Education

Steinem Shares Admiration for New Activists

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The new wave of activism that has arisen in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump is something Gloria Steinem says she’s never seen before.

The famed author and activist said the nation is in what she characterized as an “instructive crisis” following last year’s presidential election.

Steinem, who co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, spoke and fielded student and audience questions Tuesday night at the Youngstown State University Centofanti Symposium. Before her lecture before a full house at Stambaugh Auditorium, she addressed a group of about 50 YSU students and faculty in the auditorium’s Christman Room.

The country is seeing individuals in power whose views “have an utter right to be there and have some merit but do not represent the majority of this country in any public opinion polls on any subject,” Steinem said.

“It has produced an energy and an understanding like I’ve never seen in my life – ever,” she said.

She and others first experienced that energy with the Women’s March on Washington, which was replicated around the world, she said.

“It was like spontaneous combustion,” she remarked. She was particularly moved by an email she received from a crowd of thousands that had gathered around the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, urging her to tell her people that “walls don’t work.”

Reflecting on the emergence of millennials in the new wave of activism and the comparatively small numbers during her earlier experiences in the women’s rights movement, Steinem said she “just had to wait for some of my friends to be born.”

The crisis will make the country stronger, “if we survive,” the feminist icon said.

Several factors led to the election of Trump, she said, including low turnout, voters – after two consecutive presidential elections won by the Democrats – casting their ballots for “change for the sake of change” and the “false equivalence in the media … that coverage should be 50-50 instead of fair.” There is also the “leftover problem of the Electoral College,” which she said the slave states wanted in place out of concern they would be “slighted” otherwise.

“It’s dangerous in a democracy to have people who don’t represent the majority views of the democracy in power, and we see what’s happening. We see how dangerous it is,” she remarked. “We see that there has been a fox appointed to every chicken coop in Washington.”

Steinem also pointed out the connection between sexism and racism.

“There is no such thing as being a feminist without being anti-racist. There is no such thing as being able to contend with racism without also being a feminist, not only because half of everybody is female but also because these caste systems are intertwined and can only be uprooted together,” she said.

Steinem said people don’t connect reproductive freedom to the environment as well as they should because population control was sometimes racist so people might be leery about discussing it. However, she continued, the biggest contributor to global warming is women in many parts of the world who, over centuries, were forced to have children they didn’t want and couldn’t support.

Supporters of progressive causes such as the environment, equality and economic justice have understood “intellectually and emotionally that all of our movements are connected,” she said. “But it’s handy to have someone who’s against all of them.”

Steinem criticized Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was questioned during his confirmation hearing last week about his decision against a trucker who was fired for abandoning his disabled vehicle in freezing temperatures to seek safety.

“He’s a perfectly nice man who kills people with his decisions, including the guy in the truck,” she remarked.

Members of Steinem’s audiences at both events were impressed with the activist and what she had to say.

Mara McCloud of Canfield, a junior at YSU studying history and political science, was among those invited to the earlier session and who attended the lecture.

“She’s been a figure I looked up to my entire life, especially as a woman who’s going into law and going into politics,” McCloud said. “She was one of the biggest sources of inspiration to ignore the negative people and the people who say that women can’t be in those kinds of fields.”

Liz Skeels of Boardman, a sophomore fine arts major who also attended both events, encouraged mothers to share Steinem’s story with their daughters. Her 14-year-old already identifies as a feminist, she said.

“[Steinem’s] message is really powerful, and the younger the person is when they get that message, the more powerful of an impact it will have on their lives,” Skeels said.

Among the things Steinem said that stood out to Skeels was the importance of speaking kindly about other people, she said.

Steinem discussed how in Ghana individuals who acted antisocially were isolated. Upon their reintroduction to society, people who know the individual tell the person for a period of time everything they had done that was good as positive reinforcement.

“That part will stay with me because I do feel that it’s important to find the good in other people and to catch people being nice,” Skeels said.

Mary Kay Griffiths of Canfield, who attended the lecture, said Steinem made clear that people are individuals but they are also connected. “The only way to make any real change is to understand how connected we are,” she said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.