Hundreds of women (and a few men) from all corners of the country will gather in Asheville June 20-22 to explore their roles as leaders in the 21st century.
Jane Fonda to give keynote address
by Anne Fitten Glenn
No plain Jane: Actress, author and activist Jane Fonda gives a talk titled “Our Leadership is Needed” on Saturday, June 21, at the Time for Our Power! conference.
Two-time Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda will give the keynote address at the Southeastern Time for Our Power Conference. Also known as an author, political activist and fitness guru, Fonda, 70, will give a talk titled “Our Leadership is Needed” on Saturday, June 21.
Her current pursuits include work with the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (which she founded and whose board she chairs) and serving on the board of the Women’s Media Center, which she also co-founded.
“Because Jane Fonda is such an icon of our generation, it is thrilling to be in her presence,” says conference co-organizer Patty Levesque. “The first time I saw her at the Omega Conference, where I shook her hand, I felt so excited because of my admiration for her. Then I went on to appreciate her openness in speaking to this large group of women from all over the world. She was both strong and humble at the same time.”
The New York-based Omega Institute for Holistic Studies has held five Women and Power conferences, beginning in 2004.
Although she’s been an inspiration to generations of women, Fonda’s political activism famously caused controversy when she visited North Vietnam in 1972. Fonda was photographed and videotaped sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that had probably shot down American planes. She was 25 years old.
“I remember sitting on an upturned ammo crate at a remote firebase in 1969 watching Barbarella on a small screen—the thuds of distant artillery accompanying the soundtrack,” says local author Ralph Roberts. “Later on, I saw that infamous photo of her in a North Vietnamese Army helmet on an anti-aircraft gun. The majority of Vietnam veterans, like myself, considered her a traitor to consort with the enemy during wartime as she did.”
Fonda later apologized for the photograph, though she’s said she doesn’t regret her opposition to the war.
“Yes, she has expressed regret for her actions, [but] what she did then hurt us veterans—and, indeed, America,” says Roberts.
Past controversies notwithstanding, the coveted speaker’s appearance is sure to draw people to the conference.
“Frankly, I was attracted by Jane Fonda’s participation as a speaker,” says retired teacher and former Buncombe County Commissioner Patsy Keever. “Whether one agrees with her actions or not, she has certainly been an outspoken role model for many.”
Author Vicki Donlan, who’s also a conference presenter, says she’s looking forward to hearing Fonda speak because “She’s one of those rare women who’ve been able to forge ahead and overcome her past mistakes.”
After close to 50 years in the spotlight, Fonda can offer a historical take on women’s power, as well as hope for women’s emerging leadership roles.
As conference co-organizer Maureen McDonnell notes: “We have some of the most amazing women in the world living in Asheville. And this conference gives us the chance to bring some of the most amazing women in the world to Asheville.”
Julia Butterfly Hill: A muse muses
by Anne Fitten Glenn
Whatever it takes: Hill, who spent two years living in a California redwood to save it from loggers, will speak on “Saving the Earth.”
Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill lived in a 180-foot-tall California redwood from late 1997 through late 1999. Her mission was to prevent loggers from cutting down the tree she nicknamed “Luna.” Hill’s commitment saved the majestic tree, and after descending from its branches, she became an author and social-change activist.
Co-organizer Lisa Watters agrees, saying, “This conference isn’t afraid to be strong. We need to claim our power as women, and it’s time for it.”
Internationally renowned photographer Phil Borges is one of three male speakers on the program. The Seattle resident is the author and photographer behind Women Empowered (Rizzoli, 2007), which presents portraits and profiles of women from various developing areas of the world. His talk, titled “Stirring the Fire,” will address gender discrimination and empowering women in the developing world.
The other two men, Jack Zimmerman and H Hanson, will co-present an experiential workshop titled “How to Live With a Goddess: What Men Need to Know Live Successfully with an Empowered Woman—But are Afraid to Ask” that will give men a chance to share their own experiences living with empowered women.
Most of the talks will be given in the Asheville Civic Center’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, while breakout sessions and workshops will play out at assorted downtown venues, including the Haywood Park Hotel and Jubilee! Community church.
To support environmental sustainability, organizers say, all events will be within walking distance of one another.
Birth of a women’s conference
Conference organizers Levesque and Watters (both Mountain Xpress staffers) attended the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies’ first Women and Power conference in New York City in 2004. They heard Fonda and others speak and were so inspired that they attended again two years later. That time, they came away with the idea of hatching a similar conference in their hometown.
Watters wrote about her experiences at Omega in WNC Woman magazine. McDonnell, a professional conference coordinator, read the article and contacted Watters and Levesque, saying, “Let’s make this happen in Asheville.”
The threesome began meeting and planning in February 2007, usually while sharing good food.
Hill will serve on the Time for Our Power Conference‘s sustainability panel on Sunday, June 22. Titled “Women’s Role in Saving the Planet,” it will feature Hill, renowned activist and author Starhawk and Janell Kapoor, founder of Kleiwerks International and The Ashevillage Institute.
Hill took a few minutes to talk with Xpress about what she wants to impart at the women’s conference and about her work with Circle of Life (www.circleoflife.org).
Mountain Xpress: The title of your talk is “Saving the Earth.” Why do you think women today need to be leaders in sustainability and earth conservation?Julia Butterfly Hill: What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves—there is no separation. Women, children and the elderly are most susceptible to diseases, malnutrition and starvation, deformities and these types of things that are directly linked to the degradation and devastation of our planetary body. It is a matter of survival. It is a matter of respect. It is a matter of deep and profound love.
What about the Time for Our Power Conference appeals to you as a speaker? As a woman?
A big part of why I agreed to participate … is because I was asked to be on a panel and co-lead with other women. I chose to take myself mostly out of the public spotlight over the last two years after having spent seven years touring all over the world, averaging about 250 events a year. I say yes to very few requests now (Time for Our Power is one of only seven events I am doing all year). When I do say yes, I look for things where I am not the one-woman “Julia Butterfly Show.” I like collaboration and conversation versus what I call “speechifying.”
You’ve been a longtime supporter of environmental causes. What are you currently working on? What’s most significant to you about this work?
I do most of my work now behind the scenes, in support roles. My organization Circle of Life and I launched a new social-profit organization last year call the Engage Network. It links together small groups to create deeply connected, purposefully driven and inspired individuals for lasting change. One of the sectors of the network is called “What’s Your Tree?” which takes people on a journey to help turn inspiration into action within the framework of self-discovery and building community. I do professional and personal life-coaching, helping people uncover their own unique purpose, passion and power. I also help raise money for organizations that I have built relationships with over the years.
I know that lasting change has to happen from the ground up and the inside out. If we want to live in a healthy, beautiful, sustainable and peaceful world, then we must be these things and live them first. It’s like growing a garden—if you have depleted and toxic soil, you will grow food that is depleted and toxic. If you have healthy, nutrient-rich soil, you will grow beautiful, healthy, vibrant food. I call the work I do “growing and nurturing the soil of our soul.”
Have you visited Asheville before? If so, what do you like about the town?
I have visited Asheville a few times over the years. I love it there. It is such a beautiful area and has some wonderful people who care very much about caring for the earth and all her beings. I actually have dear friends who live in Asheville, and I am looking forward to seeing them as well as everyone at the conference when I come.
Three for all: Conference organizers (from left) Lisa Watters, Patty Levesque and Maureen McDonnell. Photo By Jason Sandford
The inaugural Southeastern Time for Our Power Conference will offer nine speakers and 18 breakout sessions. Celebrity Jane Fonda will give the keynote address and serve on a question-and-answer panel after her talk (see sidebar, “Jane Fonda to Give Keynote Address”). Breakout sessions and workshops will feature leaders on environmental issues, politics, health care, business and the arts (see box, “Conference Highlights”).
“What really excites me about this conference is that it’s broad-based. It brings together all different aspects of ourselves, from health to work to the environment to the soul,” says speaker and author Vicki Donlan.
Topics range from “How to be Juicy and Sexy at any Age” to “Changing the World Through Community” to “Healing Health Care” to “Saving the Earth.”
“Our goal is to hold an event that is inspiring, informative and ultimately transformational,” says conference co-organizer Maureen McDonnell. “Coming together to celebrate who we are as individuals—and the power we possess as a collective force—is what this conference is all about.”
A call to action
Other notable speakers will include environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, author/eco-feminist Starhawk and Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy.
“It’s time for a call to action for women to continue to support each other and lead the country,” says Donlan, who lives outside Boston and is the author of Her Turn: Why it’s Time for Women to Lead in America (Praeger Publishers, 2007). Donlan’s talk, titled “Our Time to Lead,” will discuss why it’s critical for women to emerge as leaders now in the U.S.
American women, she notes, account for 52 percent of the population, earn 65 percent of the graduate degrees and make 80 percent of consumer purchases. “Yet we’re still losing ground,” Donlan maintains. “It’s necessary for America to have strong women leaders. This conference brings us together, and women are empowered when they get together.”
Cheri Britton, CEO of the Asheville-based BOOM Thinking, agrees, saying, “When you get women together, it’s doggone powerful.” Britton’s talk, titled “Village Power—Drawing On The Power Of Others” will explore how to help people change their negative or limiting mindsets and then take steps toward believing that what they want to happen can happen.
“There’s a power in gathering in a group,” notes conference co-organizer Patty Levesque. “It’s life-changing.” That message seems to resonate for many of the women attending Time for Our Power.
Julie Hensley of Big Stone Gap, Va., is bringing along her mother, who’s been dealing with stress and exhaustion arising from her husband’s health problems. “While each of us may have some aspects that we’d like to improve—our ability to nurture, our sense of creativity or fun, our appreciation of our creativity—within a group of many similar women those aspects are whole, and our opportunity to remember those aspects of ourselves are increased,” says Hensley.
The organizers, notes Britton, “didn’t think small. They went right out of the gate and said, ‘Let’s call Jane Fonda.’ They could have gone much smaller for their first time, but they went for it.”
Meanwhile, the three are already looking beyond this year’s event. “If all goes well, we hope to do it again, maybe annually,” says Levesque, “although it’s a lot of organizational work.”
McDonnell adds: “Any one of us alone could never have done this. It’s been an incredible collaboration.”
Empowering, transforming, nurturing
Although some speakers and participants will travel from as far as Florida and Vermont to attend Time for Our Power, a lot of them are local, as are many of the businesses supporting and contributing to the conference.
Sensibilities Day Spa, The Secret Garden Inn & Spa and Togar Rugs are teaming up to create a “red tent”—a quiet sanctuary where participants can relax and avail themselves of spa services, including chair, foot and hand massages.
All conference proceeds (including fees for spa services) will be donated to four organizations that help empower women: Planned Parenthood of Asheville, Helpmate (an Asheville-based domestic-violence support group), the international humanitarian organization CARE, and the first Habitat for Humanity house in Madison County to be built entirely by women.
“We have an amazing number of people donating food and space and time, and even fabric,” notes Levesque. “We want to be able to give back, too.”
Cherokee/Choctaw tribal elder and storyteller Grandmother Red Leaf will help open the conference Friday night. She’ll also lead a summer solstice ceremony on Saturday.
“We want a powerful—almost sacred—opening to set the tone for the whole weekend,” McDonnell explains. Other entertainment will include drumming, singing, poetry, dance and comedy.
Another key concern is inclusiveness. “We want everyone who wants to attend to be able to, no matter their financial situation,” stresses Watters. “We have volunteer spots, student rates and partial scholarships. We’ll be offering those right to the last minute.”
[Asheville resident Anne Fitten Glenn, a freelance journalist and photographer, writes the weekly Edgy Mama column for Mountain Xpress.]
Most events will take place at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in the Asheville Civic Center or within walking distance of it. To register for all or part of the conference, visit www.timeforourpower.com. The weekend package costs $295. Daily rates are also available, as are special volunteer rates and financial assistance.
FRIDAY, JUNE 20
Evening opening ceremony at 7 p.m. with documentary filmmaker Debra Roberts, poet Glenis Redmond, Cherokee/Choctaw tribal elder and storyteller Grandmother Red Leaf, drummers, dancers and more. Mayor Terry Bellamy will give the “Welcome Address.”
SATURDAY, JUNE 21
Among the speakers and topics are: Vicki Donlan, “Why It’s Time for Women to Lead in America”; Kate Thomsen M.D., “Healing Health Care”; and Jane Fonda, “Our Leadership is Needed.” Breakout sessions and entertainment featuring local comedy troupe LYLAS, The Buckerettes and others, will also take place that evening.
SUNDAY, JUNE 22
Featured speakers and topics include: Phil Borges, “Stirring the Fire”; Starhawk, “Women Take Action”; and Cheri Britton, “Village Power.” Afternoon breakout sessions will be followed by a sustainability panel and closing ceremony featuring Asheville women’s chorus Womansong.