A little over a year ago thousands of women marched in the streets of Asbury Park as part of the National Women’s March. On February 24 close to 700 women (along with some men) came back to Asbury Park to be part of the first Asbury Park Women’s Convention. The idea for the nonpartisan convention stemmed from a conversation between Asbury Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn and comedian/activist Jess Alaimo over drinks at the local bar Johnny Mac’s.
“We were feeling like we should get women of different political and ethnic backgrounds together to talk about issues that are important to women’s lives” said Quinn.
So they formed an organizing committee of diverse women including: Asbury Councilwoman Yvonne Clayton, Kerry Butch, Linda Phillips, Retha Onitiri, Stephanie Salomnsen, Christina Zuk, Maura Collinsgru, Elizabeth Coulter, Geri Jannarone, Dena Marie Mottola Jaborska, Nina Summerlin and Patricia Teffenhart; and started selling tickets.
Within just two days the group had oversold their original venue of the Asbury Hotel and had to move the convention to the Paramount Theater. Six months later people from all over the state filled the first floor of the theater for a day of comedy, music, education and politics. Panels of state legislators, community activists and leaders educated the attentive and energized audience about the roles they can play to ensure health care, equal pay and addressing sexual violence. Assemblywoman Joann Downey,
Senators Sandra Cunningham and Loretta Weinberg spoke about their respective bills in the legislature to address the gender pay gap the New Jersey women continue to face. The panel on sexual violence addressed the role of the #metoo movement to bring to light issues of harassment and assault, along with conversations about Al Franken and Aziz Ansari. Moderator Patricia Teffanhart reminded the audience that “sexual violence is something that crosses partisan lines”, and that it was up to the women in the room to “vote out the rape culture.”
In addition to the panels, featured speakers included former Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno who declared to the audience she was “free at last.” She went on to encourage women in the room to “find their
voice” and reminded them to “reach as they rise.” She shared her experiences as a woman in predominately male culture and workplaces—sharing her experiences running for Monmouth County Sheriff and Governor. She gave the receptive crowd advice on how to be the “first” woman to do something reminding them to be prepared, to stand up to people who say you can’t do it; get the best education you can and do your homework. At the end of her talk she thanked the audience for giving her the opportunity to “put another face on the Republican Party.”
One of the most moving moments of the day was when journalist Michele Gladden interviewed Former Assemblywoman Maria Rodriquez-Gregg. Reminding the audience that every 98 seconds someone is assaulted in America, Rodriquez-Gregg shared her story of living in a home with domestic violence that culminated with her in the Emergency Room on New Years Day in 2017. She shared the fear, embarrassment and PTSD she experienced; and the courage to leave the relationship and share her story. She told the room how she came to the decision to publicly share her story. “Speaking out lifts the weight off me,” she went on to note that not only was she sharing her story to help other victims of abuse; she also feels it is important for “men to take responsibility for their actions. I have a son and I want him to know this is not OK.”
When asked as a Republican woman where does she fit in the current party with Donald Trump as its head, Rodriguez-Gregg responded: “Is it even my party anymore? It is hard being a Republican woman with the state of the party today.” She went onto note that while she “had some real moments that this is not my party, the party needs a voice like me. Not the cookie cutter but someone to break up the groupthink.” And in the spirit of the day of the Convention, when asked what her next steps are Rodriguez-Gregg responded “to continue to advocate and educate.”