by Cindy Hanford
In the first few months of 1996, NOW chapters were busy mobilizing for the April 14 Fight the Right March. Many chapters also held Roe v. Wade anniversary vigils in January, offered programs marking Black History Month in February and Women's History Month in March, convened regional conferences and, as always, organized grassroots lobbying efforts.
To combat punitive welfare measures in the state legislature, Pennsylvania NOW activists are participating in protests and lobbying efforts aimed at protecting poor women and children.
On March 19, Pennsylvania NOW members joined with more than 126 sponsoring organizations -- and more than 1,000 protesters -- to rally and lobby at the state capital for the "Welfare of Women and Children." The protest came one day after the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill that would disqualify some 300,000 low-income workers, disabled, unemployed and elderly individuals from "General Assistance," primarily consisting of medical insurance coverage.
"We are women of all ages, races, classes, occupations and political philosophies, and we are all united in our opposition to Gov. Ridge's attack on women and children," Pennsylvania NOW President Barbara DiTullio told the crowd. "We will be watching this vote in the House, watching every vote cast, and we will work to unseat each one of you who dares to treat our neighbors, our sisters, our mothers and our brothers in this inhumane way."
The NOW activists helped organize the protest with representatives from the Women's Law Project, Temple University Women's Studies Program and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Protesters included labor, religious and welfare rights advocates.
"The grassroots opposition to this mean-spirited legislation influenced both the Republican legislators and the media," DiTullio said. "The media finally carried the debate in our terms: This is not welfare reform but an attack on the working people of Pennsylvania. We do have to work to get our message across!"
Affirmative action also is under attack, and efforts are continuing to make Pennsylvania an English-only state. DiTullio said the House passed reforms to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which included an amendment to prohibit affirmative action in state employment, contracts and higher education. Similar legislation is working its way through the Senate.
Determined to get out the vote in 1996, Maryland NOW has organized a Pledge to Vote project that targets progressive supporters. Chapter activists are distributing pledge cards, asking those who believe the "Right is Wrong" to promise to vote in November for candidates who support issues of importance to women. Those pledging to vote fill out cards with their names and phone numbers. When election day draws near, chapters will operate phone banks to remind these supporters of their promise and to urge them to bring others to the polls. Maryland NOW activists view their project as essential to the nationwide NOW Equality Countdown Campaign: Unless progressive voters go to the polls the results could be as catastrophic for women as were the 1994 elections.
The state's chapter activists also organized a lobby night March 11. Members traveled to Annapolis to lobby against several anti-abortion bills.
The Escambia NOW chapter in Pensacola, Fla., took action after hearing of several cases of sexual harassment in the schools, both on the elementary and high school levels. They received several phone calls seeking support from parents or school personnel whose daughters or students had been harassed. It appeared that, even when these young women informed the proper personnel, administrators tolerated the behavior and overlooked the problem. The chapter addressed a Feb. 27 school board meeting, insisting on a review of existing policies and action on real solutions.
The chapter's news release noted: "Sexual harassment takes a terrible toll on girls. These actions can result in loss of self-confidence, lack of trust and belief in the educational system, a reduced ability to perform school work, excessive absenteeism, and even a transfer from a particular course, major or school. In many ways our schools are training grounds for sexual harassment. Boys are often not punished or even reprimanded for their harassing behavior. Girls are taught that it is their role to accept and tolerate this humiliating conduct." The story was picked up by two local television stations, with interviews of local students confirming that the problem did exist.
If your chapter is interested in working on the problem of sexual harassment in the schools, two excellent legal resource kits are available ($5 each) from the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, 99 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10016: "Policies and Procedures on Sexual Harassment in the Schools" and "Sexual Harassment in the Schools." The latter includes a blueprint for action to address the problem and is available in Spanish.
NOW New Jersey
NOW New Jersey, working with the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women, held a news conference at the statehouse in Trenton to protest the governor's plan to sell motor vehicle records to direct mail advertisers. By allowing easy access to these records, the plan would potentially endanger women who are attempting to flee domestic violence. Democratic Assemblywomen Loretta Weinberg, Barbara Buono and Shirley K. Turner spoke at the press conference in support of NOW New Jersey's position.
NOW New Jersey President Bear Atwood said, "In states where the records are open to the public, for example Florida, anti-abortion groups sit outside health care clinics and take down license plate numbers of people entering the clinics. These ptients have received harassing phone calls and letters. In light of the recent rise in violence at clinics in this country, including murders, it is clear that the risk to women is very real."
NOW activists scored a partial victory when, minutes before the news conference started, the state Treasury Department announced it would allow motorists to opt out of having their motor vehicle records sold. Activists in NOW New Jersey are urging legislators to support a bill that would give the public an option to permit or deny the release of their records. However, they want motorists to agree to the release of their names with a positive checkoff on their registration form, rather than having to search out a way to deny access to their records.
Michigan NOW leaders participated in a non-violent civil disobedience action March 14 in support of union workers in their eight-month-old strike against the Detroit Newspaper Association (the Detroit News and Free Press). Michigan NOW President Gloria Woods and National NOW Board Member Jacqueline Steingold were among 44 women arrested for their part in the non-violent demonstration.
Woods said: "Those of us who support women's equality know that union participation has enabled many women to move the theory of women's equality closer to reality. A good paying job and the security of a union negotiating on one's behalf has meant the difference between poverty and economic security for tens of thousands of working women in our country." Detroit News publisher Bob Giles has been particularly adamant in his refusal to compromise with union workers, declaring, "We're going to hire a whole new workforce and go on without unions, or they can surrender unconditionally and salvage what they can."
Baton Rouge NOW
A Baton Rouge (La.) NOW delegation led by chapter coordinator Dr. Carmen del Rio joined 20,000 pro-affirmative action demonstrators in a Feb. 24 "March on the Mansion" and state capitol in Baton Rouge. State and local chapter leaders of the National Association for The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organized the demonstration to protest newly elected Republican Gov. Mike Foster's executive order eliminating state affirmative action programs.
Del Rio, asked by organizers to address the crowd, told them: "The National Organization for Women is proud to join the NAACP in the struggle for equality and justice. Why, we ask, do Gov. Mike Foster, Pat Buchanan, David Duke and Woody Jenkins say that affirmative action is not needed anymore? On what, we ask, do these men base their assertion? Not a single statistic shows that women and minorities have achieved equality in terms of money, power or opportunity. We are here to remind our governor and the rest of the country that we will not go back. We've been there, seen that, done that -- no way!"
Shortly after taking office earlier this year, Foster signed the anti-affirmative action executive order -- on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to Del Rio. "He had the gall to say that Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with him," she said. "That really got people going. But then, this is a governor endorsed by the likes of David Duke, Pat Buchanan and [anti-abortion leader] state Rep. Woody Jenkins, who's now running for U.S. Senate."
Foster's election platform also included promises to outlaw abortion and legalize the carrying of concealed weapons, she said.
Return to May NNT
Return to NOW Home Page
Search NOW site
Send mail to NOW