NOW ACTS

Tennessee NOW membersPhoto: Tennessee NOW members Kathy Austin, left, Bill Grundy, center, and Toby Abrams led a dramatic protest "funeral" against welfare cuts in their state, cuts they told Gov. Don Sundquist were unconstitutional and inhumane.


by Cindy Hanford
Chapter/State Development Staff

During the autumn months, many NOW chapters worked on get-out-the-vote projects and sponsored candidates' forums. California activists were very busy fighting Proposition 209, an anti-affirmative action ballot measure, and many chapters across the country held events in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month or Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


NEW YORK CITY NOW

The New York City NOW Chapter, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Rights Coalition have united to oppose a publicly funded all-girls school in East Harlem. The organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights seeking to have the school closed on the ground that public funding of a sex-segregated school violates Title IX of the Education Amendments. The OCR is conducting an investigation.

"Opening this school violates city, state and federal anti-discrimination laws," said NOW-NYC President Anne Conners. "Public money should not be used to fund institutions segregated on the basis of sex. . . . While it's true that girls are discriminated against in school, this is a Band-Aid approach to educational equity. What we need is systemic change and the establishment of sex equity in all schools through such practical measures as increased funding for girls' sports and improved, mandatory teacher training."

In a separate action, the NOW-NYC chapter, along with U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and New York State Senator Catherine Abate, D-Manhattan, held a news conference Oct. 31 in front of Saks Fifth Avenue to protest the company's use of worker's compensation as a defense in the case of a woman executive who was raped on the premises twice in a five-day period by a Saks security guard. "Shame on Saks for telling women employees that rape is just a hazard of the job," Connors said.

Rep. Maloney announced her plans to introduce federal legislation to address workplace violence and to prevent employers from invoking worker's compensation to avoid employer responsibility. NOW-NYC is calling on the board of directors and the CEO of Saks to drop the worker's compensation defense and is seeking support from designers who supply Saks.


KEY WEST NOW (FLA.)

Key West NOW observed Domestic Violence Awareness Month with an Oct. 12 day of action involving four different events: an informational tea party/fund raiser with exhibits by local victims' advocate groups; an ecumenical empowerment service held in a local church; a march down main street; and a concert calling for a "better tomorrow." Each event was attended by 250 - 400 people, a major accomplishment for a chapter that is less than a year old.

In hopes of encouraging NOW chapters across the country to have annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month events, Key West NOW produced a "You Can't Beat a Woman" action kit. To receive a kit, chapters are invited to send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to Key West NOW, PO Box 966, Key West, Fla. 33040.

National NOW offered chapters a television public service announcement produced by the Key West chapter. This PSA is still available at $5 per copy for home video format and $10 a copy for broadcast format. Contact 202-331-0066, ext. 773.


EL PASO DEL NORTE NOW (TEXAS)

In August, the El Paso del Norte NOW chapter held a news conference and protest in support of female civilian employees who have charged Fort Bliss officials with sexual harassment, employment discrimination and retaliation. More than 40 women who have worked or continue to work at the Army air defense training base have filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that the military has allowed a hostile work environment and has retaliated against complainants.

A protest outside the gates of Fort Bliss organized by the chapter and including 15 of the complainants received wide-spread press coverage, including a story and photo in The Washington Post. El Paso del Norte NOW Chapter President Isa Swait said, "We demand an immediate and full government investigation of all charges against Fort Bliss officials by an independent agency . . . and that Fort Bliss officials either reinstate or make restitution to the victims."

Chapter activists have also been supportive of chapter member Diana Garcia for her pregnancy discrimination suit against the U.S. Post Office. NOW Foundation filed an amicus brief in this case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.


EAST END NOW (N.Y.)

The East End NOW chapter received considerable publicity, including a mention in The New York Times, for criticizing the Hampton Classic Horse Show after it accepted the sponsorship of Del Laboratories, makers of Sally Hansen Cosmetics. In 1995,Del was fined $1.18 million, the largest sexual harassment settlement in history, after 15 women claimed they were sexually harassed by the company's chairman and chief executive officer, who remains in charge of the company. According to a chapter press release, "It is up to each and every one of us to speak out against this kind of abuse, which is still rampant in America's workplaces."

Chapter activists have also organized a court-watch project, particularly for domestic violence cases. Vice President Melissa Bishop-Morgan said they "encourage other chapters to engage in court monitoring wherever possible. A group of women sitting in a courtroom wearing NOW T-shirts has a very strong effect on court personnel."

The chapter also held a program on Columbus Day, led by guest speaker Melissa Arch-Walton of the Shinnecock Nation, to discuss how the holiday is viewed by Native Americans. The chapter has formed a committee called White Women Against Racism to work on issues related to eliminating racism.


MONTGOMERY CO. NOW (MD.)

Because of a complaint filed by the local NOW chapter, the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission (HRC) made a ruling against discriminatory consumer pricing practices based on sex. Originally filed in 1991, the complaint charged a local dry cleaner with setting higher prices for laundering women's clothing.

The HRC's recent ruling requires the dry cleaner to change its policies, to post visible signs verifying non-discriminatory pricing and to refund overcharges. The HRC also sent a news release and a sample poster to all dry cleaning establishments in Montgomery County. As a result of the chapter's work, penalties for discriminatory pricing in the county can result in fines of up to $1,000 per violation, in addition to refunds and damages.


SOUTHERN NEVADA NOW

Every time convicted rapist Mike Tyson fights, the Southern Nevada NOW chapter protests outside the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas where the boxing matches typically are held. The protests have centered on the issue of violence against women. A press release for the Sept. 7 fight protest said, "When an abuser of women fights a public brawler and both are paid millions of dollars, it sends a clear message to our young people -- violence is O.K. The National Organization for Women wishes to remind the world that violence against women must stop, that violence does not resolve any conflict, and to urge everyone to find a better way. STOP THE VIOLENCE."


TWIN CITIES NOW (MINN.)

On Sept. 21, the Twin Cities NOW chapter (Minneapolis/St. Paul) held a Take Back the Night Rally and March. Despite inclement weather, more than 700 people attended. The Rally included speakers from organizations dealing with violence against women and anti-violence political advocates, such as Sheila Wellstone and the mayor of Minneapolis. The speakers emphasized the magnitude of violence against women in the forms of domestic violence, rape and murder, and the importance of working to stop these forms of violence.

The rally was followed by the Take Back the Night March through the streets of downtown Minneapolis past several topless clubs that exploit women. The chanting, enthusiastic crowd took back the night not only for themselves, but for all the women who could not be there or were too afraid to come, according to chapter reports.


COLORADO NOW

Boulder NOW and Colorado NOW led the fight against the radical religious right's Parental Rights Amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot. Opponents prevailed, and the amendment was defeated 57 percent to 43 percent. Boulder NOW members Cyndi Rader and Melanie Stafford organized phone banks, which contacted more than 3,500 voters, literature drops to thousands of Boulder County residences, and a rally that made front page news in Boulder.

Boulder NOW Co-President Regina Barry Cowles published an op-ed listing Colorado NOW PAC's endorsements in the Boulder Daily Camera, and state coordinator Vanessa Salinas kept the amendment on the front page of the state NOW newsletter.


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