With 45 years of advancing feminism under its belt, the Women’s Building has more work ahead, but owning its own building has given it a stability that will allow it to continue.
“It‘s an anchor of our community, it’s a village tree,” said Erin Sink, a member of the board of directors, who emphasized the organization’s support for nonprofits in the the form of below market rate rents . “It also plays host to a number of nonprofits that are able to do … their good work because they pay a really reasonable rent, and not a mission market rent, which would be unattainable.”
Current Executive Director Teresa Mejía, told revelers on Wednesday night that the Women’s building is not just expanding its services, but financially stable enough to have an emergency fund that would keep it running for three months in the event of a financing catastrophe.
But even as they celebrated exuberantly on Wednesday night, the women acknowledged not all is well with the world: From less than a quarter representation in the national legislature to domestic abuse to poverty to sexism in the workplace, women still suffer.
From the beginning, the Women’s Building has struggled with both external and internal social and political movements. Carmen Vázquez, the first executive director of the organization, remembered the organization’s efforts to be more racially inclusive – women who worked on day to day operations of the building were largely women of color, while the ownership collective was largely white.
“We had a problem, you know what I mean? We had some contradictions to work out in terms of race and class,” Vázquez said. “Regardless of that struggle at the beginning…we believed in this place for women, and we believed it was to be a place for justice not just for women but for all people.”
But then there were external pressures, like arson and even bomb threats, as well as a politically conservative climate, to contend with as well.
While the women’s efforts have evolved over the decades, but the mission is still alive – and thriving
Much of that stability comes from owning the building, as several speakers throughout the evening noted. It also means that the building and the organization it is named after continues to be able to support other nonprofits.
Luna Malbroux, and artist activist, runs classes and workshops, some of them at the Women’s Building.
“The Women’s Building is always a place I know where I can go, always a place that me and my nonprofit can afford,” Malbroux said. “It’s a place that me and the youth [I serve] feel comfortable coming.”
Its long history also means the building itself has become a symbol – it certainly was for Masha Chernyak, now a member of the Board, when she arrived.
“Fifteen years ago, I walked by the Women’s Building and I saw the murals, and I saw Rigoberta Menchú with the water and the power coming out of her hands, and I said, one day, I’m going to move to this city and I’m gonna be part of whatever that building is doing,” Chernyak said.
In the Mission, a hotbed of price-driven displacement, the building has not only held on – Mejía has been asked to consult and advise a group of women founding a Women’s Building in New York.
“Actually, we need a Women’s Building not just in San Francisco, but in each state and city of this country,” Mejía said. “Because we need a space to celebrate and feel safe.”
The continued support of its community, Vázquez said, will be necessary to continue that work.
“Defend and protect this space. Fight for this space. Fund this space,” she told revelers. “Make whatever sacrifice you can to ensure its continued service to the political empowerment of women, lesbian gay bisexual transgender people, poor people, and all the people, all the people who deserve better than what they get.