An estimated 14,000 women gathered at the nonprofit, nonpartisan conference held in the Long Beach Arena in Southern California yesterday. The event, which began 22 years ago as a government initiative for female small business owners and working professionals, has grown into the largest woman's forum of its kind in the United States.
California First Lady Maria Shriver shaped this year's conference theme, "Be who you are. Feel it. Live it. Pass it on," with the goal of encouraging women to discover their purpose, passion and power. This year's highlights included seminars on starting a small business and financial well-being, and panel discussions on topics such as "Alzheimer's, cancer and aging parents" and "how to be a confident leader."
I was the guest of GM and Chevrolet at the events and visited their display of fuel-efficient Chevy vehicles in the village of hundreds of women-friendly products and services offered to attendees. Many green products were featured and women flooded the aisles shopping, tasting, and testing new products.
The conference got off to a humorous start during what was billed as a "once in a lifetime conversation" between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and billionaire investor extraordinaire Warren Buffett, moderated by television political talk show host Chris Matthews.
But what could have been serious talk about falling stock prices and glass ceilings drew laughter and chuckles from many of the 10,000 women in the audience when Buffett, playing to the crowd, hit Matthews with a particularly challenging question: "If you could have changed your sex into that of a woman, would you have?" Matthews smiled sheepishly, then rambled on and on about the virtues of womanhood. Apparently that question was unplanned and Buffet scored big points with me and really in my opinion "Gets" how important women are to the economy and the political process.
Among the events was CNN's Campbell Brown moderating a conversation on leadership, legacy, and life with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. Founder of BlogHer.com Elisa Camahort and I spent some quality time together and attended this session together and had fun twittering furiously with MOMocrats and other women live bloggers covering the events.
California's First Lady Maria Shriver and 14,000 attendees at Women's Conference 2008 in Long Beach, Calif., honored Gloria Steinem, tennis great Billie Jean King, Betty Chinn, Louise Hay, and Ivelise Markovits with Minerva Awards. The acceptance speeches brought tears and laughter in equal parts from me and the attendees.
Maria Shriver, 1st Lady of California, gave a deeply personal and moving speech about her ailing mom, Eunice Kennedy, and her own path to self-enlightenment. Speaking at a lunch session, she described the many strokes her mother has suffered this year, and about the resulting breakthrough in their personal relationship.
During the final session, Pop singer Bono kissed Maria Shriver on the cheek as he came on stage and started out singing, "Maria, Maria! I just kissed a girl named Maria!" He spoke on his One.org campaign's intentions to get everyone to sign up to change the world for the poor. His passion and commitment to helping the poor of the world was amazing and inspiring.
"The Women's Conference is the nation's premier forum for women. Its mission is to inspire, empower and educate women from all walks of life to be Architects of Change in their own lives, in their communities and around the world," according to a press release from CaliforniaWomen.org. "Every year, the non-partisan Women's Conference gathers the world's greatest hearts and minds to address the topics and concerns that matter to women."
Sister Joan Chittister and Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent were two of my favorite speakers during the conference. Their passion for peace from firsthand experiences visiting war-torn countries and the human wreckage left behind on the backs of women spoke volumes to my heart.
This was one of the most inspiring events I have attended all year. Kudos and thank you to General Motors and Chevrolet for supporting women at events like this as a sponsor.