Hanna Crowley / Mustang News

Nine female activists from the Central Coast took the floor to discuss discrimination, activism and social progress in Chumash Auditorium Tuesday night.  They drew in a large, diverse crowd that buzzed with excitement about the forum’s discussion topic: empowerment in the time of Donald Trump.

Cal Poly Democrats held the forum to “invite successful women to Cal Poly to counter any potential sexist, racist, or xenophobic sentiments,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and local sports radio host CJ Silas were among the women who spoke on the panel.

Cal Poly Democrats club president Liana Riley posed the first question for the panelists: “Describe a time you experienced discrimination. How did you handle it?”

Almost every woman on the floor had the same reaction: “Where do I even begin?”

Janice Mehring, rabbi at Congregation Ohr Tzafon and board member of People of Faith for Justice, described her difficulties breaking into the male-dominated sphere of religious leaders. As a young girl, she was told that women couldn’t be rabbis at all. She said many women who attempt for leadership positions in religious communities are judged by their physical appearance, including herself.

CJ Silas, owner of her own self-named radio show and announcer for Cal Poly baseball, recalled her first run-in with discrimination when she was six years old.

“My parents had to fight all the way through the courts so I could play little league,” Silas said.

Her experiences with gender bias didn’t stop there; throughout her whole career, Silas said, she’s had to deal with discrimination. Once, a radio show listener called in demanding to know her measurements. When she worked in a radio show as a young adult, the host cut her microphone off — for seven months — because she had said something he didn’t like.

“It’s part of everyday life,” Julie Lynem, member of racial justice organization Race Matters SLO County and former San Francisco Chronicle reporter said. “But if I decided I was going to wake up angry every morning, I wouldn’t be able to go about daily business. I do choose to fight, and that is through
my writing.”

The second question, “How should the different coalitions of the progressive movement unite against hate?” inspired messages
of empowerment.

“Show up in places that make you feel uncomfortable,” Erica Reyes, staffer for Rep. Salud Carbajal and former staffer for Rep. Lois Capps said. “Look beyond the differences and look at the similarities.”

“Do not let these things become the norm,” former anti-trust lawyer Genevieve Rolloff said.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re too damn nice. We do need to have a spine. We need to speak up,” Lynem said.

The floor then opened up to the audience for questions, which included an inquiry about whether San Luis Obispo will become a sanctuary city for undocumented people.

“I’ll do all that I can to protect undocumented people,” Harmon said in response.

The forum ended on a hopeful note as guests milled around the auditorium for a chance to meet and talk with the panelists. Joyce Bellucci, a San Luis Obispo resident, said she attended the event to find some direction and leadership to
look to.

“I think that while this moment is really challenging for a lot of reasons, it’s also a huge opportunity,” Harmon said. “Events like tonight really speak to that. I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of a new moment in American history that is really about putting the people in front of profits.”

Here’s a full list of all the women who spoke at the panel:

  • Heidi Harmon, mayor of San Luis Obispo and activist
  • Erica Reyes, staffer for Rep. Salud Carbajal, former staffer for Rep. Lois Capps and advocate for Planned Parenthood
  • Genevieve Rosloff, former Anti-Trust lawyer at the Department of Justice
  • Anneka Scranton, professor at University of Southern California for 15 years and member of the Global Fund for Women
  • Janice Mehring, Rabbi at Congregation Ohr Tzafon and board member of People of Faith for Justice
  • CJ Silas, local radio host and author of “No Girls Allowed,” a book on the intersection of feminism
    and sports
  • Julie Lynem, member of Race Matters SLO, journalist and activist
  • Dawn Addis, organizer of the San Luis Obispo Women’s March

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