Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 4.25.39 PM

The Feministing Five: Women’s Political Collective The Broad Room

The Broad Room is an all-women political collective in New York City that’s taking down the right-wing agenda and educating the city’s young feminists one newsletter and activist training at a time. 

Started in the wake of Trump’s election by three aides to Mayor Bill De Blasio, the group aims to train an army of badass women to resist the right through distribution of a weekly action letter that tackles topics from net neutrality to white supremacist violence, free monthly trainings taught by experts in their field on how to understand and change government, and a host of networking events that seek to build community for politically minded New York women.

In the past year, The Broad Room has hosted phone banks for progressive female candidates in New York and Virginia, educated over 300 women through trainings on local government, grassroots organizing, and more, grown its weekly memo subscriber list to over 1,500 young women looking to make a change, and been featured in NYMag’s The Cut, Bustle, and The Riveter.

For this week’s Feministing Five, I had the pleasure of catching up with Elana Leopold, Monica Klein, and Anna Poe-Kest, the directors of The Broad Room, about the joys and challenges of starting a women’s collective from the ground up and their hopes for the future of this all-female activist army. If you’re local to NYC, be sure to catch a Broad Room training or networking event as soon as you can, and no matter where you are be sure to subscribe to the weekly Broad Memo for a digestible deep dive into critical political issues. You can also find The Broad Room on Twitter and Instagram!

Senti Sojwal: How did the idea for the Broad Room come about? What’s the whole process been like of starting this collective?

Monica Klein: After Trump’s election, a group of us were depressed and frustrated and needed a way to turn our anger into something slightly more productive. So Elana suggested a group of women from work get together at her apartment and brainstorm what we could do next. About twelve of us ended up getting together—and since most of us had met through working for Mayor de Blasio, we all had backgrounds in politics. We want to make political activism more accessible and engaging for young women. Starting an organization from scratch is confusing and complicated—from deciding what issues and campaigns we want to focus on, to creating a budget, to finding places to meet, to fundraising—but if you have a group of like-minded, committed women, it’s not that hard either. If there is any silver lining to Trump winning election, I think it reminded every woman in America that if someone as ignorant as Trump could become President, we could certainly achieve whatever we set our minds to.

Elana Leopold: Trump’s win was devastating, but we knew that we couldn’t just sit around and be upset—we had to turn our rage into action. The three of us work in politics, but had many friends who didn’t, who were beginning to realize that they could no longer sit on the sidelines. They wanted to be involved, but didn’t know where to get started. We wanted to make sure the tools and resources we had at our fingertips could be widely available to our networks and beyond. So we started the Broad Room with the goal of giving women in NYC the tools and resources they needed to take action and fight back. We’re constantly evolving and growing as an organization and community, but our guiding principle is that inaction equals complacency. So for every training we do, we make sure there’s a follow-up action to put your new skills into practice.

Anna Poe-Kest: Our origin story mimics that of many other amazing groups that have cropped up over this past year. We were disheartened and frustrated and spending a lot of time pulling ourselves together in each other’s living rooms. But it’s not in any of our natures to wallow. We recognized that, after years in NYC government and politics, we had developed a basic political fluency, an understanding of how to plug in and turn anger into action, and a roster of A+ mentors. That knowledge and those resources were incredibly empowering. That’s what we latched onto during those early tear-soaked days in late 2016. The world of politics and political activism can often feel impenetrable. They can be bureaucratic, (often purposefully) insular and, frankly, dominated by men. We were surrounded by so many brilliant and committed young women hungry to take action in the wake of Trump’s presidency. We wanted to make sure these all of these women—who flooded the streets in D.C. and cramped subways to JFK—had the tools, knowledge, and networks, to continue showing up.

Sojwal: What are you most proud of in what you have achieved so far with the Broad Room?

Klein: Our organizing committee is incredible. The Broad Room is led by a group of 15 women who meet regularly to plan our next steps, and when we’re not meeting in person, we’re constantly texting, emailing, and editing The Broad Memo, our weekly action letter, together. When you’re just three women thinking about launching a free political training camp for young women, it can seem like too much to take on while working full-time jobs. Once you find other women who want to spend time every week working toward the same goal, it gets much easier. We held our official launch party at the end of April—which was less than seven months ago. And already, we’ve trained over 300 women to take political action at our free monthly trainings, made over 2,000 calls for progressive women running for office, written 40 weekly action letters on key political topics, and built up a subscription list of over 1,500 readers. When we stop and look back at those numbers, it’s pretty incredible how much our organizing committee has built.

Leopold: I leave every one of our trainings feeling energized and hopeful. Once a month we gather around 50 women on a weekend afternoon to learn a new skill to help them in their activist journey. I’m always inspired by the women across sectors who come with a real commitment to learning hard skills to take political action. We’ve had some really impressive trainers. Our last training was on community organizing taught by Emma Wolfe (Director of the Mayor’s office of Intergovernmental Affairs) and Jahmila Joseph (Associate Director of DC 37) on community organizing. By the time we left the training we had over 50 women who knew how to identify an issue, build an organizing plan and create a coalition of people to take action.

Poe-Kest: Honestly, I’m still semi-stunned every time we pack a house with young women whose drive seems to have grown to match the atrocity of Trump’s (and the GOP’s) actions. Sustained activism isn’t easy—the wins are often small and infrequent. And the daily variety show of horrors—from the Capital  to Charlottesville—can be totally paralyzing. But women keep showing up. We’ve managed to tap into and speak to a real desire from our peers—which is incredibly exciting.

Sojwal: How do you hope to see The Broad Room continue to grow and evolve in the future?

Klein: We describe ourselves as an all-female activist army, so we’re focused on growing our recruits and building The Broad Room into an even stronger force. We’d love to expand our membership even more, continue to hold larger trainings, and play a strong role in helping elect true progressives up and down the ballot in New York in 2018. We also want to diversity The Broad Room in every way possible. Our goal is to bring women from outside the political spectrum into activism, so we want women from every background and profession, to become an official member and join us.

Leopold: I’m excited to see our membership continue to grow. 2018 is going to be a big year for progressives and for women specifically, and I think The Broad Room can play a really instrumental role in ensuring that we elect real change agents who represent our interests.

Poe-Kest: Exactly. Right now we’re focused on growing our numbers and enlisting more women so our collective action can continue to have greater and greater impact. That means more opportunities to plug in, train up, and affect change.

Sojwal: What feminist/political issue is closest to your heart right now? How can feminist/women’s political communities organize around this issue?

Klein: Electing women is an important goal, but we need to make sure we’re supporting truly progressive women—and that means women who are on the front lines fighting economic oppression. We need to build a bench of young, diverse candidates who have a real platform to address economic inequality—especially because these inequities affect women, and people of color, above all. Candidates need to support raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave and paid family leave, and providing universal healthcare—policies that we know will help those struggling the most right now.

Leopold: Yes, one of our main focuses is training up women to support other women who are running for office. We’re doing this by training our members fundraise, community organize, phone bank and door knock for the progressive female candidates they support. There’s so much to be done on a very local level. In our own backyard we have elected leaders who claim to be Dems, but caucus with Republicans as part of the IDC. This is unacceptable and we hope through our work with The Broad Room, we can help to elect truly progressive candidates who are committed to protecting the rights of women, immigrants and people of color.

Poe-Kest: November’s election was notable for so many important wins, but right here in NYC, our 51 person City Council is down to an embarrassingly low 11 women. And turnout was only 14 percent. That down ballot bench is crucial as we move forward towards 2018, 2020, and beyond. But more than that, policies that determine tangible issues like housing, education, and criminal justice are made on the local level. Pay attention to the council races, school boards, and state officials. Over the past decade, Dems lost nearly 1000 state leg seats. That’s where we need to start throwing support (a.k.a. your time and money) behind local candidates with strong progressive platforms. And we need get started now—there are countless local and national groups you can plug into. Join The Broad Room, if you want to get trained up on how to be a stronger female activist. Check out VoteProChoice if you’re interested in pro-choice advocacy. Look up EmergeNY if you’re a woman thinking of running for office yourself and want to gain the skills and tools to win. Find out about the Working Families Party if you’re looking for a pro-worker political party fighting economic inequality. There are tons of stellar organizations out there.

Sojwal: Can you share one badass feminist in the world that inspiring you today and why?

Klein: Angela Rye. She’s a brilliant and unapologetic activist and attorney. She hosts a weekly podcast where she talks about racism, sexism, and how we can build up the resistance—and she just gets how to speak to young people and inspire them to take action. Just listen to her lecture on activism.

Leopold: Elaine Welterworth. She’s became Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue at 29. In the last year, she’s transformed the publication to highlight issues of social justice and real women out in their fields making change. She is fierce advocate for young women specifically and someone that I hope to emulate as we continue to grow The Broad Room.

Poe-Kest: Going to stay real close to home here and shout out my stepmother Kemi Ilesanmi, the Executive Director of a small but incredibly impactful arts organization called The Laundromat Project. Their theory of change revolves around the notion that the arts amplify, connect, and build community. On an individual level, I deeply admire the way she strives to empower the artists, colleagues, staff, friends and entire communities that surround her.

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Read more about Senti

Join the Conversation