US women gather in Detroit to stand up against sexual harassment and violence

A group of Indigenous women raise their fists as they sing during the opening session of the three-day Women's Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, US.
A group of Indigenous women raise their fists as they sing during the opening session of the three-day Women's Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, US.PHOTO: REUTERS

DETROIT (REUTERS) - Thousands of women - who had marched to protest Republican President Donald Trump's inauguration - gathered in Detroit on Friday (Oct 27) to organise around issues like the viral "Me Too" movement exposing the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence.

Expected to draw 4,000 people, the three-day Women's Convention aims to build on the activism that brought millions of protesters to worldwide Women's March events in January, considered the largest single-day protest in US history.

Standing up against sexual violence was a key subject during the event's kickoff, three weeks after allegations that movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted women over the past three decades galvanised outrage over abuse of women that has been covered up or ignored.

Tarana Burke, who a decade ago created a campaign using the phrase "Me Too," was one of the convention's first speakers. In the wake of the Hollywood scandal, those words emerged as a social media hashtag reaching well beyond the entertainment industry.


Rose McGowan speaks at the opening session of the Women’s Convention at the Cobo Center in Detroit. 
PHOTO: NYTIMES 

"We are here for the long haul," Burke said to applause. "If you are ready for this fight, if you are here to take that charge, my simple reply to you is - me too."

She was followed by Rose McGowan, an actress who was part of a settlement with Weinstein after an alleged incident in a hotel room, the New York Times reported.

"No more. Name it. Shame it. Call it out," McGowan said, who did not detail her experiences with Weinstein. "We amplify each other's voices."


Attendees gesture and cheer during the Women's Convention in Detroit, Michigan, US. 
PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A spokesman for Weinstein, Sallie Hofmeister, did not respond to a request for comment.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone. Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the allegations.

A few women on Friday wore the pink pussy hats that became a symbol of the anti-Trump marches. But the convention's overall agenda focuses on training, voter turnout and networking ahead of the 2018 US midterm elections. Breakout sessions covered topics like neighborhood organising and engaging minority groups.


Attendees walk past signage displayed during the Women's Convention in Detroit, Michigan, US. 
PHOTO: BLOOMBERG 

The conference's keynote speakers included leading Democratic politicians and groups such as Emily's List, which supports Democratic female candidates, held sessions for women interested in public office.

"Now we need the work and the movement," Linda Sarsour, a lead organiser of the Women's March, told participants.

Impact from the marches and convention may take years to materialise. Drawing large numbers to an organising session marks a milestone, said Lee Ann Banaszak, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies women's movements. But it is no guarantee of electoral results.


Isra Chaker and Martha Neuman watch as a display of social justice images is assembled before the start of the three-day Women's Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan. 
PHOTO: REUTERS 

"That is the harder thing," she said.

That challenge was not lost on participants looking to acquire skills and know-how, like advocacy techniques.

"Protesting is good for making noise," said Ryan Elwood, 28, from Oakland, California. "Being able to sit down and collect similar minds together can make actual action plans."