One hundred and sixty-nine years (almost to the day) after hundreds of women and men met in Seneca Falls, N.Y., for the first-ever women’s rights convention, another group of change-makers will gather in Chicago to advocate for a world in which those hard-won rights and opportunities are fully realized.
Galvanize Chicago takes place Saturday and Sunday at McCormick Place — the first of several Galvanize programs that will roll out across the country. The idea was launched by Chicagoan and former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to build on last year’s United State of Women Summit, a yardstick of sorts sponsored by then-President Barack Obama’s White House Council on Women and Girls to measure and work toward gender equality.
“It’s for all generations of women, regardless of age or education,” Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia told me. “Whatever you want to do to make a difference, we’ll take that activism and get you plugged in and turn it into action.”
Valencia is one of six co-chairs for the Chicago program. Considered by many to be a rising political star, Valencia, 31, has a biography that speaks directly to the power of engagement.
The first in her family to attend college, Valencia worked as a campaign organizer for the Virginia Democratic Party after graduating from the University of Illinois. After moving back to Illinois, she worked on the campaigns of U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Bill Foster and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
She oversaw Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs before the mayor tapped her for city clerk last year to replace Susana Mendoza, who was elected state comptroller.
Galvanize, ideally, will offer the inspiration and the training for more women to find a path toward leadership.
“The attendees at the United State of Women Summit last year made it clear that they wanted to keep learning, connecting and advocating beyond that room — they wanted to do it in their own communities,” Jordan Brooks, managing director and chief operating officer at United State of Women, said in a statement. “The Galvanize Program answers that call and will empower women across the country with the tools they need to be engaged, vocal advocates in elections and public policy debates both nationally and in their own backyards.”
After morning remarks by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Chicago Foundation for Women CEO K. Sujata, YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago CEO Dorri McWhorter and other power players, attendees will be divided into five tracks: running for office, campaign management, entrepreneurship and innovation, grass-roots organizing and leadership.
“There’s so much energy right now and so many women stepping up to run for office, organize in their own communities and engage in activism,” Valencia said. “We want to bring all these women from all over Chicago and the suburbs and surrounding states to connect and engage on these topics and bring that work back to their communities and build on it.”
The two-day convention costs $50 to attend, but registration is closed, which is both good news (it filled up!) and bad news (it’s too late to join in). But if you’re up for a road trip, a similar program will take place in Columbus, Ohio, from Aug. 12-13, and then in Atlanta, Miami, Albuquerque, N.M., and Philadelphia later in the fall and winter.