NOW Conference Celebrates 30 Years

By Diane Minor

On deck at our annual national conference in Las Vegas next month -- nothing less than the past, present and future role of NOW. We'll be celebrating NOW's 30th anniversary, finalizing our plans for this presidential election year and starting to craft a mission statement for the 21st century.

All this in a city that is known for its gambling and sex industries, but also elected a strong feminist woman as mayor. NOW President Patricia Ireland predicts a "culture shock not seen since NOW members hit the New Orleans French Quarter" during the 1985 conference.

Ireland expects debate over the Vegas sex industry, political strategies and the mission statement to be "lively." She says she hopes activists will show the same respect toward each other that they did during recent debates over strategies for achieving constitutional equality.

Prostitution is not legal in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, but is legal within licensed brothels in nearby counties. National NOW has passed resolutions calling for union organizing and health and other protections for sex workers. Nevada NOW has lobbied on behalf of such protections.

Nevada NOW President Amy Meedel says "Until there are more real alternatives for women here, I hope NOW activists won't come in and attack them."

The hotel industry in Las Vegas is a union organizing success story for women, and NOW has confirmed one of the AFL-CIO's top leaders, Executive Vice President Linda Chavez Thomas, as a keynote speaker. Nevada NOW works in coalition with unions, and they have held joint protests; a recent action held up the convening of the state legislature.

Despite a few objections to the site, NOW National Secretary Karen Johnson reports registrations have been flooding in earlier than usual. The conference will be held at Bally's, a 2,000-room resort on the main strip.

The Southern Nevada NOW chapter that won the bid for the annual conference has been in the national news as a result of its protests of a boxing match featuring convicted rapist Mike Tyson. The chapter has also staged protests or letter writing campaigns targeting violence against women on the strip, billboards for a major hotel that show women in g-strings, billboards for a beeper vendor that show a woman straddling a beeper and a hotel show that had a gratuitous rape scene, according to Meedel.

The two main tasks on the agenda for delegates to the conference are finalizing NOW's plans for this presidential election year and beginning a national dialogue on a mission statement for the 21st century.

National NOW plans a protest at the Republican convention in San Diego and a fundraiser for feminist candidates at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. As this issue went to press, NOW/PAC was considering a major change in strategy that would emphasize field organizing, according to Ireland.

Activists may well ask why NOW needs a revised mission statement when it already has both a founding statement of purpose and a more current satement of purpose. The 1966 founding statement is two single-spaced, typeset pages long, with some language and substance that are outdated. The current statement, in the bylaws, is also a fairly long delineation of feminist concerns.

"A good analogy for the work before us on a mission statement is the work we did the past two years, in three national conferences, on constitutional equality," Ireland said. "In fact, it's our expansion of the concept of true equality that goads us to again re-examine our mission for the 21st century. What we're aiming for is a concise yet concrete mission statement with language that sings."

Ask long-time NOW activists to reflect on our first 30 years and envision feminism in the next century and what do you find? People who consider NOW's main accomplishments to range from mobilizing grassroots activists for marches and calls to their legislators to getting people to internalize feminist thinking, making it part of the national psyche.

And where do we need to head? Our goals for the 21st century might range from making equality such a reality that we don't have to fight for it anymore to making better use of new communications technology in our political organizing.

Come be part of the dialogue yourself. Register now to attend NOW's 30th Anniversary National Conference by calling Kirsten Xanthippe at 202-628-8669, ext. 729.

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