We started in front of the White House and made our way down Equality Corridor which, from above, reads BLACK LIVES MATTER, to the grand opening of the Vital Voices Global Headquarters in Washington D.C. I ran ahead to the front of the march to listen to powerful assertions made by mothers, daughters, granddaughters, students, and teachers letting the people know, “THIS IS WHAT A LEADER LOOKS LIKE!” and “I AM A VITAL VOICE!”. It was beautiful and inspiring and haunting and accurate. I had never been to D.C. before, and I hadn’t planned on being there that week, but the universe knew it was where I needed to be.
Vital Voices Global Partnership is a non-profit organization that “invests in women who are taking on the world’s greatest challenges.” The fact is, no idea, organization, movement, or progress can be made and sustained without considering the voices of women vital to the success. As I sat in listening to a panel that included Secretary Hilary Rhodam Clinton, Diane von Furstenberg, and Huma Abedin, I took a moment to look around the room. Including the vendors working the event, the seven-story building’s occupants were 95% women. The last time I had been in a space so overwhelmingly feminine was while attending my all-girls high school.
There is no way to put into words the power that many women together yield. You have to feel it. You have to be there. The air is charged with purpose and focus and collaboration yet there is an absence of competition and one-upping. Conversations flow easily without any one voice truly overpowering. Talking points are received with open ears, expanded upon, explored, and added to, not dismissed or ignored. Every voice in the room is given the time, attention, and respect it deserves.
The first event of the grand opening was a Founder’s Dinner and when I tell you I wasn’t “on the list” of people you’d think should be at this event I couldn’t possibly understate that enough. The guest list for this dinner was 30 people long and the last name on that list was mine. The first, of course, was Hilary Clinton. I sat across the table from Barbara and Dina Zuckerburg and the head of our table was Diane von Furstenberg, inventor of the wrap dress. Every single one of those 29 other people there had contributed to the success of the HQ endeavor, including our very own Victoria who, through VenturaVie and the Arthur & Charlotte Zitrin Foundation sponsored two wellness rooms for the Vital Voices staff to take care of their own wellbeing while at the HQ.
Though the attendees of the Founder’s Dinner were unquestionably their own powerhouses, the experience of being in that room was surprisingly unintimidating (as long as I didn’t think about who they were). Maybe that’s because my time in the room started with Secretary Clinton suggesting we take a selfie together? Either way, the goal of the dinner was to facilitate a conversation about the best, most effective way to utilize this physical space to further the mission of Vital Voices as well as re-establishing the goals and purpose of the organization and the space it will hold for facing the world’s challenges.
When I was growing up, my brother, Morgan, and I were always playing together. Most of the time we agreed on what to play but sometimes he wanted to play Hotwheels and I wasn’t so into it; I liked building cities out of blocks and legos. Sure, sometimes we fought and ended up not playing together at all, but most of the time we compromised by building a city for the cars out of blocks and I made up reasons the cars had to “drive around the block”. That is what the conversation at the Founders’ Dinner was like. Everyone participated, everyone’s ideas were heard, and, like Morgan and I as kids, everyone agreed on a course of action in the end that satisfied and inspired all parties. The goal of Vital Voices is and always has been to be a non-partisan catalyst for change in its objective of amplifying the women’s voices in leadership.
I write this in the days immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Before taking that selfie with Secretary Clinton, we touched upon how scary it was that the U.S. was sliding backward when it came to women’s rights because, as Hilary Clinton famously said, “women’s rights are human rights”. In a building full of women celebrating empowerment and leadership it was hard to reconcile the juxtaposition of the looming court decision with what I felt in that moment. Surely the men in power didn’t think they could overtake this. Surely they know it is only a matter of time. How could anyone deny the raw force and power of women, especially when collaborating? Don’t they know?
I’ve been sitting with this experience in D.C. and that conversation before the selfie for almost two months at this point. I’ve finally had time to process what an incredible experience I was gifted. What did I learn? What will I bring forward with me?
I’ve learned that if there isn’t a seat for you at the table, you bring your own chair. I’ve learned to fully understand the impact a single voice can have in the midst of chaos as well as the strength in numbers we have when we support each other. I will bring forward with me the knowledge that I am a Vital Voice.
Most importantly, I’ve committed myself to use my voice and my power and privilege to fight for all the women and uterus-havers in the world because I believe Madeleine Albright’s words more now than ever before; “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”