by Vanessa Salinas, Racial Diversity Program Director
In response to the massive right wing attacks on civil rights, NOW will host a Women of Color and Allies Summit in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20-22. Members at the July 1997 National NOW Conference in Memphis voted overwhelmingly in favor of the summit.
"This Summit will be a powerful grassroots event that will bring together women from across the country to create a vision and a strategy to win equality for all," said Elizabeth Toledo, NOW's newly elected Vice President-Action. "Our movement must celebrate diversity in order to achieve our maximum strength; this summit will move us forward in that direction."
Participants will organize on a wide scope of issues including the attack on poor women disguised as "welfare reform" and the lack of reproductive health access and options for women of color. The agenda will be inclusive of all women's experiences, encouraging, for example, discussions on workplace issues to cover the range from discrimination and harassment in corporate executive suites to abusive treatment of women in sweatshops.
The Summit will present an opportunity to organize for affirmative action in the wake of California's passage of Proposition 209. California's new ban on affirmative action has already resulted in drastically lowered admissions for people of color at the state's universities. This year there are no African American or other women of color in the first year class at UC Berkeley s school of law.
NOW President Patricia Ireland attended the large affirmative action march and rally in San Francisco on the day that Proposition 209 took effect, ironically the 34th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s moving "I Have a Dream" speech. She encouraged supporters by saying, "Standing together, women and people of color have the strength, and we will save the dream."
Activists in dozens of states and municipalities across the country are fighting anti-affirmative action proposals. Congress is considering a ban on affirmative action that would also weaken non-discrimination laws against women.
Summit participants will also organize against the attack on immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants. After Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., defeated Bob Dornan, he blamed the loss on immigrants and launched an investigation of Latina/o voters and organizations in Orange County.
Strategies for electing feminists will be included in the Summit agenda. The NOW Political Action Committee will honor women in public office such as Sanchez, who is facing an opposition campaign run by Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition.
Congressional attacks on Native American sovereignty will be addressed as tribal governments have been threatened with the loss of crucial federal funding if they do not agree to waive sovereign immunity to civil lawsuits and pass income tests not required of city and state governments.
The Summit will also offer a forum for discussion of NOW's campaign to expose the Promise Keepers political agenda. Promise Keepers leader Wellington Boone has said, "The black community must stop criticizing Uncle Tom." In another speech he stated "I believe that slavery, and the understanding of it when you see it in God s way, was redemptive."
NOW will continue to challenge the Promise Keepers vision of all women as subordinate to men and their plan for "racial reconciliation" as an alternative to racial justice.
In 1987 NOW sponsored the National Women of Color and Reproductive Rights Conference at Howard University. The conference was standing room only, with double the expected attendance. Activists came to Washington, D.C., from as far away as Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. NOW expects the 1998 Summit to welcome delegations from across the country representing the broad spectrum of women s rights activists.
NOW is seeking Summit co-sponsors to ensure broad outreach and an inclusive agenda. Early co-sponsors include the National Welfare Rights Union, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the National Asian Women's Health Organization, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and the Center for Human Rights Education. Organizers are also recruiting scholarship sponsors and alternative housing to assist those with financial needs.
Ireland invites women of color and allies to attend the Summit and work in a united feminist movement.
For information on local and national organizing for the summit e-mail Vanessa Salinas at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-331-0066, ext.771. The advance registration form is available.
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