The first time Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen joined forces to launch the nation's 2016 United State of Women Summit at the White House, both had jobs as key Obama administration advisers and the country was entertaining the idea of electing its first female president.
Today, more than a year into the first term of a Republican president whose political agenda far differs from theirs, Jarrett and Tchen are at it again -- this time as private citizens.
On Wednesday, the two announced they will co-host a second United State of Women Summit in 2018, to be held in Los Angeles on May 5th and 6th. Like the inaugural gathering two years ago, this one will bring together organizations and advocates focused on issues affecting women and girls: the gender pay gap, campus sexual assault and accessibility to child care and health care. The line-up of speakers thus far includes actor and activist Jane Fonda, Me Too Movement founder Tarana Burke and former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth. Jarrett, who was a senior aid to President Obama, and Tchen, who served as the chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama, will also address attendees. Both led the Obama administration's White House Council on Women and Girls.
"I’m passionate about continuing the work that we dedicated ourselves to when President Obama was in the White House," Jarrett said before the announcement. "I’m optimistic, and that optimism is based on ordinary people doing extraordinary things."
The 2018 summit will differ from the inaugural one in key ways. The new host city, Los Angeles, couldn't be further from the nation's political epicenter in Washington. And while the 2016 forum was a collaboration of the now-defunct White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of State, Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute and the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Civic Nation, this year's event will have nothing to do with the federal government. Civic Nation, which houses United State of Women and other Obama-era issue campaigns, will still host the event and funding will come from supporting partners that include corporations, foundations and individuals, said United State of Women managing director Jordan Brooks.
The 2016 summit was not funded by federal dollars, either.
Organizers have not yet disclosed whether Michelle Obama, who headlined the inaugural forum with Oprah Winfrey, will be involved this year.
The summit announcement comes after a year of mini United State of Women Summits held in three cities as part of the organization's Galvanize Program, which is meant to meet women where they are. There were 1,000 women in Chicago, 500 in Columbus, Ohio, and 300 in Atlanta. United State of Women has also hosted a women in tech forum in Washington, a sports event in Nashville, a female bloggers roundtable in New York and a handful of issue-based cocktail hour conversations on the east and west coasts.
With a second summit, Tchen said she hopes to harness the energy among many American women that has built over the past year, starting with the Women's March in January 2017 and carrying through #MeToo and the #TimesUp movement.
“We’re really trying to provide some infrastructure and support and connectivity to that energy,” Tchen said.
But the forum lingo won't be limited to the way issues affecting women and girls are discussed in activist circles. United State of Women is meant to level the playing field, Brooks said, to make sure the big-wig CEOs are talking to one another as much as the local business owners.
“We do our work as women and activists in silos — and that’s not how women live their lives,” Tchen said. Often, she added, they're juggling aging parents, getting mammograms, finding child care and earning a living. "That’s how your average woman is struggling with her issues in her life and can’t figure out the alphabet soup of policies that are coming our of Washington and elsewhere," Tchen said. That's why the summit -- and organization at large -- aims to educate women on the issues, to marry challenges with tangible action.
Without the power of the federal government behind them, that action may look a little different this time around. At the 2016 forum, the White House pledged $50 million to initiatives intended to improve the lives of women and girls, including the White House Equal Pay Pledge, through which companies could commit to conducting an annual gender pay study to inform fair hiring and promotion processes.
Action this year might be more quiet, but Jarrett said it will be no less important.
"I think real change happens on the ground, and I believed that when I was at the White House, which is why at the last summit we showcased so many folks around the country," Jarrett said. "We don’t have to wait for the government to take action. Is it better when you have folks in elected office? Sure it is. But that’s no the only way to progress."
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, United State of Women is bound by the U.S. tax code to not advocate on behalf of politicians -- only policy. That nonpartisan framework is one Jarrett, Tchen and Brooks all take seriously. Each said she wants United State of Women to be round table for women, no matter how they vote. The newsletter, however, has at times issued direct callouts against Trump administration policies including dreamers, sexual assault tribunals on college campuses and reproductive rights.
Republican lawmakers have been involved at galvanize events, organizers said, but they would not comment on whether Ivanka Trump, President Trump's daughter and a White House adviser, would be invited to the summit. Ivanka Trump has said she wants to focus on issues affecting women and girls in her father's administration.
"We don’t look at this through a political lens. We look at this how can we improve the lives of women and girls. That is not political. That is a fact of life," Jarrett said. "This is a safe space where we will be shining the spotlight on each other and supporting each other, and that has nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with uplifting women and girls."