In her Smith College Commencement address, activist and social innovator Ai-Jen Poo urged the Class of 2019 at Smith College to take that extra step to not only to seek change but to transform the country.
“Together, we have the power to not only change the country,” Poo said. “We can run the country, too. We can change the logic of power in our country — to fundamentally disrupt the hierarchy of human value that defines our culture, our politics, and our economy.”
Poo noted that although women have made progress, they have not yet seen transformative change. “We won more opportunity in a context set by men,” said the labor leader and co-founder of Supermajority, an advocacy agency.
“We don’t want to run things for the sake of running them. We want to run them because we’re going to do things differently,” Poo said.
Poo reminded graduates of the 140-year old institution that the history of the nation includes colonization, slavery, and waves of migration by different ethnic groups, which have been the basis of some injustices felt today. Poo said that the message of a united country is both fraught and remarkable.
“The idea that we are both many and one is both the source of so much pain and conflict and precisely what makes us so unique and extraordinary as a nation,” Poo said. As an organizer, Poo said that embracing empathy and vulnerability is a message that has allowed her to connect with women who want to be both powerful and human.
Poo told the almost 1300 graduates — bachelors’ and advanced degrees — that in her experience, empathy is the essential ingredient to creating change and moving forward.
A leader in organizing domestic workers, Poo quoted her mentor, Gloria Steinem, who graduated from Smith in 1956, and urged graduates to imagine a new paradigm of power — one in which women are “linked, not ranked.”
“We need you to take responsibility now — not just for yourself, your community, or even just the people who share your values. We need you to take responsibility for the whole — for the whole entire project of taking this vision of democracy into the future — running it all. And doing it differently. Doing it together. With a whole lot of empathy.”
Poo stressed that empathy was important.
“Empathy is our superpower,” Poo said.
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