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National NOW Times >> Fall, 2001 >> Article

Feminists Renew Commitment to Political Change in 2002

by Linda Berg, Political Director

NOW’s Political Institute a Success

As evidenced by the enthusiastic participation of activists in the second annual national Political Institute, NOW members are preparing to tackle the political challenges of the 2002 elections. More than one hundred conference attendees joined at least one of NOW PACs’ political strategy and skill-building sessions. Thirty-four NOW activists from twenty states demonstrated their commitment to political change and earned certificates by completing the full complement of political workshops.

Political Institute participants struggled with strategies: to sustain and tap into the anger and frustration from the 2000 elections; to position feminist candidates to effectively run for political office; to turn on and turn out younger voters; and to identify feminist candidates and convince them to run. Looking to the future, attendees grappled with the question of what true election reform would look like and whether proposals like McCain-Feingold, public financing of elections, and proportional representation benefit women.

Back by popular demand was the brown bag lunch, which this year featured three feminist political heros: Former Fanwood, NJ, mayor Maryanne Connelley and Florida State Representatives Ann Gannon and Lois Frankel. Connelley challenged the good-old-boy machine in New Jersey by defeating its candidate in a stunning congressional primary upset in 2001. She offered a cautionary tale about the challenge of taking on the political establishment, but is undeterred in her enthusiasm for encouraging more feminists to run for office. Connelly was awarded NOW’s Woman of Courage award for taking such a strong stand and blazing a trail against great odds.

Florida House Minority Leader Frankel was the voice of reason during the presidential election debacle. Her efforts to thwart the Florida legislature’s meddling in that election made national news, and her insider accounts fascinated not only NOW activists, but also television viewers nationwide. Frankel spoke to the NOW PAC gathering within days of announcing her candidacy for Florida governor. Certainly the prospect of defeating Jeb Bush with a NOW activist candidate would fulfill many feminist political fantasies.

Offering a riveting first-hand account of the harrowing days in Florida was former Florida NOW lobbyist and current State Representative Anne Gannon. Imagine starting out your first legislative session grappling with the fate of the U.S. presidency!

Redistricting Both Threat and Opportunity for Feminist Leadership

During the next year, most states will begin redrawing congressional district lines to reflect shifts in population since 1990. While NOW PACs often support feminist women candidates whom conventional wisdom says cannot win, experience clearly demonstrates a direct correlation between the number of new women elected to Congress and the number of open seats. Thus, it is critical that NOW PACs expand its army of trained political activists throughout the country to take advantage of all the newly created congressional districts. The fact that there were Political Institute participants from every state that will gain congressional seats will be crucial to the implementation of NOW PACs’ 2002 election strategy. And, beginning this fall, NOW PAC plans to take the Political Institute on the road to increase its effectiveness.

Congressional districts will be redrawn in almost every state in the country, and most seasoned politicians are waiting to see where the district lines fall before committing to run for Congress. It is clear already, though, that in states where seats will be lost because of population declines, some of the strongest feminist advocates in Congress are in danger of being shifted into districts where they will have to run against other incumbents.

NOW PAC is closely watching Lynn Rivers’ seat in Michigan, where some redistricting proposals would pit her against another powerful Democratic member, John Dingell, who has voted to restrict minors’ access to abortion and supported abortion procedure bans. In Wisconsin, the legislature may erode Tammy Baldwin’s strength by redrawing the lines of her district and possibly forcing her into an election battle with another incumbent. In Pennsylvania, which is slated to lose two seats, the redistricting process is controlled entirely by the Republicans, who are aiming to reduce Democratic representation.

Several strong feminist leaders are looking at U.S. Senate races in 2002. Jeanne Shaheen, elected the first woman Governor of New Hampshire with the strong support of New Hampshire NOW, is poised to challenge right-wing extremist Senator Bob Smith. Elaine Marshall, who had significant backing from North Carolina NOW in her election as the first woman Secretary of State, will seek to unseat feminist foe Senator Jesse Helms.

In New Mexico, conservative powerhouse Senator Pete Domenici may be facing FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, the first woman elected to the state Corporation Commission, with the unwavering support of New Mexico NOW.

NOW PAC Needs Your Help to Win

These races promise to be exciting, and NOW PAC Political Institute graduates are already on the ground and ready to organize the women’s rights vote in their states.

To protect feminist incumbents, send them reinforcements, and make 2002 truly a “year of the woman,” NOW PAC needs the support of all NOW members. A contribution to NOW PAC is a small investment in the future of women. With “W” in the White House, holding the power to nominate right-wing Supreme Court Justices and promulgate executive orders, none of women’s rights are safe. Feminists must have a strong Congress to stand up against attempts to limit women’s progress.

A monthly contribution will assure us of a predictable cash flow and therefore strengthen NOW PAC’s ability to construct and carry out a strategic plan, as well as to react quickly to unexpected electoral challenges. A one-time gift will enable the PAC to identify potential challenges and send immediate help to friends in Congress who need early money. Help send a signal to the right-wing that feminists have just begun to fight!

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