NOW Launches Equality Countdown Campaign

by Diane Minor

Save a date on your calendar next year in order to help save our country from a takeover by right wing extremists in elections next November.

 The date is April 14, and the place is San Francisco. The "Fight the Right" march and rally will be a highlight of NOW's nationwide Equality Countdown Campaign designed to put our issues and our candidates front and center in the coming election year.

 "We cannot let flat tax fever, attacks on affirmative action or some other political ploy dull the memories of voters who understand that the Newt Congress has gone too far," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "We need to be in the streets and on the phones early next year, driving home the message that we refuse to accept cuts in Violence Against Women Act funding, murders and arson at clinics and assaults on equal opportunities in exchange for the promise of economic security for some people."

 NOW is kicking off its 1996 campaign season with a protest of Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson's conference on women in Long Beach. NOW's action plans for the coming year were previewed in three national briefings.

 At the briefing in Chicago, Ireland announced NOW/PAC's endorsement of State Sen. Alice Palmer, a longtime NOW ally, in the race to replace Mel Reynolds. Reynolds is a former Democratic congressman sentenced to five years in prison for criminal sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl and obstruction of justice.

 "We are heading into critical elections in the coming year, including two special elections -- one here in Chicago and one in Oregon -- to replace men who abused their power," Ireland said. "And we are working to get feminist women into those positions and into many other powerful posts nationwide."

The first briefing in Chicago was held in conjunction with a NOW National Board meeting. A second event took place in Washington, D.C. in mid-October. The third is set for California in November, a week prior to the Long Beach action.

While NOW is calling for activists to organize grassroots campaigns in every community across the country, here are 10 good reasons why California is the place for you to be on April 14, 1996.

 1. The common wisdom is that as California goes, so goes the country -- on everything from trendy nose and navel rings to electoral votes.

 2. California is the first and most important front in the battle over affirmative action. Equal opportunities for people of color and women are under more severe attack in California than anywhere else in the country.

 A ballot initiative dismantling affirmative action programs is on the ballot in 1996. Gov. Pete Wilson already succeeded in getting the University of California's board of regents to yank its affirmative action guidelines for admissions and hiring.

 Gingrich reportedly plans to put efforts to quash federal affirmative action programs on the back burner until after the elections, but NOW's Ireland doubts he'll be able to muzzle conservative crazies like Phil Gramm, R-Texas, in the Senate and Charles Canady, R-Fla., in the House.

 3. California's Wilson, opportunistic foe of affirmative action, is still considered a likely pick for vice president. A very right wing Republican and the state's Democratic lieutenant governor are both already in effect running to replace Wilson as governor, having raised more than $500,000 each.

 4. Term limits are resulting in a huge number of open seats in the California legislature. Though few of the parties' likely picks in primaries next spring are women, the outcome of the primaries will shape the next legislature.

 5. The Republican National Convention will be held in San Diego next August.

 6. As is the case in many states, California's reproductive health clinics have been the site of a continuous campaign of anti-abortion terrorism, with several cases of arson in the past year alone.

 7. We already have a strong network of support building in California, from some of the most unexpected sources. This despite or perhaps because the public opinion polls are supposedly stacked against us on affirmative action.

 California is NOW's largest state organization, with more than 40,000 card-carrying members. NOW chapter activists are already turning out for events, getting organized and working in coalitions with civil rights groups.

 California has not been the site of a major NOW action since 1992 and has not been targeted for a national march in nearly a decade.

 9. National NOW is laying the groundwork for vigorous campaign efforts in California in 1996. NOW National Field Director Loretta Kane and Field Organizer Mira Weinstein were in California in recent weeks to help organize the protest of Wilson's conference on women. In addition, National NOW recently hired two more field organizers to prepare for the elections.

 "We need to use this event in 1996 the same way we used the record turnout at our march in 1992, to build a force of organizers who will take back not just Congress, but state and local offices throughout the country," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Too many women's rights supporters stayed home in 1994 and a few thousand votes lost us some of our best feminist friends."

 10. California is the perfect place to "Fight the Right." It has been a birthplace and stronghold of the Christian right wing. Major right wing organizations such as Focus on the Family began in California, though some have since moved to new right wing enclaves like Colorado Springs, Colo. The San Diego plan elected right wing stealth candidates to school boards and city councils.

If you can't make it to California, you can still support NOW's coordinated campaigns throughout the country. For information on your area, contact your state organization or local NOW chapter.

 For information on how to support feminist candidates and NOW's political organizing nationwide, contact NOW/PAC Director Linda Berg. (See her most recent report).

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