Retrospective on the 4th UN World Conference on Women

A banner that says Hillary in 96Hillary Clinton. Without a doubt in my mind, she is by far the most qualified, talented, and capable person we could possibly put in the White House next year. I say this as a strong supporter of Hillary for the past two decades.

In September 1995, I was a delegate to the 4th UN World Conference on Women with over 30,000 other women from around the world. Though I was in a Ph.D. program at the time, I was there in Huairou, China, representing a local organization that I had helped start, the Bay Area Girls Action Network. We had created a guide to girls’ education that we were presenting at the conference. Daily interaction with women activists from all over the world was in itself life-changing, though one rainy afternoon in particular stands out for me.

Hillary Clinton had been scheduled to address the UN and conference participants, but the night before we were told that her talk would be moved to a much smaller venue—one that would not accommodate the majority of the delegates. There had been a growing concern among the local officials of her ability to “influence” the crowd and stir up trouble in an already tense political environment. Nonetheless, a large crowd gathered outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Clinton, or to at least hear her speak from the loud speakers outside. Instead, a stand-off of sorts occurred, with the Chinese national anthem blaring and a security brigade locking arms around the outside of the building.

The night before, a couple of us located a department store nearby and bought a bed sheet and black markers to make a protest banner.  As we sat contemplating what political slogan to write—not wanting to be too provocative (and be arrested). I said, “I got it, let’s write ‘Hillary in 1996’ and tell everyone she is running for President next year!”

As we unfurled our banner on the steps that day, we got a lot of cheers and laughs from those who understood the subliminal message we were sending. Many other women came up to us and asked what she was running for, and we said, “President!” One of my favorite moments was when Donna Shalala walked by and shouted “Yes!”

Her remarks to U.N. delegates, the transcript of which we were only we able to get ahold of two days later via the U.S. press, by checking our email thanks to 40-woman team of APC communications experts who provided internet connectivity and training to all participants in a makeshift “internet cafe”, was nothing short of amazing. For those of you who might not remember, there is where she emphatically stated to the world, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” You can view the full talk here.

The New York Times wrote, “Mrs. Clinton’s gravity and directness seemed to please both Democratic and Republican members of the United States delegation here, and thus the speech may trump the political disputes that have plagued both Mrs. Clinton’s decision to travel here and the Administration’s approach to China.” This speaks volumes to the risks she has continued to take throughout her career to represent all voices.

Twenty years later, I am holding the banner for Hillary once again, except this time, it’s for real. And yes, I’m sure there will be more well-funded attacks on her credibility– it used to be headbands and health care, now emails and other distractions. The amount of money being raised by Republicans is astronomical—and that translates into more firepower used for cunning branding, misleading PR, and twisted messaging. If people were actually empowered to vote in their own self-interest, she would certainly be the next President of the United States.

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