Young Feminists Empower Themselves, Movement

by Jess Waters,
Communications Intern

NOW President Patricia Ireland leads young feminists in enthusiastic chants that rock the White House.

"We're strong, we're beautiful, we're powerful," roared hundreds of young women and men during a rally staged April 13 at the White House capping off the three-day 1997 NOW Foundation Young Feminist Summit.

The summit's theme, "New Voices, New Visions: Young Women Taking Action for the 21st Century," echoed throughout the April 11-13 event. An estimated 1,200 young feminists from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to empower themselves with the skills necessary to shape their futures and effect change in their lives and communities.

Participants attended workshops focused on issues ranging from affirmative action and reproductive rights to Title IX and the media portrayal of women; skill-building sessions such as "Grassroots Campus Organizing"; and discussion groups giving participants a chance to speak out on topics central to their lives. The sessions focused on issues vital to a younger generation of feminists and stressed the need to embrace the strength in diversity of race, sexual orientation and background in the feminist movement.

"We needed a forum to discuss the issues and perspectives pertinent to our generation," said Joyce Chen, 19, Summit participant and NOW intern. "Once we recognize our issues it is easier for us to recognize intergenerational issues and to organize collaboratively."

While focusing on empowering the rising generation of feminists, the Summit also involved an intergenerational coalition of activists. Girls as young as 10 sat beside seasoned NOW board members, sharing their different perspectives and common goals.

Featured speaker Rachel Bauchman, a high school activist from ultra-conservative Salt Lake City, spoke of fighting Morman fundamentalist theocracy in her public school, which made her the target for anti-Semitic death threats. Bauchman shared the stage with veteran activist U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, who began her career as a public official in 1956.

Throughout the weekend, there was a pervasive sense that cooperation between the generations is vital while the torch of the feminist movement is being passed.

"Our generation received a gift from the woman's movement of the '70s," said speaker Ileann Jimenez, program manager for MANA, a national Latina organization. "Now we have a world waiting for our leadership."

Likewise, NOW President Patricia Ireland encouraged the participants to take action in their lives and to get involved in politics.

"When policy that affects all of us is set, all of us need to be there," Ireland said. "You must decide how you will not only influence the people in power but become the people in power. Speak up, speak out about your lives, and you can change the world."

Participants vowed that their enthusiasm and activism would not end with the Summit. At the close of the weekend, participants gathered to devise strategies and action plans to be used to retain the spirit of the Summit and catapult the movement into the 21st century.

"Tomorrow is yours," Marcia Ann Gillespie, editor of Ms. magazine, told the young activists. "A world where women's equality is a fact is in your hands. What you do with it is up to you."

They expressed this desire to shape the future during the White House picket and rally. While a lone protester held aloft his anti-abortion propaganda sign, the young feminists called for economic and education equity, broader reproductive rights and "Equal rights for Chelsea."

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