Denise Davis, the director of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), will never forget the text message she received from her aunt after the results of the 2016 presidential election were announced. “I have never felt so insignificant as a woman,” her aunt wrote. Following the election, the WRC sought to create a conference to further the political engagement and participation of women. The result was Persist, a conference that seeks to prepare women for engagement in the political field.
The Oct. 26 event marks the second-annual Persist conference. “We recognize that running for office isn’t for everyone,” stated Davis to the 300-400 attendants inside HUB 302, “and that’s okay. There are many ways to make an impact.”
California Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo was the first keynote speaker. Carrillo shared her experiences being a politically active first-generation American of Salvadorian and Mexican heritage. Carrillo was a broadcast journalist for 12 years and covered many controversial stories such as the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) before getting elected to office. While covering DAPL, Carrillo was tear gassed in her tent. Carrillo stayed to cover DAPL even though her parents were concerned for her safety.
“Sometimes you get the call for justice and you just have to answer it, and that’s what I did,” Carrillo stated. Carrillo decided to run for office because she disagreed with the policies of the current presidential administration. “I’m not going to wait for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that it is my turn,” Carrillo stated.
Award-winning columnist and publisher Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, the second keynote speaker, aspired to run for political office from a very young age. When Brown-Hinds was six years old, she experienced campaigning when her father ran for city council in San Bernardino. “Politics is part of my family’s DNA,” Brown-Hinds stated as she recalled how her family became involved in her father’s campaigning process. Brown-Hinds originally entered college as a political science major, planned to attend law school and enter politics. She changed her major, however, after taking her first political science class in college and hating it. As an English major, Brown-Hinds found her passion in literature and writing. Brown-Hinds explained that one does not need to run for political office in order to be politically active. She told the audience how two women who she looks up to, Mary Ann Shadd and Ida B. Wells, paved the way for women of color through their journalism and activism.
Janice Rutherford, second district supervisor in San Bernardino, was the third keynote speaker. After noticing the few hands from people considering to run for public office, Rutherford began by stating that she did not plan to run for public office at first. While recruiting candidates in her community, every one of the people she was recruiting told her to run for office because she was prepared for it through her experience. “Even though I never intended or aspired for public office it was what I was called to do,” Rutherford reflected. Rutherford emphasized that one does not need to be an elected official or have a title to change the world. “The way you change the world is by serving other people,” she stated.
This year’s Persist added a new component called Mentoring Cafe, where individuals can receive a speed-mentoring session with female leaders working within the public sector. Among the mentors were congressional staffer Monique Pierce, Glocally Connected Chairwoman of the Board Erin Edwards who is also currently running for Riverside City Council, CEO and Founder of Hidden Gems Enterprise Tonya Burke, and Senior Strategist for Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Torie Osborn.
During lunch, Jacqui Casillas from Planned Parenthood moderated a student activist panel. Biane Arias, a fourth-year political science and public service major, was one of the student activists who was part of the panel. “I attended (Persist 2017) because I was stuck,” began Arias. “I was motivated to improve myself professionally and empower women, but I didn’t know how to get started.” Arias attended Persist last year to hear the motivating words from the speakers and learn how to start her political career. At the conference, Arias met with a fellow from Ignite, a national non-partisan organization based in Oakland that encourages young women to engage in politics, who encouraged Arias and another student to co-found an Ignite chapter at UCR.
This year, Davis asked Arias to return to the conference and share her advice on what keeps her motivated to do her work in activism. The Persist conference is not only an opportunity for women to learn about politics but to help women like Arias become the changemakers they seek to be. “I feel (there are) a lot of young women (that were) like me last year that want to be involved and have the energy but don’t have the encouragement or know-how to get started,” explained Arias. “I think having an elected official speak to you and interact with you is a powerful thing. You are able to see yourself in that position when you hear their story and struggles.”
The latter part of the conference was spent with breakout sessions that covered a variety of different aspects of political involvement.
Erika Lara, a third-year transfer student and anthropology major, was a volunteer at Persist. Throughout the conference, Lara found time to attend one of the breakout sessions, “Palm Springs City Council: LGBTQ Representation in Politics.” In the session, council members Christy Holstege and Lisa Middleton, who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, spoke about their experiences being a part of the first city council in California made up entirely of LGBTQ members. “Hearing their perspectives as women and as a trans woman was really interesting,” commented Lara.
While 2018 has been referred to by journalists as the Year of the Woman due to the increase of women running for office, women still have many challenges to overcome.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women make up less than 26 percent of local, state and federal government. In terms of women’s representation in state government, California ranks 25th in the nation. In the US Congress, out of the 170 women, only 38 are women of color. In the Riverside City Council, there is not a single councilwoman.
“Persist 2017 was the first event of its kind in the Inland Empire region,” began Davis. “We remain the only event in this area that focuses primarily on furthering women’s political engagement and participation. Women of color and the LGBTQ community are tremendously underrepresented at every level of government, so UCR provides an ideal setting to get more of these minoritized communities engaged and connected to resources to help them lead.”