I scaled mountains last week. First, in the rain last Friday for the Women AdvaNCe Summit in Asheville, North Carolina. I delayed departure in hopes the rain would let up and I waited until there were no more minutes to spare regardless of my personal hopes of an idyllic weekend amongst the changing leaves of the mountaintop. This year’s summit theme was #womenmovingmountains and while I feel up to mountain-moving, rain isn’t part of the struggle in my mind’s eye.
The weekend spent with women from across the state began with spoken word and poetry at The Block off Biltmore. Women shared their original work and the work of those they found inspiring on a small stage during our first night on the mountaintop. After the ascent, the rain subsided and left bone-chilling temperatures and wind in its stead. My excitement that the rain had ceased was replaced by layers upon layers of protection against the cold. The community of supportive women and men gathered at “The Block” provided warmth as stories, poetry, experiences and music were shared by fellow climbers.
Saturday was blustery as travelers from all over the state of North Carolina gathered to talk about the “mountain moving” still ahead of us. Many people see the beginnings of gender equality and decide we’ve already arrived. There are days I revel in the accomplishments of women, but other days when I look at the numbers and my personal climb and know there is far to go and much that still needs to be done.
Personal highlights from the summit began with our keynote speaker and mountain top dweller, Mandy Carter, who has been a social justice activist for 51 years. Her knowledge and experience in diversity work is truly humbling. I observed Ms. Carter, after the summit, in an hours-long impromptu listening and sharing session with young women just setting off on their journey. Intergenerational sharing provides continuity and momentum in the work of advancing women. Our stories take different forms, but overarching themes become clear across generations and help us shape strategy.
Jen Jones, the director of communications and digital strategy with Democracy NC provided a mountain top postmortem of the 2018 midterm elections through an exploration of data, stories and lessons to be learned as more women than ever before have been elected to public office this year. Ivanna Gonzales, deputy director of Blueprint NC and partner on the climb, taught summit goers about shifting our organizations to ensure equitable outcomes for workers, partners and communities. ERA NC sent Roberta Madden and Ann Von Brock to the summit to discuss the important tool of full citizenship rights for women under the US Constitution and how North Carolina’s participation in passing the Equal Rights Amendment is crucial to that end.
There were #metoo conversations and breakout sessions with topics like environmental justice, racial equity, the economics of being a woman, upleveling female entrepreneurship, and women’s healthcare to choose from during the morning lightening rounds. The afternoon found the us all in deep and intentional conversations revisiting topics from the morning rounds. These discussions proved crucial for understanding and mapping our way forward. At the end of the day, we were asked to reflect upon our individual roles in mountain moving. What could each of us do in our lives and the lives of the organizations and communities where we dwell?
I learned a lot, but the most significant personal takeaway from the Women AdvaNCe Summit came in the form of a renewed realization of the diversity of women. A gentleman told me once, “If you ladies could get on the same page you might be able to accomplish something.” I’ve never forgotten his sentiment and at times I’ve wished we’d be able to manage “getting on the same page.” Truth is women don’t need to be alike in our thoughts, ideas or beliefs.
Women are people and people have diverse culture, experience and education that lead them to varied understandings of the world. All men don’t share the same ideas and understandings and we’d never ask that they do.
Rigorous and diverse conversation with truth as its goal should drive our democracy. The plethora of women’s voices match those of men’s voices in the chorus of humanity. Women’s rights are human rights; women’s ideas are human ideas; and women’s voices, in all of their diversity, are human voices. Our diverse standpoints are valuable and necessary for our democracy to not only survive, but to thrive. Mountains are moved one step at a time and women are mid-journey. Personal forgiveness and institutional justice must coexist in order for our climb to be realized. These seemingly disparate truths are in fact the way mountains are moved. Obstacles are both inevitable and manageable. Rain in the form of injustice is an integral part of mountain climbing. Rain both feeds and impairs climbers, but warmth is provided as we are in contact with other travelers.
As I found my way home, my resolve to dwell in transformation was renewed. Mountain moving is everyday life work that happens where we live. Scaling “the summit” allows one access to panoramic views, but mountaintop views, while beautiful and inspiring, are not work of change. My Sunday afternoon descent from the Women AdvaNCe Summit filled me we a sense of both hope and purpose for the work ahead. My shovel is ready as I return home and am again positioned at the base of the patriarchal mountain we must collectively move. As I move mountains daily, one shovelful at a time, I am often reminded of the nugget of truth we find in Robert Frost’s words in the closing stanza of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”