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Hillary Clinton Speaks During Women's History Month Celebration; Five NJ Women Celebrated
Hillary Clinton Speaks During Women's History Month Celebration; Five NJ Women Celebrated
Hillary Clinton Speaks During Women's History Month Celebration; Five NJ Women Celebrated

Published on: 03/29/2023


RMONTCLAIR, NJ - On the last weekend of Women’s History Month 2023, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez hosted the 12th Annual Evangelina Menendez Women's History Month Celebration at Montclair State University, named for the senator’s late mother.  The event featured former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton as the keynote speaker, and Senator Menendez also presented the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award to five New Jersey women who have distinguished themselves in their various fields.

The event was the first such Women’s History Month celebration since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision – written, paradoxically, by Justice Samuel Alito, a former New Jersey resident and a former federal judge in Newark – overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide.  Senator Menendez decried the subsequent efforts by Republicans at the state level to criminalize what he called a woman’s most personal decision and impinge on a woman’s right to general and reproductive health care.  He vowed to continue the effort to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which would protect access to gynecological services and particularly codify Roe.   Barack Obama had campaigned on the latter issue in his 2008 presidential campaign, but once he became President in 2009, he said it was "not my highest legislative priority," and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (NV) did nothing about it despite having a filibuster-proof Senate majority for nearly a year.

Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese was the mistress of ceremonies for the March 26 event, which included dance pieces and a performance from a women’s a cappella group from Princeton University.   She welcomed everyone and spoke of the incredible achievements of Secretary Clinton and the five women being honored that afternoon.  Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell also greeted attendees, citing Montclair State’s roots as a teachers’ college, or “normal school” (hence the name of nearby Normal Avenue), and its heritage for cultivating women’s intellect and wisdom.  He stressed the importance of Montclair State’s mission as a full-fledged university to build on that legacy to move women’s rights forward.

U.S. Representative Rebecca “Mikie” Sherrill was also present, talking about the role that Evangelina Menendez, a Cuban immigrant who had fled to New York to escape the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, played in New Jersey’s destiny.  Representative Sherrill explained that Mrs. Menendez had sacrificed greatly to ensure a better life for her children in a free society by working long hours as a seamstress in the Menendez family’s adopted hometown of Union City, New Jersey.   If not for Mrs. Menendez’s efforts, she said, her son Robert would not be a U.S. Senator today.

“My mom lives on in everything I say and do as your Senator,” Senator Menendez later said.

Representative Sherrill also praised Secretary Clinton, who was sitting with Senator Menendez onstage at the time, saying that the former Secretary of State had been a “primer” for the distinguishing characteristics of a strong woman, continuing to carve her own path while facing challenges with “grace and persistence.”  Representative Sherrill also said that, as a member of the U.S. House, she has had support from women on issues such as equal educational opportunity and child care issues because ‘they get it,” signifying a new seriousness about women’s issues.

In introducing Secretary Clinton to the audience, Senator Menendez spoke of the necessity to keep promoting and implementing policies to ensure gender equality as part of an obligation to leave behind a country in which future generations of women can prosper.  He also hailed the progress women have made as members of the judiciary by citing the Supreme Court appointments of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson (but curiously made no mention of the first female Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor).  

Then, Secretary Clinton took the stage to a chorus of whoops, hollers and cheers, augmented by thunderous applause and at least one (male) voice shouting out “Hillary for President!”  (The sentiment was followed by another chorus of vocalized adulation.)  Secretary Clinton recalled how, even as a young woman in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she could not get a credit card in her own name and found many job opportunities closed off because of her sex, and she marveled at the progress made since. She quickly pivoted, however, to express concern for the times ahead in light of the efforts of Republican leaders to roll back women’s rights.   Women’ History Month, the former secretary said, is “a celebration but also a challenge” to work harder to ensure gender equality even when the opposition seems too daunting an enemy to fight, because progress provides neither permanent victories nor permanent defeats.

“We’re not just fighting against attacks on our rights but for our future,” Secretary Clinton said.

The secretary noted that efforts to keep the country’s diverse electorate from voting for a government that reflects America at large have been made by an anti-democratic, ultraconservative faction that wants to keep women and minority groups out of the political process, citing in particular an effort in Ohio to ban referenda in response to put a pro-choice referendum on the state ballot. The power of the vote is an “inconvenient truth” for the far right, Secretary Clinton said, and the majority of Americans are trying to build a society that elects to public office people unlike those in right-wing circles.

After Secretary Clinton left the stage, Senator Menendez presented the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards to its five 2023 recipients.  The awards went to Lourdes Cortez, the president of the Totowa-based North Jersey Federal Credit Union; Amanda Devecka-Rinear, who founded the New Jersey Organizing Project to help victims of Superstorm Sandy; Christine Girtain, a high-school science teacher named the 2022-23 Teacher of the Year; A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, the youngest woman ever elected to the Newark Board of Education, and: Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 

Author :Steven Maginnis

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