by Mira Weinstein
While the new Republican leadership, along with state legislatures and governors, were busy trying to turn back the clock on women's rights, NOW activists fought back. NOW chapters held vigils and demonstrations, activists marched, lobbied and otherwise protested the climate of violence, hatred and intolerance perpetrated by the right wing's inflammatory rhetoric and proposed punitive legislation.
On January 4, NOW kicked off the first 100 days with a zap action at the Capitol. Joined by NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Fund for a Feminist Majority, Zero Population Growth and other progressive and feminist organizations, NOW issued an ultimatum as the new Congress was seated -- that women will not tolerate a roll back of the gains that have been made toward equality.
Speakers discussed proposed punitive welfare measures, cuts in health care research, cuts in programs to end violence against women, restrictions on abortion rights and access to family planning for all women, and violence at abortion clinics. In addition, NOW President Patricia Ireland drew connections between the hate-filled rhetoric of demagogues like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and the increasing danger to women, people of color and poor people.
Around the country, NOW took on the right wing. Des Moines NOW organized a lobby day at the Iowa capital to support measures to end violence against women. To drive home the message of violence, the chapter helped sponsor a display of the Iowa Clothesline Project at the state capital. Delaware NOW, East End (N.Y.) NOW, Northeast Philadelphia NOW and Chester County (Pa.) NOW all held actions at courthouses to protest lenient treatment of batterers.
In the District of Columbia, Capital City NOW activists protested a judge's decision to allow Maynard Chandler to walk the streets freely while awaiting trial for the murder of his wife Tonya Chandler. An emotionally charged call to 911 by Tonya Chandler chronicles her final struggle as she was being brutally stabbed to death by her husband. At the demonstration, angry NOW protesters chanted: "Kill a stranger, go to jail -- kill your wife, you're out on bail."
Not only did NOW protest and demonstrate, but many chapters took an active role in organizing young feminists. University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College NOW sponsored a Southeast Region Young Feminist Conference. The keynote speaker, NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey, discussed the interrelated issues of violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and power. Worchester (Mass.) NOW, Farmington (N.M.) NOW, Huntington (N.Y.) NOW and Winchester (Va.) NOW spoke or tabled at colleges and high schools. Worchester NOW's efforts included a mini Young Feminist Conference to mobilize students for the Rally for Women's Lives.
Chapters in 34 states held vigils to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. And many chapters conducted actions around Valentines Day to draw attention to the violence against women and children by the men who supposedly love them.
Punitive welfare "reform" also drew protests from NOW chapters. Broward NOW, South Palm Beach County NOW and North Miami NOW joined Tampa NOW to protest proposals by Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., to eliminate the safety net for women and children. Illinois NOW undertook a letter writing campaign to press for humane and effective welfare reform and Medicaid funding for abortion.
Among the actions in other congressional districts: Georgia NOW visited new House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in his district office; Du Page and Illinois NOW held a rally and vigil outside the office of Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.; and Saratoga (N.Y.) NOW also demonstrated outside their representatives' offices to show their opposition to the Contract ON America. During the week of March 21, NOW national officers participated in three days of demonstrations protesting the so-called Personal Responsibility Act passed by the House. On March 23, NOW President Patricia Ireland and other activists were arrested for protesting peacefully in the rotunda of the U.S. Capital.
The 100 Days of Action culminated in the Rally For Women's Lives on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 9th, which was the kickoff of a national campaign to end violence against women.
In the first 100 Days of the new congress, feminists made our voices heard. We Won't Go Back!
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