UNION, NJ – More than 150 people packed Town Hall Wednesday night for the first in a three-part series hosted by the township celebrating Women’s History Month.
“This celebration has morphed into a lesson, a rally and a unifying cry that even at the most basic level of government we must bolster and protect one another and articulate to every woman that her voice is heard, her needs are understood and that her life will be protected,” Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas said.
Cavadas kicked off the program by presenting Rev. Dr. LL DuBreuil with the Woman of the Year Award. DuBreuil, Cavadas said, is "a champion of equal rights and has an undeniable impact on our community” in her capacity at Faith United Church of Christ in Union.
Cavadas said the central theme of Rev. DuBreuil’s life has been one of service and dedication to social justice issues. She is a frequent speaker at interfaith events and public forums as a community activist and advocate
Accepting the Woman of the Year Award, Rev. DuBreuil said, “the first thing you have to do to make a difference, is show up. The second thing you have to do is show up again. Then you’ll find ways of helping and making a difference.” The third thing to do, said Rev. DuBreuil, is “get others to show up. It’s about putting yourself out there.”
The keynote speaker for the program, “Protecting Women’s Rights” was Diane DuBrule, Interim Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ. Also on the panel were Elizabeth Meyer, Organizer of the Women's March on NJ; Christine Sadovy, Advocacy Director, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, and Annette Quijano, Assemblywoman for the 20th Legislative District.
“Today is International Woman’s Day,” began DuBrule. “It’s a day born in 1909 out of women’s calls for safe working conditions in New York City factories. We now use this day to recognize women as social movement leaders.”
DuBrule said women are still under-represented in the legislature, the judiciary and executive offices. “We women keep fighting the same battles over and over again,” she said. DuBrule continued that the Trump administration threatens to set back the gains women have made over the past 100 years in devastating ways. “Some, like the plan to defund Planned Parenthood, are all too familiar. But there are other looming threats from this administration that disproportionately impact women and families.”
“When we consider the threats at hand, women in particular have a great deal to lose,” said DuBrule. “We’ve been leaders and activists in the gains our Country has made towards a more just, more free, and more equal society. We struggled long and hard for many decades and we have way too much invested to back down. Women lead the way. We demonstrated that on January 21 and we demonstrated it every day since. I want to thank you for your activism and for your commitment to the principles that matter most. Stay strong. Stay connected. Stay united. And please stay active for the long haul. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.”
Township Committeewoman Michele Delisfort moderated the panel discussion beginning with the first question: “What do you say to people who say this is all nonsense and that there is no threat to women’s right.”
“One of the benefits I have had as the organizer of the Women’s March,” said Elizabeth Meyer, “has been that my world has been opened greatly because of the diverse group of people I have met.” It’s the connection we make with one another, Meyer said, opening our hearts, opening our ears and opening our minds to other people whose experiences are different from ours. Those are the connections that are going to be the strength of our movement as we move forward. “To the people who say it’s nonsense, I say that’s nonsense.”
“Women need to start supporting women,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano in response to a question about gender parity and the gender gap. Quijano said women need to understand networking and helping each other. “I will support another woman. I will support her ideas,” said Quijano. “I will support her ability to speak and I can tell you down in Trenton I have been known to stop talking when one of my colleagues is not being respectful after I was respectful to him.”
“We need to do better in our colleges and universities,” said Christine Sadovy, “making sure that there is encouragement and programs that really do reach out to young women and get them into the natural sciences and hard sciences because I think there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of changing the mentality that says women should be in the soft sciences.”
In response to a question about barriers to women becoming leaders and taking leadership roles, Sadovy said, “we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go to be sure there is a culture change, a real change in the way that people think about gender roles and the responsibility and authority of men and women.” Quijano added that some women lack confidence and “think they have to have a PhD” to be an expert in a field. “Guess what? You’re an expert. You live it. You know it.”
“I think it was great,” said Chastity Santana, who attended the event at the urging of her PTA president. “I’m trying to raise my children, raise them right. Sometimes I don’t know what to do to make sure my daughters are alright in life. I’m excited to get involved now.”
The series continues with "Empowering Women Voters: Building a Movement," scheduled for Monday, March 20. A panel discussion on empowering women voters is planned, featuring Lydia Kaplan, organizer of the Women's March on Westfield; Julie Diaz, Political Director at 32BJ SEIU; and Marie-Marthelle Guereville of Parano and Associates.
Closing the series will be an event entitled "Young Women: Planting Seeds of Change", scheduled for Monday, March 27. A panel discussion will include Alex Torpey, Former Village President of South Orange and 2011 youngest Mayor of NJ; Sara Todisco, Garwood Councilwoman; Paramus Councilwoman Holly Tedesco-Santos; and Erin Loos Cutraro, Founder of the non-partisan 501c-3 organization, She Should Run.