By Letitia Stein
DETROIT (Reuters) – Thousands of women who marched to protest Republican President Donald Trump’s inauguration gathered in Detroit on Friday to organize 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 U.S. 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 galvanized 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.
“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.”
A spokeswoman 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 U.S. midterm elections. Breakout sessions covered topics like neighborhood organizing and engaging minority groups.
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 organizer of the Women’s March, told participants.
Impact from the marches and convention may take years to materialize. Drawing large numbers to an organizing 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.
“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.”
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mary Milliken)