NOW Joins in Rainbow Conference Strategy Session for '96 Elections

by Linda Berg

With a show of unity and strength, leaders from the labor, women's rights and civil rights movements, including NOW, sat down and strategized at National Rainbow Coalition conference recently in Chicago.

In a stirring address to a standing-room only luncheon audience, NOW President and Rainbow Coalition Board member Patricia Ireland reaffirmed NOW's commitment to protect all of our achievements from the insidious attacks of the right wing.

"While Newt Gingrich says with glee that the winds of political change often blow East from California, we're going to give him an updated weather report," she said. "In California, Congress and everywhere in between, we're going to quash the right wing's jaded attempt to roll back decades of progress on affirmative action and other key issues."

Her speech was one of several activities by our NOW trio attending the conference, which had the theme, "Target '96: Reclaiming Democracy and Justice."

As NOW Special Projects Coordinator Wanda Alston networked with and leafletted conference attendees, Ireland urged them to join in the Fight the Right March in San Francisco.

During a panel discussion I spoke, as NOW's PAC director, on the importance of women's vote in targeting, training and turnout for the '96 elections.

At a Women's Forum, Ireland highlighted the remarkable achievements of feminist members of Congress prior to the rise of the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Congress and the disastrous change in the political climate since then.

The list of conference participants was a who's who of the progressive political movement and included the late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, U.S. Rep. Cleo Fields, D-La., and Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., Democratic National Committee Chair Don Fowler, House Minority Leader U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Workshops spanned topics ranging from reclaiming youth to voter mobilization.

A major focus of the conference was the status of U.S. cities. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the National Rainbow Coalition, introduced the "Reinvest in America Plan," which he described as a Marshall Pln for urban America. The problems that plague U.S. cities -- unemployment, drugs, poverty, crime -- must be a part of the national debate, Jackson said. He then outlined a plan to use pension funds for urban development and circulated petitions urging President Clinton to hold a White House conference on urban policy.

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