The Retreat, the fifth offered by LES since 2009, took a step forward by expanding the scope of participation. Under the theme, “Using Our Experiences & Identities to Build Power,” the Retreat was opened to anyone who, in whole or in substantial part, locates themselves on the feminine side of the spectrum, including non-binary, gender non-conforming, genderfluid, genderqueer, two-spirit and transfeminine people. The name was changed from “Union Women’s Retreat” to “Union Women & Femmes Retreat.”
Opening sessions focused on the importance of inclusivity, especially as it relates to workplace activism. They featured presentations by Stef Willenchek of the University of Minnesota’s Gender & Sexuality Center for Queer & Trans Life and CeCe McDonald, an activist, speaker and icon in the LGBTQ community.
The program then built on this base to expand participants’ knowledge and skills in organizing and addressing issues that divide workers. Jen Kohan of Education Minnesota
described how the union is taking on inequities and racism in education. LES Director Monica Bielski Boris moderated a discussion of union organizing strategies with Marie Dino of AFSCME Local 3800
, Cathy Drummond of the United Steelworkers
, Taunita Jones of the Greater Minnesota Worker Center
and Sumer Spika of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota
Participants had the opportunity to take part in five workshops: Balancing Work, Family & Activist Commitments; Engaging in Difficult Conversations and Bridging Differences; Learning from the Disability Justice Movement; Supporting Women & Femmes of Color; and Understanding FMLA, ADA, and other Legal Issues.
An evening cultural program, offered in partnership with Witness for Peace, featured a powerful performance by Honduran author Melissa Cardoza and singer Karla Lara on the legacy of activist Berta Cáceres. On the opening day, the law firm of Sieben Carey hosted a reception and question-and-answer session with attorneys Danielle Bird and Susan Holden.
State Rep. Mary Kunesh Podein, DFL-New Brighton, was the closing plenary speaker. A graduate of Labor Education Service programming, she discussed her decision to run for office and the importance of getting involved in legislative issues.
In all, more than 100 people attended. LES thanks all of our facilitators and other volunteers whose hard work helped to make the Retreat possible. They included a planning committee that assisted in developing the Retreat theme and program.
The Retreat is held every two years, with the next one scheduled for the spring of 2019.