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National NOW Times >> Fall 2003 >> Article

Actions Big and Small Prove That Your Voice Counts!

by Barbara Hays, State and Chapter Development Director

The Mat-Su (Alaska) NOW chapter participated in the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce parade dressed as judges with sashes reading 'Neutral Courts Rule!'  Activists passed out hundreds of flyers addressing bad Bush policy for women, reproductive rights, and 'Merchant of Shame' Wal-Mart.
The Mat-Su (Alaska) NOW chapter participated in the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce parade dressed as judges with sashes reading "Neutral Courts Rule!" Activists passed out hundreds of flyers addressing bad Bush policy for women, reproductive rights, and "Merchant of Shame" Wal-Mart. The chapter received positive responses from spectators. Photo courtesy of Lori Ann Costello

Why does NOW need chapters? Why do grassroots members need to take action?

NOW was organized 37 years ago as a feminist civil rights organization dedicated to "taking action to bring women into full participation" in society. Something must have clicked, because, of all the civil rights groups formed during the 1960s, NOW is the only group to have survived and thrived as a grassroots mobilizing force.

NOW promotes advocacy in legislative and judicial arenas and has worked in many elections to change the faces of those who write, pass and rule on laws affecting our rights. Our members have lobbied elected officials at every level of government and have enjoyed both great success and bitter disappointment over the years.

In many ways, however, the real challenge of our work is in societal change. The process of changing people's minds about ideas and attitudes they've had for generations—whether rooted in tradition or custom, religious practice or a particular culture—is where much of feminism's work needs to happen.

The key to NOW's grassroots success has been and always will be in "taking action." And that must be done by our chapters in the cities and towns across this country. These often small grassroots organizations collectively have made a tremendous contribution to changing perceptions and attitudes over the years to create the climate we enjoy today. Action is a basic and crucial tool chapters have for bringing about change. It works for NOW in several very important ways.

Action empowers feminists. There's nothing more exhilarating than taking part in an event, small or large, that brings attention to an issue you care about. If our actions result in change, take time to celebrate. If we don't succeed, then we know we tried—and we'll be ready to fight another day. One of the most important messages to participants in an action is: "Your voice counts!"

It's never been hard to avoid social problems. If you never see anyone suffering from those problems, and you never hear or see anyone discussing how to solve those problems, then you probably won't think about those problems or consider their consequences. For those who don't understand discrimination and unequal treatment, the sight of a candlelight vigil, a picket, or a rally of people calling for change can be a consciousness-raising experience. It also puts a face on discrimination that a fact sheet simply can't.

Action is also the best advertisement to the world that NOW is the group to get involved with if you want to bring about change. Many people who are concerned about specific issues or discrimination in general want to DO something about it. And local NOW chapters provide that opportunity when they sponsor events and plan projects which work toward change.

The remaining months of 2003 and most of 2004 will offer NOW activists seemingly endless action opportunities. Defeating George W. Bush next year is undoubtedly a priority on every progressive's "to do" list. So much is at stake, much of it in the crisis facing our country's judicial system. Another four years of Bush court appointments is certain disaster for everyone. A key part of that defeat means getting feminist/progressive voters to the polls.

Actions by chapters near you might include: Take Back the Night marches this fall to remind people of the age-old problem of physical violence that women face daily. Chapters all over the country will be planning a commemoration of December 12 – the dark day three years ago when the Supreme Court ruling effectively made Bush the President of the United States. With reproductive rights in such jeopardy, the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade is sure to be commemorated by many chapters. And on April 25, 2004, is Save Women's Lives: March for Freedom of Choice – a massive event which, without chapter organizing, would not be possible. Plan to be a part of the March and even organize your own delegation to attend.

For information on chapter organizing, write to chapters@now.org or call 202-628-8669, ext. 127. Send descriptions and photos of your chapter actions to chapters@now.org or NOW Acts, 733 15th St., NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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