Vision Conference: Not Business As Usual

by Gay Bruhn, National Board Member, Great Lakes Region

When NOW named Rochester, N.Y., the area where the first Women's Rights Convention was held, as the site for the organization's 1998 National Conference it was clear that something special was called for. So a Women's Rights Convention and Vision Summit was planned for July 10-12 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls, N.Y. "This conference will be historic," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "NOW activists will gather to create a new declaration of our dreams and hopes. Our shared vision will bind us together, inspire us and keep our movement strong."

What will be different?

Defining NOW's future will be our main business in Rochester. National conferences usually focus on issues that women face today. This year, the conference will go beyond our immediate concerns. We'll be defining ourselves as an organization and creating our vision for women in the next century.

Every conference attendee will have a voice in creating the vision statement—and the pre-conference vision work done by NOW chapters and regions will help shape our work. NOW's board members have worked for almost two years to refine a process that embraces the experiences and perspectives of conference participants and will result in a moving vision statement. Participants will give input on a series of questions and will engage with others in discussion and debate about what change we seek to make in the world, how we believe change can happen and what NOW's philosophy is for feminist activism.

Participants will be inspired by powerful speakers who review our history, address our current status and share their dreams for a feminist future. We will be assisted by talented writers. Our creative energy will be uplifted by feminist artists.

On Sunday the entire conference body will discuss and delegates will vote on a vision statement. Those who support the final version will have the opportunity to sign this document in the closing ceremony.

Will there be resolutions?

The drafting, debating and passing of resolutions that is usually the main work of the weekend will give way to the development of our vision.

There will be a resolutions process, but it will take place on the local, state and regional level and again at the national board. Proposed resolutions will be presented to the board in advance of the conference, and a screening committee will identify urgent resolutions that need to come to the full conference.

Will there be workshops?

Susan B. Anthony. Photo courtesy of the National Women's Hall of Fame.
At the Vision Summit there will be workshops that help us see our past and dream our future. Most of Saturday and Sunday will be devoted to working groups. These groups will be guided by questions designed to lead participants into expressing a vision. Plenaries will be working sessions that give us the time and structure to bring our many ideas together into one vision for NOW.

This conference will indeed be special. We will be talking about our organization, who we are, what we want to be, what we want our future to be and what NOW's role will be in that future -- not the issues already defined for us by today's world.

Board member Marcia Pappas described the importance of vision as giving us a new or renewed sense of value in ourselves and each other. Participants will put into words the feminism we feel in our hearts and why this movement is worth giving everything of ourselves. Our work in Rochester will articulate a framework of shared values to guide our decisions.

We are setting out to make history just as they did at that first convention in 1848. The Declaration of Sentiments is a model of what we can create together. As Sojourner Truth put it so eloquently at the 1851 Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again."

NOW, we are these women.

For more information or to register, go to or call 202-331-0066, ext. 771.

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