"Passing the Torch” was a fitting theme for Wednesday’s luncheon saluting Bonnie Peace Watkins as she prepares to retire next month from the helm of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium.
Watkins has been a leading voice for the consortium’s work throughout its 31-year history and its executive director for eight years.
Her departure is a marker of generational change not only for the consortium, but for the women’s movement in Minnesota.
Nearly 40 years have passed since a cadre of Minnesota women, inspired by a growing national movement, began working to enlarge women’s opportunities for employment, public service and leadership.
They produced change both remarkable and insufficient. Women’s opportunities have soared, but the rest of society has adapted too little to women’s changed roles and obligations.
How best to spur the next wave of feminist change will be much discussed in coming months as the consortium searches for its next staff leader.
In 1980, when women’s organizations wanted a more effective way to produce change, they formed the Women’s Consortium to share information with a newsletter and regular meetings that included weekly brown-bag lunches during legislative sessions.
Their membership grew to more than 150 groups, the largest network of its kind in the country.
As times have changed, the consortium has too. Its newsletter now arrives by email; there's also a blog.
The network includes representatives of a variety of cultural backgrounds, including new Minnesotans.
But as the many gray heads at Wednesday’s luncheon attested, the consortium – and many of its member organizations – have work to do to engage younger women.
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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.