NOW Activists Featured in Health and Poverty Videos

Videos Focus on Hazardous Ads, "Poverty Outlaw"

by Beth Corbin, Field Organizer

We've all seen the billboards. Visibly vibrant, well-dressed young women with a cigarette barely visible in their hand. "It's a Woman Thing" touts the message from one tobacco company. This kind of suggestive advertising has made lung cancer a woman thing.

Now there's a counter message: "We have come a long way, so don't call me baby!" -- as NOW's Women's Health Project, directed by California NOW's Elizabeth Toledo, launches a new campaign, "Redefining Liberation: Does Advertising Affect Your Health?"

Tobacco companies have long co-opted the feminist message in an attempt to manipulate women and girls into smoking. They use themes of women's liberation and independence in ads depicting females who are thin, glamorous and seemingly powerful. And this kind of advertising works.

Early tobacco ads urged women to "pick up a cigarette instead of a snack," and this theme has endured as a subliminal message. As a result, each day 2,000 women and girls start smoking. And now lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cancer killer of women. More than 142,000 women die each year from their use of tobacco.

Eating disorders are another ill-effect from advertising, affecting an estimated seven million women and girls. Glitzy ads with rail-thin women generate $36 billion in annual revenues for the diet industry.

NOW's new 22-minute video reveals the blatant recruiting tactics that have been used successfully by the tobacco and alcohol industries to seduce women and girls. The video intercuts advertising images with those of a diverse group of empowered women and girls, urging viewers to fight back, as well as comments from national NOW leaders.

"You can make a difference," says executive producer and San Francisco NOW activist Helen Grieco. "Spend your consumer dollars wisely -- don't buy products from companies that endanger women's health. And contact advertisers to demand that they stop running their offensive, manipulative, harmful ads."

Also available is an informational brochure, "Warning: Advertising May Be Hazardous to Your Health."

To order a copy of the video or brochure, contact Nicole Williams at California NOW at 916-442-3414.

More than 142,000 women die each year from their use of tobacco.

Breaking Poor Laws

"I'm an outlaw. My crime? Being poor."

This stark declaration marks the opening of the documentary, "Poverty Outlaw."

Filmmakers Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy selected the north Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington for their five-year examination of the effects of poverty on a group of welfare mothers. Once a thriving industrial neighborhood, the empty shells of abandoned factory buildings now provide shelter for people with nowhere to go.

"Poverty Outlaw," told in first person by a member of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, is a story about hard choices posed by living in poverty without society's safety net. Never revealing her face or her name, the woman tells her story with disarming honesty.

"I never wanted to break the law, to steal, to become an outlaw," she says. "We have taken over empty houses, stolen thrown-away food . . . gotten used clothing and worn it, and for these simple acts of survival the city of Philadelphia throws us in jail."

The significance of the drama faced by the women in "Poverty Outlaw" is heightened by the fact that millions more in this country are currently facing similar situations. The welfare repeal bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton last August will directly affect an estimated 11 million people.

In response to drastic cuts in the welfare rolls in Pennsylvania, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union was formed in the early 1990s by a small group of women on welfare. From the beginning their mission has been to secure adequate food, clothing and shelter for their members. They began by educating themselves and others about their rights as welfare recipients and lobbying for an increase in the subsistence levels of public assistance.

"Poverty Outlaw" is described by the filmmakers as a kind of "how-to" film for poor women around the country. The film chronicles actions Kensington members call "projects of survival," such as taking over an abandoned welfare office and creating a community center for the children and establishing a "tent city" on government property in front of the Liberty Bell to dramatize the plight of the homeless.

The members realized that to protect their survival projects they had to organize politically. They have organized in welfare centers, door-to-door, and on street corners and in vacant lots. They have joined local election campaigns, lobbied elected officials and organized marches, such as the seven-day march from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to confront state legislators.

NOW activists have joined in many of these efforts, with NOW rounds visible in march scenes included in the video.

"The system believes that poor people don't know how to fight," the outlaw says. "So we're going to show them that we do."

NOW's former welfare rights field organizer Faith Evans, who passed away in September 1995, was instrumental in bringing NOW together with members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the National Welfare Rights Union and in getting NOW involved in the Up and Out of Poverty Now coalition. Evans tirelessly worked to bring Kensington activists to Washington to testify before Congress and to meet with housing officials.

"Poverty Outlaw," available on video cassette, shows some of the devastating effects of welfare repeal from the welfare recipients' point-of-view. The video premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.

"Poverty Outlaw" is distributed by Skylight Pictures and is available to welfare recipients and poverty activists for $10, other individuals for $20, and to institutions for $50. Make checks payable to Skylight Pictures, 330 West 42nd Street, 32nd Floor, New York, NY 10036.

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