By Elizabeth Stortroen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Hard economic times aren’t going to stand in the way of the 270 or so women who showed up at the Colorado History Museum at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, for the 20th Annual Legislative Breakfast on Women’s Issues.
Keynote speaker Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way, led off the call to action with a quotation from American poet Adrienne Rich.
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic and the most potentially transforming force on the planet,” she said.
Stressing the need for women to unite and take action, Benero told the group, “It is a unique language to each other and on behalf of each other. I believe it is a language of hope, a language of equity, a language of justice, a language of what the future can and what the future must be for Colorado.
“This is a changing landscape for all of us, and we have the opportunity to paint what that landscape is going to look like,” Benero said. “This room is full of women and men who are fearless, who share a sense of urgency and a strong desire to work together.”
At a Legislative Breakfast on Women’s Issues a few years ago, LaTerrell Bradford, of Denver, had absorbed a similar message and put it into action.
“I wanted to come to get informed on women’s issues,” Bradford said of her first Legislative Breakfast. “I was always interested in politics, and I was interested in how it worked and how it affected me as a Coloradan. But I really didn’t know how to get involved.”
Through the networking that came from that breakfast, Bradford became involved with 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, an organization that pushes for equal workplace opportunities for working-class women.
She now serves as co-chair of the Colorado chapter’s board of directors.
“I believe it was the Legislative Breakfast that opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the state to get involved and help move women forward,” Bradford said. “I appreciate the empowerment this breakfast gives me to take steps and actions on my own behalf for the future.
Westminster City Councilwoman Faith Winter, co-chair of the breakfast committee, said she hopes each person takes the event as a starting point and leaves with new passion for social involvement.
“I believe the breakfast is really important because it is such an accessible way for women to come together and get involved. It could be really intimidating to go to the Capitol or call your legislators for the first time,” Winter said.
“Their voices can affect the legislation and bills that get passed, which can have a direct impact on their lives,” said Winter, who stressed the importance of women realizing that “individually or together, they can have an impact.”
Winter first realized she could have an impact when she attended the Legislative Breakfast years ago. Winter was speaking with Joan Fitz-Gerald, the first female Senate president in Colorado, who suggested that she run for office.
“It was Joan Fitz-Gerald who got me thinking about running for office at one of these breakfasts years ago,” Winter said.
Today, Winter, 28, is the youngest woman elected to office in the state. She said she has the Legislative Breakfast to thank for that.
She also noted that the event offers political newbies a basic grounding on issues that matter to women and girls in Colorado and an introduction to the organizations that advocate on their behalf.
Representatives of more than 60 such organizations co-sponsored the breakfast and gathered in the museum’s Boettcher Auditorium to offer brochures and answer questions for meeting-goers.
Tuesday’s breakfast was the first for Janel Highfill, vice president of programs and policy at Parent Pathways, a Denver-based nonprofit that provides support for teen parents.
Highfill viewed the event as a unique opportunity to network with other organizations, build new partnerships and gain a refreshed sense of her organization’s call to action.
“It was energizing to be in a packed room with a group of people who share your common interests,” Highfill said. “I truly believed in Christine’s call — that now is the time, as philanthropists, to dig deep and do what is good for our community.”
Moderator Polly Baca, who, in 1974, became the first Hispanic woman elected to Colorado’s Legislature, led the morning’s discussion with a panel that included Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver; Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield.
Primavera, a survivor of breast cancer, talked about her sponsorship of House Bill 1164, which would add $25 to the cost of each breast cancer awareness vanity license plate. The additional money would be designated for breast cancer treatment programs.
“Considering not one penny goes to breast cancer funds now from the sale of these license plates, we need to make a change,” Primavera said. “We need to treat those women who fall through the cracks of our health-care system. And I believe these license plates can do that.”
Roberts noted that grassroots involvement remains vital, regardless of the economy, because lawmakers depend on input from citizens and advocacy organizations to help them decide where to put their priorities.