Viewpoint: And That's The Truth

It hardly seems possible that our organization's commitment to ending violence against women, especially domestic violence, could be called into question in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

NOW leaders all over the country speak out vigorously against domestic violence and we continued to do so during the Simpson trial and after the verdict. NOW activists have a long and proud record on the issue, including founding the first battered women's shelters and anti-rape task forces, authoring and forcing the passage of domestic abuses statutes and rape shield laws, and taking action to remove judges who treat such offenses lightly. We were instrumental in passage of the truly historic Violence Against Women Act, finally signed into federal law in 1994, and we continue to fight for full funding.

Only eight months ago, we brought from cities and on campuses across the country more than 200,000 activists to Washington, D.C., to protest violence against women, and drew an overflow crowd to the first Young Feminist Summit Against Violence. Those young women and men went back to their communities prepared to organize to stop the attacks on women.

Yet there has been a lot of ink and air time, especially on tabloid TV, devoted to baseless attacks from one of our own -- a chapter president saying that National NOW has done "nothing" on domestic violence, and that she was being punished by NOW's president for speaking out on that issue. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No doubt some of our own members heard these statements and believed them. Why would some media outlets air unfounded attacks without attempting to verify them?

The reason is simple. The media enjoys a good fight, and what better setup than a local feminist leader attacking her own national organization on an issue that is so important to our agenda. Don't believe everything you hear on Geraldo.

These are the facts: It is true that this chapter president was "censured." She was reprimanded first by her state board and then by the National Board of NOW, which is made up of grassroots activists democratically elected by the NOW members in the nine geographic regions.

But not for talking about domestic violence in the O.J. Simpson case. Clearly that would make no sense: the NOW board includes a long-time domestic violence shelter director, a founding director of another shelter, and many members who have extensive personal histories of activism against domestic violence.

The censure, which is a parliamentary reprimand, was based on that individual taking actions that were "injurious" to the organization. This included making statements about racism that were deeply offensive to our members and our allies, then refusing to distance herself from those sentiments.

The damage to the organization was deep. Angry members called after hearing the statements, believing that they represented the organization's views on racism. Chapter and state leaders protested. Allies in the civil rights community were shocked that a NOW representative would say such things.

One of the statements was that "what we need to teach our children is . . . not about racism but about violence against women." Ending violence against women is one of NOW's top priorities, and so is ending racism. One-upping or ranking such serious kinds of oppression is a losing proposition -- they are both critical. Turning our battles inward, against ourselves and our allies, is self defeating.

We have longstanding written policy against pitting our priority issues against each other. The statements that were censured gravely violated this policy, and the Board requested that the individual retract or repudiate the statements, and refrain from making such statements in the future.

It is simply false that any NOW leader is being silenced on the issue of domestic violence. And regardless of what you may see or hear in the tabloids, that's the truth.

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