In 1991, Anita Hill was the bravest woman I could imagine. I was a junior in high school and fascinated that a Supreme Court justice confirmation could be held up due to actions that I saw occurring on a daily basis in our hallways. The hearings occurred during school, but I caught highlights when I got home from my busy day. She seemed so small compared to the hearing room and the questions asked of her; yet in my memory she never wavered. Twenty years later, I listened to Anita Hill tell her side of the story at 27th Annual Luncheon for the Chicago Foundation for Womenlast week.
Erin Dall, who works at the Ho-Chunk Nation, attended because the Ho-Chunk Nation has sponsored a table at the luncheon for at least two years. “I like hearing from powerful women. I want to hear her point of view.” Dall felt assured that she is protected from sexual harassment and that was due to Hill’s testimony.
A short video recapping the hearings was played and the late-Senator Kennedy said essentially the same thing when he thanked Hill for testifying. In his usual eloquent manner, he assured Hill that her testimony, no matter what the outcome of the vote on Thomas, would change the landscape for every woman in the USA.
The theme of the luncheon was “Stand Up and Speak Out” and that was clearly on the minds of attendees. The first words that came to former Congresswoman and author Debbie Halvorson to describe Anita Hill were “independence” and “strength.” While she glowed about Hill, she was troubled to note that not enough women are speaking their minds. “Women should not give up power to avoid discourse.”
Ms. Hill addressed her standing up and the repercussions. She was honest in her reflections of the difficulty, reminding us that the university she was working at tried to revoke her tenure and of the verbal assaults she endured. Ms. Hill thanked the audience for their support over the years. “Because of people like you, I am still standing.”
She knew that she was fighting for the integrity of the court and as a lawyer knew the impact that the court has on our lives, even when we do not always see it. Ms. Hill knew that we deserve a court that protects the country’s citizens. Yet, decision after decision, the court shows us that they do not understand our lives.
Ms. Hill cited the 1999 Davis v Monroe County Board of Education ruling, which stated that schools are responsible for protecting students from harassment. The vote was 5-4 with Justice O’Connor writing for the majority and Justice Kennedy writing the stinging dissent. Justice Kennedy wrote, “the real world of school discipline is a rough and tumble place where students practice newly learned vulgarities, erupt with anger, tease and embarrass each other, share offensive notes, flirt, push and shove in the halls, grab and offend…” as to why schools should be held accountable. Ms. Hill reminded us, “Today, we do not have Justice O’Connor on the bench and Justice Kennedy is the swing vote.”
“The Supreme Court mattered when I testified, The Supreme Court matters today.”
As Ms. Hill said, in a time when there is a growing number of single parent households spending half of their income to just keep a roof over their head, when where you live determines how much violence, quality education and fresh food is in our life, the Supreme Court matters. This is why she took the risk of speaking out. “Risk has its rewards,” Ms. Hill said.
A delegation of Congresswoman took a big risk in breaking protocol and demanded that the vote happen after Ms. Hill testified. Yes, the delegation led by Pat Schroeder, Patsy Mink and Eleanor Holmes Norton, were in comfortable and safe districts, but that should be expected for those in a comfortable place. Today Ms. Hill sees far too many women in comfortable positions not speaking out. Those women, Ms. Hill asserts, are role models for men. If those women are ok with harassment, pay inequity and injustice in the world, all women must be and relieves men from concern.
Ms. Hill implored that even if it may feel lonely standing up for justice, we must do it. She had no idea what her speaking up would do for the world. For Mairita Smiltars, of McAlpine Consulting, this ripple effect is what she finds fascinating about Anita Hill. And this is what Ms. Hill was teaching us. We may stand up alone, but soon others will join us.
Society has made a lot of progress in terms of women’s rights, but we still have a long way to go. We won’t get there alone, we can only get there together. Injustice for one woman is injustice for all of us. That is what the Chicago Foundation for Women is all about. CFW is a collective force where women can, through time and money, support other women who are in need. This need includes providing training and education so women like Tawnee, who told her story obtained training at the Jane Addams Resource Corporation. Tawnee has gone from being a convicted meth addict to a licensed welder who supports her young son and herself. As CFW founder, Iris Krieg, said, “Women must support other women.”
This is what Anita Hill did for us in 1991, this is what we do when we donate to CFW and what we should do every day of our lives. If we don’t, who will?