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National NOW Times >> Fall, 2001 >> Article

Ireland Steps Down, Conference Delegates Elect Gandy New President

by Sarah Fox, Publications Manager

Feminist leaders of the labor movement, welfare rights movement and state legislatures, along with nearly a thousand chapter delegates and NOW activists poured into Philadelphia over the weekend of June 29-July 1, 2001 for NOW’s National Conference. Spanning the 35th anniversary of NOW’s founding on June 30, 1966, the weekend conference was jam-packed with exciting speakers and entertainers and activities, both scheduled and unscheduled. The first plenary session opened with inspiration - a video documenting NOW’s Emergency Action for Women’s Lives on April 22 - and built throughout the weekend.

Entitled Not for Ourselves Alone: A Leadership Skills Conference, the weekend focused on the impact of feminist leadership on the entire culture, not just the progressive movement. With elections for national NOW leadership, inspiring stories of those in the trenches every day and acknowledgment of the courageous women and men who are the present and future of feminism, the conference offered something for everyone.

Women of Courage

In honor of her decade of service as NOW President, former NOW President Eleanor Smeal, Vice President-Action Loretta Kane and other friends presented a stirring tribute to Patricia Ireland, including personal stories of inspiration, an awe-inspiring record of her political accomplishments and a video presentation of photos taken over a lifetime of activism. Plenary highlights ranged from Linda Chavez-Thompson, the highest ranking woman in the labor movement, to nineteen-year-old Woman of Courage Award recipient Cheryl Haworth, the strongest woman in the world, to Dr. Jane Smith, the inspirational former president of the National Council of Negro Women. Welfare rights trailblazer Cheri Honkala talked about the importance of a movement sparked by and led by the people closest to the issues, and Maryanne Connelly illustrated the need for feminist political activists to take on not only those on the extreme right but supposed allies that do not truly make change for our movement.

The Second Annual Political Institute, 13 issue hearings, eight special interest caucuses, more than 30 workshops, and dozens of proposed resolutions were on the official agenda -- enhanced by delegates caucusing informally, discussing ideas over breakfast or coffee, debating in the hall and exchanging information on the escalator.

In addition to making policy through the resolution process, delegates elected a new team of officers to serve for the next four years. Ireland was ineligible to run due to term limits.

The race was hotly contested and competing teams of candidates blanketed the conference with eye-catching buttons, tees, signs and even color tattoos! Competing candidates for each office appeared before each of four regional caucuses to present their platform, as well as going head to head in a debate before the full conference on the day of the elections. At the appointed time for voting the line of credentialed delegates stretched the length of hall outside of the meeting space, up a flight of stairs and the full length of the hall above. Thanks to a crack elections committee, voting went smoothly. Some five hours after the voting began, the winning team was announced in the hotel and headlined on CNN.

The newly-elected President, Kim Gandy, said "NOW activists have made great strides for women in these first 35 years, changing the culture and transforming many institutions. But our challenges are even greater now. Why? Because only two right wing Supreme Court appointments from George Bush will reverse Roe v. Wade and unravel decades of other women’s rights advances. We’ve got to make sure every U.S. Senator recognizes what is at stake in voting for confirmation, and knows that we are watching."

Feminist Leadership in the New Millennium

Kim Gandy takes the helm of the National Organization for Women after a decade of serving as Vice President-Executive with Patricia Ireland. Gandy steps into the role of President after 28 years of service to NOW at every level of the organization, from chapter president to Regional Director to National Secretary. A Louisiana native, Gandy is a lawyer and mother of two young daughters. In her acceptance speech she said she looked forward to "sending George Bush back to Texas."

Karen Johnson was elected Vice President-Executive after serving the organization as Vice President-Membership since 1993. Johnson is a nurse and a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who served during the Vietnam War as a nurse officer. Olga Vives joins the team as Vice President-Action. Vives brings to NOW her experience as a mother of three children, a lesbian, an immigrant, a Hispanic, and as a woman with over 30 years in training, management and marketing. Terry O’Neill takes Johnson’s place as Vice President- Membership. O’Neill is a law professor who joined NOW to take on the right wing and has written several amicus briefs on abortion rights issues for NOW, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood.

Gandy and her team ran a close race with a team led by Toni Van Pelt, the immediate past president of Florida NOW. After the new team took office Van Pelt stated, "I invite Kim Gandy and her team, to incorporate into their vision for NOW the exciting grassroots ideas that were the hallmark of our platform and will support them in their efforts to further NOW’s goals."

Van Pelt’s campaign manager, Beth Corbin, said that "[w]hen the two slates demonstrated to the country how an election SHOULD be run - on issues rather than personal attacks and negative campaigning - WE ALL WON. We have four new officers who are ready to lead the charge against the Bush assault on women’s civil rights. On behalf of Toni Van Pelt, Gloria Woods, Marcia Pappas, Alicia Perez-Banuet and our many campaign supporters, TEAM* NOW congratulates Kim Gandy, Olva Vives, Terry O’Neill and Karen Johnson. Look out, ‘Dubya’ . . . NOW’s moving forward as one united force, and we won't leave anyone behind!"

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