A Vision of Feminism for the Next Century

by Patrice Curtis,
National Board Member, Mid-Atlantic Region

Will you come with me on a journey?

It's July 1998. Rochester, New York. Only 17 months from a new century. This is the area where progressive women and men, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, crafted the Declaration of Sentiments 150 years ago on July 19, 1848.

Feminists, NOW members, you and I are participating in a summit to envision a 21st century world. We are creating a document that will carry us into and beyond the new century—a document that will stand the test of time and scrutiny of future feminists. We are asking the tough questions: What will the world be like in 2025, 2070, 2099? What tenor will women's lives have? What role will NOW play in this future?

That is the journey. A trip of the imagination, of heart-felt desire, of using the best of what it means to be a human, a woman.

But could we do this at a traditional conference? Every year at the National NOW Conference, members gather to celebrate the year past and focus on the upcoming 12 months.

Personally, I would find it awfully tough to engage both my dreaming imagination and my policy-driven, practical side at the same time, or to switch between them in the space of a weekend. My practical side would win every time because it takes more time and freedom to dream.

The 1998 National NOW Conference and Vision Summit, therefore, will be set up to capture—in the purest state possible—the imagination and creativity that exists in each one of us and which is multiplied when we dream together.

This Summit is just the first of three that will take us beyond 2000. At the second summit in 1999 we will take our shared vision of a feminist future and devise a mission statement describing how we can make our dreaming future a reality. The final summit, where a precise plan for action will be hammered out, takes place in 2000. At the close of the triad, we will have a vision, a mission and an action plan.

As I talked to a friend about Rochester, about the excitement and churning stomach that accompanies undertaking something so different, she reminded me of Nelson Mandela's eloquent speech in which he said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that always frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? . . . We are born to make manifest the glory . . . that is within us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

At that time, South Africa was re-imagining itself in fundamental ways. Not an easy task. Indeed, it took strength of heart and mind, a belief in a better world and an acknowledgment that it was time to change.

Even feminists find change scary. Sometimes I want to run screaming in the opposite direction or stick my head under my blanket and draw what I am used to tightly around me.

But as we all know, change heralds growth. In Rochester, in the shadow of the brave women of 150 years ago, we can begin to liberate ourselves from our fear of imagining how we really want the world to evolve.

Together we will ensure that NOW will embrace and overcome the challenges of the next century. Together we will demand women's space and women's time. And we will move into the next century aware that our collective brilliance and talent has not yet reached its manifest destiny.

See you in Rochester.

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