On March 25, Senator Alessandra Biaggi hosted a virtual town hall to celebrate Women’s History Month.
The inspiring meeting featured a diverse panel of women in positions of power in the state of New York: Assembly Members Karines Reyes and Amanda Septimo and District Attorneys Mimi Rocah and Darcel D. Clark. The panel was moderated by Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party.
Nnaemeka kicked off the evening by sharing a few thoughts about the significance of the women’s agenda during this “moment of intersecting crises.” Nnaemeka then introduced a prerecorded video of Attorney General Leticia James to set the tone for the discussion.
“Women’s history month prompts us to reflect on how far women have come in our fight for equal rights in this country, but also how far we have to go,” James said. “There are many structural changes needed to foster a society that respects and protects women, that values their work and expands opportunities for all women.”
The town hall went on to feature Karines Reyes, who spoke about the intersection of policy and racial injustice, as well as her perspective as a former nurse. Reyes also discussed her recent successful bill to remove the word “incorrigible” from the family court law, and how that legislative decision is fighting against deep-rooted issues.
“Incorrigible means unable to be corrected,” Reyes said. “That’s a term that’s often been used to label young girls who don’t conform to a standard of femininity that is usually classist and racist and based on a patriarchy. “We believe there’s no place in our family court system to be labeling young children, and young girls particularly, as incorrigible.”
Septimo spoke next about her campaign’s infrastructure in the south Bronx and the community that was formed throughout the pandemic. She maintained that legislative policies failed to meet the needs of the public during the unprecedented times, and that grassroots support was essential in local communities.
Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah next addressed injustice in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence. Rocah explained trauma-informed approaches to these cases, propelled by her determination to end victim-blaming and gun violence. She punctuated her response by saying that these are not just women’s problems, but the community’s problems, and they need to be prioritized as such.
Clark is the first woman as Bronx D.A., as well as the first African-American woman in her position. In her time on the panel, Clark spoke about her experience as a judge that not only listens to victims’ stories, but makes sure that the victim feels heard and supported in their difficult situations.
Lastly, before the virtual panel turned to a roundtable discussion, host Biaggi thanked the panelists for their insight, emphasizing the importance of representation in government. The senator summarized the Marshall Plan for Moms bill that she is pushing to implement. The bill would establish a Marshall Plan for Moms taskforce in the State that would essentially make policy recommendations to help address the impact of the economic fallout from COVID-19 on mothers. The goal is to find ways to provide support for mothers and caregivers. Biaggi also spoke about the importance of women’s representation in politics, as well as the challenges of trying to change the culture in a patriarchal society.
“So many of the laws and the systems that we are working in, living in, and even the air that we breathe – every single thing that we’re experiencing regularly – they were not built by women,” Biaggi said. “They were majority built by men, and predominantly white men. “Right now, [the focus] is both creating new spaces and transforming the laws, but it’s also dismantling a lot of the systems that only worked for a certain number of people for a very set period of time.”
The roundtable discussion was open for response by any of the attendees. Nnaemeka posed the final question, submitted by a community member: What motivates you when you become discouraged or frustrated? A lively conversation ensued as the women, with shared camaraderie, weighed the triumphs of their positions against the heartbreaking injustices they so often see. Even through a virtual meeting, the Town Hall participants shared knowing smiles and laughed, or sighed, at each other’s anecdotes. The women passionately came to an unshocking, yet still inspiring, consensus – they persevere for the sake of the communities they’re representing.
“I think about work that wouldn’t happen if I weren’t here. That’s always what I come back to,” Septimo said . “We see women doing this all the time, in communities every day, being rooted in their purpose. Whether its on a microlevel like family or broader in community or broadest in politics. Women lean into their purpose and bring the rest of everyone else along with us. We’ve seen it for years and we’re seeing it in this room now and I’m really proud to be a part of this.”
The full video of the meeting is available on Senator Biaggi’s Facebook page.