Student Union Beach Auditorium for “Women’s History Month: Votes for Women, Suffrage and Activism,” a celebration of women and feminism on Tuesday night.
Around 150 students packed the room to get a chance to hear four powerful women speak on behalf of the radical belief that all people are entitled to equal civil rights.
The celebration took place from 7-9 p.m. and was hosted by the history department and the Women’s and Gender Equity Center. CSULB’s Associated Students Inc. and Jeff Klaus, dean of students, helped fund the event and CSULB students from the History Graduate Student Association.
CSULB students were offered free food, pencils, bookmarks and informational pamphlets.
“Women’s History Month: Votes for Women, Suffrage and Activism,”consisted of a screening of the short documentary “Inez Milholland: Forward into Light,” followed by a presentation on suffragist Alice Paul. The documentary is written, produced and directed by Martha Wheelock and is based on the life’s work of suffrage activist Inez Milholland. The celebration concluded with a vibrant open discussion panel.
The coordinators of the event, CSULB history lecturer, Michelle Stonis, and the WGEC Coordinator, Pam Rayburn, said they hoped “Women’s History Month: Votes for Women, Suffrage and Activism” would provide students with a historical understanding of women’s past, present and future political activism. They also said they felt confident that CSULB students in the audience would learn invaluable lessons and information from the event to use in their daily lives.
The panel was moderated by Stonis and included CSULB history professor Sarah Schrank and CSULB history graduate student Brianna Nelloms, as well as Phyllis O’Connor, treasurer of the Long Beach League of Women Voters and activist Zoe Nicholson.
Nicholson is most known for helping her male classmates escape to Canada during the Vietnam War draft and for publicly fasting for the Equal Rights Amendment inside the Illinois State Capitol in 1982. Nicholson has been kicked out of several political events by the Secret Service like the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy speech incident where she interrupted Senator Barbara Boxer’s speech on behalf of gay military members.
The four women conveyed the notion that fighting for women’s rights is really fighting for everyone to live equal lives.
“We [feminists] are social justice activists, we are human rights activists, we are civil rights activists, we are change makers who are working day and night to advance the consciousness of humanity,” Nicholson said.
The panelists called for activism “from all and for all” under President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We are [at] the edge of change; we are creating change with our very lives. Time is calling us, now more than we’ve ever seen,” Nicholson said.
The panelists also spoke about the negative effects of separatism and intersectionality in the feminist community, including the focus of white feminism in the movement.
“Feminism is so wrapped up right now on what it means to be a feminine, what it means to be a woman, rather than what is needed to gain equality, I think going forward it has to be less identity and more about working together for the same goal,” Nelloms said.
The panelists agreed that the feminist movement needs to focus on institutional inequalities instead of the idea of changing women’s behaviors and controlling their sexual freedom. They also stated that women in the movement need to stop tearing each other down in the name of feminism.
“Right now it is about competing women and trying to define femininity instead of recognizing that womanhood is multifaceted and fluid as well as different to people,” Nelloms said.
The women of the panel stated the feminist movement needs to let go of feminism as a category, everyone’s experiences though different, are valid.
“There is enough room for everyone in feminism,” Nelloms said.
The final topic the panelists discussed was about millennials and their political participation.
“I see the times changing because of fear under the current administration and its affecting more people … society is changing and people are coming together,” Nelloms said. “Millennials are not complacent. We are becoming more civic-minded and are becoming more active in local politics.”
Stonis believes that the weight of making society better shouldn’t all be on the shoulders of millennials.
“It is going to take all hands-on-deck, we all have different passions, urgencies and identifications that we all have to fight for,” she said.
A meet and greet as well as pictures with the panel was open to students after the event. Free copies of the documentary that was shown were available and the League of Women Voters registered students to vote.
Students not only left the event with free goodies, but with a message.
“No one is equal until everyone is equal … there is no equality yet, we still have ways to go,” O’Connor said.