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Women Take Lessons, Inspiration from Conference

by Olivia Sandbothe, David Patterson and Kevin Brown  |  October 19, 2015

Women Take Lessons, Inspiration from Conference AFSCME women gather outside the Indiana Statehouse during the Women's Conference. Credit: Kaleb Giddens

This year’s AFSCME Women’s Conference was an opportunity for AFSCME women from around the nation to connect with the issues that drive our union. More than 500 union sisters gathered in Indianapolis to build leadership and organizing skills—and to inspire each other for the battles ahead back home.

The weekend was full of learning experiences. AFSCME Strong training sessions helped the women (and a few men) in attendance hone their strategies for getting coworkers engaged in the union. Workshops focused on women’s leadership in the union, in politics, and in resolving workplace issues. And with a full lineup of inspiring speakers, there was plenty of wisdom to share.

Donna Brazile, vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, got the crowd fired up about political action. “I am proud of my scars because I got them from fighting for justice and equality for all people,” she said. In honor of her rousing message and storied career, Pres. Lee Saunders named Brazile an honorary AFSCME member.

We also heard from three women who are leading today’s labor movement. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, and AFT President Randi Weingarten all shared their experiences from the trenches of union activism.

For hometown Indianapolis Local 725 member Shona Quick-Crowley, the conference provided the chance to become a spokesperson for AFSCME for the first time. She led the crowd to a rally at the steps of the Indiana statehouse, where they called on Gov. Mike Pence to invest more in public services across the state.

She also opened the conference’s Saturday session, inspiring fellow members to become AFSCME Activists in their locals and councils.

“My sons learned what hard work looks like from me,” Quick-Crowley said to her fellow AFSCME members. “They learned what responsibility is and they learned that when you love your family, you sacrifice to get the job done—even when it’s hard. That’s how I look at the work I do as an AFSCME activist.”

Alaskan member Dana Norris, president of AMEA Local 16 (AFSCME Affiliate), left the conference with an even greater sense of support.

“Attending the conference allowed me to engage with other strong, leading women across the country, pull from their experiences and hopefully strengthen the way I lead,” said Norris. “I’m eager to share some of the tools we learned with members of my local.”

That powerful sense of sisterhood filled the air at the conference. AFSCME women worked side-by-side to prepare 25,000 meals for charity and collect necessities for Coburn Place, Indiana’s largest shelter for survivors of domestic violence. And there was plenty of fun to be had, too. AFSCME’s first ever Dance-a-Thon had AFSCME sisters—and President Saunders—showing off their best moves to raise money for our PEOPLE political action fund. Pam Fitzgerald of Local 1191 and Michelle Akyempons of District Council 37 were declared the champions for their fundraising skills and their talent on the dance floor.

In the end, the Women’s Conference is all about union members supporting and learning from one another. The weekend ended with a town hall in which members discussed important issues and brainstormed strategies for making a difference back home.

“There are a whole lot of us caring, dedicated, passionate sisters out there,” said Shona Quick-Crowley. “We need to link arms and fight together. Because if those against us aren’t afraid yet, they will be when they see a whole group of moms like us charging at them.”

Next: For Latina Leaders, AFSCME Strong is Close to Home
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