Call to action

Meryl Streep: “None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something”

The celebrated actress and Women in the World co-host singled out seven indomitable young leaders, while urging all women to action

The grand dame of American cinema — and longtime friend of Women in the World — was greeted with cheers from the audience as she took to the stage to close the 2016 New York Summit. Meryl Streep, who has participated in all seven Summits to date, said the event ignites her “righteous anger” but also serves to fuel her optimism: “Somehow Women in the World does it every, every time.”

The headliner of an event honoring some of the Summit’s “firebrand” panelists, Streep urged the audience to remain energized by the words they heard. “Keep the program … Put it on your desk or bedside table. Let it be a little billboard for your day. Remind yourself of the women you have met here … Take inspiration from their lives to prod action in your own.”

“None of us can do everything,” she admitted. “But each of us can do something.”

Streep went on to re-introduce seven of the “fearless, undaunted, relentless women” whose stories and mission stood out over the course of the Summit, inviting them to issue their own calls to action.


 (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)

Meryl Streep and Tina Brown with Women in the World’s Leaders of Tomorrow honorees. (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)

Nigerian pastor and activist Esther Ibanga, who has united Christian and Muslim leadership across her country in the fight against Boko Haram, called for all hands on deck—“including and especially women’s hands, irrespective of race or religion”—to fight terrorism. “Let’s do it now,” she urged. “Let’s save lives now.”

Inca Sorrell, the young daughter of British firefighter Liz Clegg who has joined her mother as the protector of hundreds of refugee children trapped in a camp in Calais, spoke of a 7-year old Afghan boy who called out to her while trapped in the back of a refrigerated truck. His life was saved, but Sorrell reminded the audience that many of the children who risk their lives to reach Britain and elsewhere meet a sadder fate. She called on UNHCR, governments and NGOs to take responsibility for children in the current refugee crisis.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who implored the world to remember the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls of Canada, brought attention to the plight of Mother Earth: “Thirty years ago, Big Oil moved into my community…and the land, the water and the people are being poisoned.” Laboucan-Massimo urged support for the “indigenous women on the front lines of this vital fight” and advocated for the creation of local solutions like solar energy, calling them the “key to humanity’s survival.”

Twenty-one-year-old Trishaun Coleman has sung at more than a dozen funerals for child victims of gun violence — five of whom were her own friends — in her South Side Chicago community. After performing on Wednesday at the Summit’s opening night, she received news the next day that yet another friend had been killed. “When I go home, I’m preparing for another funeral. I’m so sick and tired of the senseless violence, and singing at my friends’ funerals. Too many lives lost.” Coleman called for an end to gun violence — in Chicago and around the world.

Pakistani squash champion Maria Toorpakai Wazir — who had to disguise herself as a boy and faced death threats simply for playing the sport she loved — traveled “across seven seas” to issue her call to action. She called herself a “living example that change is possible through sports and education…. We can make humanity win once again and we can bring peace.” Wazir urged all to come together to “replace guns with rackets and pencils.”

Meryl Streep embraces Masih Alinejad. (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)

Meryl Streep embraces Masih Alinejad. (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)

Journalist Masih Alinejad — the “Iranian exile with that memorable mane of hair,” as Streep called her — was banished from her country for exposing corruption. She now uses the Internet to encourage women in Iran to yank off their hijabs and share their joyful selfies. “[Women in Iran] love you,” Alinejad told Streep, inviting her to “come and visit my beautiful country. But when the people of Iran manage to raise their voices do not ignore them.” The women of Iran do not need to be “saved,” Alinejad said, because they are “brave and smart enough to be their [own] voices.” But she did strongly urge journalists, public figures and women leaders to help those voices be heard.

Finally, acknowledging perhaps the greatest crisis facing the world today — the unprecedented swell of refugees and internally displaced populations — Streep called upon Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, who has been training advocates and helping to resettle families for close to a decade. While “the refugee crisis is not new,” said Heller, “what is new is that world is finally paying attention.” Heller urged the audience to take advantage of this opportunity to act now to “fix our broken system, acknowledge basic human dignity and save lives.”

Before concluding to a standing ovation for all — and a spontaneous hug from Alinejad — Streep reminded the audience of the “provocative, upending, destabilizing, thrilling change” now resonating throughout the world in real time. “Women weren’t always in the world,” she said. “We used to be hidden, at home, in the harem, or held on a pretty short leash…. For thousands of years, the voices of women did not resound … in the important (places) where the course of history was set.” Until about 150 years ago—“a fraction of a millisecond on the human clock”— women’s “priorities, and concerns, and achievements were invisible.”

Streep referenced a line from the Broadway musical sensation Hamilton, which itself upends the way we view history and tell our national story. Women, she said, are finally being admitted to the “Room Where It Happens.” And those who have the privilege of being the first in the room have the responsibility to make even more space there. Now that women are at the table, Streep said, we must continue to set places for others.


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