NOW Grassroots Organizing Key to '96 Elections
by Diane Minor
NOW/PAC-endorsed candidates in fall elections include
popular three-time state legislator E. Shirley Baca of New Mexico, who
is making her first run for Congress, and Harvey Gantt, who is trying--for
a second time--to unseat arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms in North Carolina.
(Endorsed candidates list)
After getting feminist candidates for crucial U.S. Senate and House
seats through tough spring and summer primaries, NOW and NOW/PAC are battle-ready
for a few final September primaries and election day itself. Aggressive
field organizing is just one of the field-tested strategies we are replicating
across the country in this critical election year when women voters --
in a repeat of 1992 -- can make a difference.
"No matter how much money candidates have to spend on advertising or
high-dollar political consultants, they can't afford to omit a field organizing
strategy," said NOW President Patricia
Ireland, who also chairs NOW/PAC. "And for our candidates with limited
campaign funds, grassroots organizing is an absolute survival tool."
In Newt Gingrich's backyard, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., won
a July 9 primary by 10 points. She praised NOW's role in her wider-than-expected
margin of victory. "From the darkest moments of the redistricting battle
to our decisive primary victory, NOW activists stood with me when I needed
them most," McKinney said.
Last spring Ireland and former NOW president Molly Yard made a joint
appearance at a McKinney fundraiser. NOW/PAC Director Linda Berg joined
Georgia NOW State Coordinator Vicki McClennan in field organizing and get-out-the-vote
efforts before the primary.
McKinney still faces the challenge of being re-elected from a district
with newly drawn boundary lines and voters who may not be familiar with
and appreciative of her record.
NOW/PAC and NOW activists will continue a grassroots campaign for McKinney
NOW's strategies and NOW/PAC's take-charge actions also paid off for
Gantt, who emerged the victor in a hotly contested Democratic primary
in North Carolina. Gantt will now attempt to unseat arch-conservative Sen.
Jesse Helms, R-N.C.
The Gantt campaign praised get-out-the-vote efforts by NOW/PAC Field
Organizer Mira Weinstein and North Carolina NOW State President Robin Davis.
"You just came in and did what needed to be done, making the phone calls
and getting people engaged," Don Baker of the Gantt campaign told Weinstein.
"We're looking forward to your expertise and direction in trying to put
together this big tent where we can bring all segments of North Carolina
Across the country in Oregon, our expertise provided the final push
Hooley needed to beat all contenders for the right to challenge right-wing
U.S. Rep. Jim Bunn, R-Ore. Hooley had been relying on a strategy of TV
ads and direct mail -- until NOW/PAC field organizer Kim Ward arrived.
Ward set up phone banks, recruited volunteers, mailed postcards to all
NOW members and lobbied other groups to turn out their members for Hooley.
"It is hard for most people to imagine that one person can do much for
a campaign in one short week before the vote, but NOW people know better,"
said Oregon NOW State Coordinator Peggy Norman, in a letter expressing
gratitude for Ward's work.
Top Reasons to Oust Newt
"We're finding that primary voters across the country realize the Newt
Congress is dominated by extremists who have tried to go too far," Ireland
said. "And we plan to make sure progressive voters return to the polls
in strong numbers this November to put an end to the right's political
In recent months, extremists in Congress have:
passed a punitive welfare
bill rescinding the guarantee that poor people will receive federal
aid and threatening to trap women trying to escape domestic violence
attempted to outlaw a legal
abortion procedure for the first time since Roe v. Wade;
sabotaged reproductive rights, as well as domestic and international family
planning funds, by attaching numerous amendments to other legislation;
stepped up their campaign of hatred and division by pushing the misnamed
of Marriage Act aimed at prohibiting same sex marriages;
moved ahead with stealth legislation that would legalize sex discrimination,
eliminate all federal affirmative action
programs and remove affirmative action guidelines for federal contracts;
played politics with battered women's lives by waging budget battles that
held hostage millions of dollars in funding for the Violence
Against Women Act.
Firm Focus for Fall
With a sense of urgency about blocking Congress from doing further damage
and with an eye on eight September primaries (Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii,
Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Washington), NOW/PAC
wrapped several of its successful spring strategies together into an innovative
plan for the fall.
NOW will make electoral politics a major focus for all levels of the organization
through November, as activists did for the Fight
the Right march organizing earlier this year. Delegates backed this
commitment in a resolution passed at the 1996
National NOW Conference June 28-30 in Las Vegas.
NOW will emphasize creative grassroots strategies, as with the Gantt and
Hooley campaigns. National NOW cannot provide organizers in every district,
but will assist chapters and states
to become more politically involved themselves, providing materials and
training. For example, chapter activists and the Long Island NOW Alliance
PAC are working hard to support longtime NOW member Nora
Bredes for the U.S. House and NOW activists in Louisiana are backing
Landrieu -- a former state treasurer who made a recent gubernatorial
bid -- in her race for the U.S. Senate.
NOW/PAC will give strong support to feminist incumbents the right wing
is trying to unseat through re-districting, as is the case for not only
McKinney, but also Reps. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., and Sheila Jackson Lee,
D-Texas. "We want to make sure voters understand that Newt and his cronies
want to get rid of these women because they stand up to them," said Ireland.
"They couldn't get rid of all our feminist friends legitimately through
the last election in 1994, so now they're trying to pull the rug out from
under them through re-districted, re-election gimmicks."
NOW/PAC is creating a Feminist Voters Guide on the Internet that presents
candidates' records on our issues. The guide was developed by student interns
-- Justina Grubor and Marieke Kearns -- who spent the summer combing over
voting records and campaign literature.
A "Can Do" Challenge
At the 1996 National NOW Conference, Ireland invoked the year 1994 as both
a warning and a challenge. "Women's issues were not visible, women stayed
home in droves, we lost some of our best feminist friends in Congress and
our issues have been under severe attack ever since," she said. "This year,
it's our challenge to make sure the women's vote and gender gap get more
than just lip service. We have to get women's issues and candidates' voting
records on those issues front and center."
Although 1994 was the year that narrow wins created the disastrous Gingrich-led
Congress of religious and political extremists, it was also the year various
NOW PACs helped elect 511 people to all levels of government, according
to NOW/PAC's Berg. "We can do that again, and we can do better," she said.
Return to October 1996 newspaper /
to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Send
mail to NOW / Join NOW