“We women people, we are used to saving other folk; we’ve been doing it a very long time,” said Oprah Winfrey, keynote speaker of the 2019 Women in the World Summit on Wednesday night. “And we need to first and foremost honor the sacred time of saving ourselves because that is where our greatest power lies.”
Oprah, who began her remarks with a performance of Sojourner Truth’s famed 1851 “Ain’t I Woman?” speech, is one of many activists, scholars, journalists, personalities and more joining Tina Brown’s 10th annual three-day celebration of female thought and leadership, this year taking place at Lincoln Center in New York City. Together, they are gathering “to confront society’s most pressing issues; from human rights violations to climate change, social media misinformation to reproductive rights, and how to solve these problems, as women, together,” according to a release.
This year’s summit, which can be followed via livestream, also includes Stacey Abrams, Dr. Brittney Cooper and former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison. Last night’s festivities opened with a performance by inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States Amanda Gorman, accompanied by a dance choreographed by Sherrie Silver (“This Is America”). Referencing this weekend’s Coachella festival and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention (the first acknowledged women’s convention), founder Tina Brown humorously described Women in the World as “Burning Woman!”
Among the many gems already dropped this year, an overriding theme has been that women, often the unacknowledged saviors of the world, need to adjust our own oxygen masks first.
“Save yourself, and then offer what you know to save your family, and then your community, and then your world,” said Oprah.
“If we want to save the world, we’ve got to continue to rock the boat. To join forces, to scrap the rules. And then when the smoke clears and all the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done settle down, we need to reinvent the game,” she added. “I don’t need tell any of you that the game was not built on an even playing field. We prove ourselves, again and again and again, and we maintain a healthy skepticism, but we refuse to become cynical.”
Dr. Mae Jemison took the message to a macro level while speaking about climate change on a panel, telling the audience that space is “not a Plan B” and that we earthlings have to “save ourselves.”
“We actually have incredible and sufficient amounts of technology, sufficient amounts of data, sufficient amounts of knowledge to know that we have to do something,” Jemison said. “We are not connected, we don’t see ourselves as involved. We think we can wait it out.”
Dr. Brittney Cooper, feminist scholar and author of Eloquent Rage, drew connections historically, tracing a very clear through-line between racial justice movements and feminist movements.
As this piece was being readied for press, Stacey Abrams was discussing her history-making 2018 gubernatorial run on Day 2 of the summit, discussing with Brown how some can’t envision a black woman’s capacity for leadership, and the important message about civic participation she learned from her grandparents’ experience in the Jim Crow South. And though she neither confirmed nor denied a presidential run, Abrams also discussed what it will take to win in 2020.
Considering what will truly make America a great place to be again is a discussion we all need to be having—with women at the forefront, as Oprah pointed out.
“We live in a country that has somehow confused cruel with funny, serious with intelligent, attitude with belief, personal freedom with stockpiling assault weapons, and what is moral with what is legal,” she said. “So it is time for women in the world to set the agenda. It’s time for women to redefine the message. We need to make that message a positive one. Let’s make it ambitious, and inclusive, and brimming with hope.”
The Glow Up tip: You can catch up on all the summit’s speeches and follow along live on the Women in the World YouTube channel.