During a two-day event over the weekend, about 6,000 women, including former First Lady Michelle Obama and “black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross, and allies from across the country gathered in Los Angeles to talk about what it means to be a woman in 2018. The event featured breakout discussions and panels that focused on women’s equality.
The first United State of Women Summit was in 2016 in Washington. The message behind this second iteration called on women to take action to support gender equality.
The first day of the summit was at the Shrine Auditorium at the University of Southern California with events fanning out around L.A. on the second day. The summit brought together women across all industries who are interested in building a better future for young women and girls in the United States.
Notable speakers included Obama, Ross, Jane Fonda, Sophia Bush, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Connie Britton, former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth, Yara Shahidi, #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, and Black Lives Matter co-founder and author Patrisse Cullors.
During the first day of the summit women and girls of all ages learned about contemporary feminism, women’s social justice issues and how to support other women.
Adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium, the Shrine Exposition Hall was set up with a display of art installations celebrating the women’s movement and supporting gender equality. There were also booths set up representing businesses and organizations run by women as well as products, food and drinks for sale.
A highlight from the afternoon was when Obama and Ross stepped onstage after a heartwarming introduction from “black-ish” star Marsai Martin and young author Marley Dias. The crowd erupted into cheers, lasting about five minutes, for the former first lady, who was part of the keynote conversation.
Obama and Ross, who are friends, sat on plush white leather chairs center stage and had a candid conversation about childhood memories, life lessons, education and hope — a central theme of former President Obama’s election and reelection campaigns — and what the future might hold for women and girls.
“I find hope in all of these beautiful young people,” Obama said to the crowd. “That’s why when I was first lady, whenever I got down or read some bad clips or something happened I was like, ‘Please just put me with some kids. I just need to be with some kids,’” Obama said of finding inspiration in a younger generation.
“That’s what this is all for,” she said, adding that “because of them we can’t give up. What choice do we have? What future am I passing on to my girls and all our kids if I wake up and I’m hopeless? There is no use in that. All we have is hope.”
Obama also reflected on the 2016 election and she shut down the notion of making her own bid for president in 2020.
“That’s not the answer either,” she said. “When I hear people say, ‘You run,’ it’s part of the problem. We still didn’t get ‘Yes, we can’ right. It’s not, ‘Yes, you can.’ It’s ‘Yes, we can.’ And until we get that right, it doesn’t matter who runs.”
Obama said a major distraction for the country has been looking for the next person to run for president. She said the 2016 election “says something about where we are” as women and collectively how the U.S. has a long way to go when it comes to finding a suitable person to continue leading the country and to electing a woman as president.
Burke delivered a speech about the women’s movement in which she urged women to not only come together for the advancement of women but to also live zealous lives.
“This work is gonna be here, but being alive, you living and thriving, that’s how you speak truth to power,” Burke said. “’Cause they tried to kill us, y’all. They tried to take us out. They tried to tell us that we can’t. And so if you don’t campaign, if you don’t join nothing, if you don’t volunteer nowhere, I want you to live — and let your living, let your existence, be resistance.”