A Plus' Game Changer Of The Year

It's Time To Recognize 2017's Wave Of Women

Meet A Plus's Game Changer(s) of the Year.

Leave it to Mitch McConnell to compose the definitive one-line summary of 2017, if not of the whole of human history.

Late one night last February, as the United States Senate debated appointing then-senator Jeff Sessions to his current position of Attorney General, Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to read aloud a letter that Coretta Scott King wrote in the 1980s objecting to Sessions's failed nomination to federal court. King's letter alleged that Sessions had attempted to "intimidate and frighten black voters" and "chill the free exercise of the ballot" as a United States Attorney in Alabama.

In response to the civil rights activist's letter —and Warren's delivery of it — the Senate Majority Leader invoked a little-utilized rule to silence her, arguing that she was impugning Sessions's character. His staccato defense of his decision, a decision upheld by a party-line vote in the moments following, made headlines across the nation.

"She was warned," he said. "She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

And persist she did. Warren proceeded to read the letter despite the silencing — this time, to a much bigger (and less fusty) audience. Her 99 peers would not hear her, and so she turned to 13 million viewers on Facebook, where she read King's words in their entirety.

McConnell's remarks felt particularly significant less than a month after millions of Americans took to the streets, equipped with protest chants and placards, as part of the Women's March. Looking back 10 months later, they also feel prescient.

Protesters at the Women's March in Washington, D.C.
Protesters at the Women's March in Washington, D.C.

From those parka-ed protesters to the first-time candidates who swept the board to the people who stared down Hollywood and Silicon Valley to say, "Me too," 2017 was shaped by women who made their voices heard despite obstacle and obstruction.

Each December here at A Plus, we honor the luminaries who, over the past year, demonstrated compassion, bravery, ingenuity, and selflessness. Today, we are proud to announce A Plus's second annual Game Changer of the Year: 2017's wave of women who defied all expectations, and, in doing so, defined the present moment.

Below, we've listed some of the outstanding women whose hard work carried the day. They were warned. They were given an explanation. But nevertheless, they persisted.

Yates arrives for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein.
Yates arrives for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein.

"It is truly an honor to work for you."

"Thank you for your courage and leadership."

"I applaud you for taking a principled stand."

Earlier this month, Judicial Watch obtained a series of emails sent to former acting attorney general Sally Yates by colleagues in the aftermath of her refusal to defend the initial travel ban, which targeted several Muslim-majority countries. Yates was summarily fired for defying the White House she served, but not before accruing plaudits for her conscientious objection. As reported by The New Yorker, after Yates read the text of the executive order that launched the ban, she considered resigning, troubled by the order's constitutionality and the fact that she, as the acting attorney general, would be expected to defend it. But resigning, she decided, at the risk of her own career and reputation, wasn't enough.

"Resignation would have protected my own personal integrity, because I wouldn't have been part of this, but I believed, and I still think, that I had an obligation to also protect the integrity of the Department of Justice," she told the publication.

And so she wrote a letter to her department refusing to defend the ban, a letter intended as a defense of religious freedom, and, almost immediately, she was fired following a knock at the door, after almost two decades in public service.

Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com
Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com

Award-winning reporter April Ryan became a household name this year thanks to her steadfast pursuit of the truth as a White House correspondent, and her dedication to holding those inside to account. Still, she told A Plus's Isaac Saul that she hates being a part of the story.

"My job is to be in there and ask questions and that's all," she said. "At the end of the day, I do want to be able to have what used to be a friendly adversarial relationship with the press office so we can get some kind of answers on things. I'll get my answers inside or outside the White House, trust me. I'll break stories with or without them."

Regardless, her work and her resilience in 2017 is worthy of recognition. Read our full interview with Ryan here.

Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz points to a Puerto Rican flag after Hurricane Maria.REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz points to a Puerto Rican flag after Hurricane Maria.REUTERS/Carlos Barria

As the people of Puerto Rico struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria this fall, no one was more outspoken as a champion of her city than San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. In many ways, she became the voice and face of the relief effort, as the mainland, already exhausted by hurricanes in Texas and Florida, quickly defocused from the territory 3.4 million Americans call home and their calls for help and electricity. (Approximately 50 percent of Americans in Puerto Rico still do not have power.)

Her criticism of the federal government's languid response earned swift condemnation from the White House ... and renewed attention from the rest of America to Puerto Rico's plight.

"The goal is one: saving lives," she tweeted in the midst of the recovery effort (and the furor). "This is the time to show our 'true colors.' We cannot be distracted by anything else."

Burke introduces actor Rose McGowan to speak during the Women's Convention. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Burke introduces actor Rose McGowan to speak during the Women's Convention. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

A decade ago, before national conversation was dominated by 140-character sound bites and before "trending topics" referred to much more than water cooler chatter, activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement, a movement intended to offer solace to survivors of sexual assault. Following a series of high-profile accusations, that movement got a second wind earlier this year as survivors, led by actress Alyssa Milano, rallied behind #MeToo to raise awareness about the issue.

"On one side, it's a bold declarative statement that 'I'm not ashamed' and 'I'm not alone,'" Burke told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of her message's power and ubiquity. "On the other side, it's a statement from survivor to survivor that says 'I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I'm here for you or I get it.'"

 REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
 REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

As A Plus's Carson Blackwelder writes, actress Gabrielle Union has a very clear vision for the future, and the events of 2017 brought us closer to it. While much of Hollywood reacted with shock to the New York Times' piece on magnate Harvey Weinstein, Union was helped to push the conversation forward with an uncommonly well-timed book and a take-down of the mentality behind victim-blaming.

But her wisdom and activism over the past few months hasn't been limited to the #MeToo movement. She's also spoken out about the idea of being a "perfect" mother and the need to pass the mic.

"I want everyone to have a chance to fail. I want everyone to have a chance at mediocre," Union told A Plus. "I want everyone to have a chance at success. But you can't have that unless there's real, true inclusion. And there will be no mic to pass around because we'll all have a chance to talk and be heard and people will listen. That's my goal."

Read A Plus's full interview with Union here.

Courtesy Ashley Bennett.
Courtesy Ashley Bennett.

A sexist meme sparked New Jersey resident Ashley Bennett's desire to run for office and unseat the local politician that posted it. Text superimposed over an image of a woman in the kitchen asked, "Will the woman's protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?"

For many women, the answer was a categorical no — no to giving up, no to settling back into the status quo. First they marched, then they became a part of a movement. 

Hard at work on her third graduate degree in public health and administration, 32-year-old Bennett was already actively engaged in local issues when she was inspired by the Women's March and infuriated by the belittling meme. So she — like hundreds of others across the country — added her name to this past November's ballot. 

Read A Plus's interview with Bennett about her win — and her advice for women across the country — here.

Courtesy Danica Roem.
Courtesy Danica Roem.

Like Bennett, Roem was part of the bevy of first-time candidates that ran for office this past November. But Roem's candidacy and her win against a 13-term incumbent made history. Roem is the nation's first openly transgender member of a state legislature — and she's certain to be far from the last.

Asked for her advice for women and members of the LGBT community considering running for office, she told A Plus that they could expect wide-ranging support: "There are people and there are organizations out there who want you to succeed because of who you are and not in spite of it."

Women's March national co-chairs arrive for the Time 100 Gala. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Women's March national co-chairs arrive for the Time 100 Gala. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

And, of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't recognize the women who started it all: Women's March national co-chairs Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, Tamika D. Mallory and Linda Sarsour. Their messaging, their energy, and their vision set the tone for the rest of 2017 — as did the voices of the millions of women who joined them in marching.

Cover image via Kim Wilson / Shutterstock.com.

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