by Cindy Hanford, Chapter and State Development Staff

Activists from the Sun City, AZ, chapter attend a Hate Crimes vigil at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.  L to R: Vivian Wood, Lee Ormsbee, Betty Roberts, Bunny Goldfarb, Lola Brown (holding sign), Marge Mead and Ann Timmer.  Photo by Ann Timmer.

NOW activists are hard at work even during summer vacations, as you can see from the following NOW chapter actions.  Chapters have been busy planning actions in support of the NOW Foundation's 2nd Annual Love Your Body Day on Sept. 22.  These actions are aimed at educating the public on how tobacco, alcohol and fashion advertising harms women.  For more information on Love Your Body Day, check out the NOW Foundation's web site at

Northeast Region Women of Color and Allies Summit

On June 5-6, 1999, the Northeast Region of NOW held its first Women of Color and Allies Summit.  The theme of the summit was Celebrating Our Sisterhood.  Approximately 200 activists came from the region and beyond to discuss issues of concern and to formulate strategies on issues of race, class and gender for the new millennium.

Featured speakers included Marcia Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of Ms. magazine; Marian Kramer, Co-President of the National Welfare Rights Union;  Mandy Carter, National Field Director of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum; Rev. Cheng Imm Tan, affiliate minister with the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry; and NOW's Action Vice President Elizabeth Toledo.

Toledo comments, "The Summit was a very empowering experience, and I know that it inspired everyone there to go out and work even harder for racial equality."

The workshops covered myriad topics:  Asian American Perspectives; Latina Women Turning the Tides; Contemporary First Nation Issues; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; Teen Perspectives; Violence Against Women; Welfare Reform; Political Organizing; Advocacy and Activism; Women as Allies; Cultivating New Leadership; and Women's Health. Every workshop presenter came to the summit with pertinent information and suggestions for activists to take back to their communities.

Regional Director Marcia Pappas states, "Thanks to everyone who helped make the Summit a success.  We are already getting requests to hold another one.  I encourage all regions to consider hosting a Women of Color and Allies Summit in the future.  With the hard work and dedication of women working together, we can win."

On the Campaign Trail

Los Angeles NOW activists demonstrate against George W. Bush as he makes a campaign stop in their city.  Photo by Walt Farran.

Los Angeles NOW

On June 29, just a few days before hosting NOW's National Conference, Los Angeles NOW demonstrated against Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush as he was kicking off his campaign in California.  Bush has taken a firm position opposing a woman's right to choose abortion.  (See "NOW PAC Announces Inaugural Victory 2000 Support Committee.")

NOW activists lined the sidewalk in front of the Century Plaza Hotel where Bush was having a fundraising dinner.  NOW’s "Keep Abortion Legal" and "Fight the Radical Right" signs were easily readable from the street and also drew media attention.  However, the evening's local news reported that the protestors were few and that it appeared Bush would not have a problem with his campaign.  Los Angeles NOW Membership Chair Mary Jo Cysewski stated, "NOW needs to follow George Bush on his campaign trail and organize protests at as many of his events as possible."

San Francisco NOW

On the following day, June 30, San Francisco NOW continued to haunt Bush on his California trek.  Pro-choice picketers demonstrated along Stockton Street for three hours while Republicans attended a fundraising dinner for the conservative candidate.  Local media coverage was heavy and footage of the picket reached all the way to Bush's home state of Texas.  Bush’s quote "I will do everything in my power to restrict abortion" was a popular protest sign, along with NOW rounds.

San Francisco NOW President Stacey Karp stated "San Francisco NOW showed Bush that Californians, especially people of the Bay Area, are a diverse and progressive group of people who will not tolerate his anti-choice or anti-woman political agenda."

Kane County NOW members picket U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's office in Batavia, IL.  As constituents, they let the Speaker know they expect his representation on issues vital to the well-being of women and families.  Photo by Nancy Wedemeyer.

Knoxville NOW

NOW rounds were also visible on national television when Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore made his campaign announcement from Carthage, TN.  Knoxville NOW President Debra Cummings stated, "Knoxville NOW members drove to Carthage and proudly displayed NOW signs and Lesbian Rights NOW signs to let the Vice President know that we were there and we are watching him."

Fighting the Far Right

NOW activists in Raleigh, NC, challenge Wal-Mart's continuing decision not to stock the emergency contraceptive Preven.  Photo by Robin Davis.

Raleigh NOW

On June 19, Raleigh (N.C.) NOW members picketed Wal-Mart to protest the refusal of Wal-Mart Pharmacies to dispense Preven, a prescription contraceptive (see related article).  Picket signs read, "Wal-Mart says No to Preven — but they’re up on Viagra!", "If you’re raped, don’t expect Wal-Mart to help!" and "The Wal-Mart way says Guns OK, but not Contraceptives!"

The picket received attention from local media.  A lone, male counter-protester showed up carrying a sign reading "NOW=the National Organization of Witches. God Bless Wal-Mart."  But he only served to draw more attention to NOW's protest which received support from passers-by who were given information on the Wal-Mart policy.

Kathy Ruffner-Linn, the chapter's PR officer, comments: "Wal-Mart promotes itself as all-American, but their policy on Preven tells another story . . . This country stands for individual freedom and self-determination.  No company, not even one as big as Wal-Mart, should decide for you."

Seattle NOW

On May 1, Seattle (Wash.) NOW members protested outside of Calvary Fellowship Church to voice opposition to the program inside — Focus on the Family was holding what they call a "Love Won Out" conference.  According to the conservative group, such programs are presented "from a point of view that regards faith as a very important step for those desiring to reorient their sexuality."  The program was advertised for "pastors, youth workers, parents, public school administrators and health teachers" as part of the Focus on the Family's agenda to "cure" gays and lesbians and prevent teens from "choosing" an alternative lifestyle.  Speakers included "cured" homosexuals who described their Christian conversion and their journey out of homosexuality.

Seattle NOW organized the picket of the event in coalition with other groups that support lesbian and gay rights.  Northwest Region National NOW Board member, from Seattle, Pam Whittington reviewed the picket in her chapter's newsletter: "We were there and we focused on our families — the real families of America. . . . There always have been, and there always will be, queer-identified youth.  Instead of allowing homophobia to flourish in our schools, we need to provide a safe environment for all youth."

Somerset/Hunterdon NOW

In memory of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, the Somerset/Hunterdon (N.J.) NOW chapter has facilitated the formation of a coalition called the Alliance Against Violence. The Alliance held a candlelight vigil in March to remember victims of hate crimes and plans to make the vigil an annual event.  Chapter Treasurer Lou Marinucci is co-chair of the Alliance, and chapter President Karen Herman spoke at the vigil, along with representatives from law enforcement, the battered women's shelter and local government agencies.

The Alliance was formed to honor the memory of Shepard, but according to Marinucci, "Its purpose has evolved to remember all victims of violence against women, lesbians, gays, people of color and people of faith here in New Jersey and throughout the United States. As friends spoke to friends, many organizations joined the Alliance."

NOW Chapters Work to Reform City Government

South Palm Beach County

Holding up signs protesting sexual harassment, members of South Palm Beach County (Fla.) NOW protested outside Boca Raton’s City Hall and inside at the City Council meeting on April 14.  They objected to the city allowing a paramedic to keep his job after several women accused him of sexual assault.  Since 1995, city officials, according to city records, have chosen not to report allegations that the paramedic was using his job to meet and date-rape women. The paramedic resigned in 1998 during a rape investigation.  In February, he was charged with sexual battery.

This is not the first time that the NOW chapter has organized against the city government. NOW spurred a lawsuit over the firing of a whistle blower on the sexual harassment of two female lifeguards, a case which the city lost in the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

"The city will just not learn," said Sheila Jaffe, Vice President of Florida NOW.  "This behavior cannot be allowed to go on."  NOW members have also met with the mayor to discuss city personnel policies and training to prevent sexual harassment.

Pinellas NOW

Another Florida chapter, Pinellas NOW, has also been protesting sexual harassment by city officials — this time in St. Petersburg Beach.  The city commission plans to build an Honor Walk memorial for a local park.  The Walk would have the inscribed names of past city officials, including three officials (a former mayor, city manager and a community services director) on whose behalf the city had settled two sexual harassment suits, with a third suit still pending.  The chapter had previously picketed the city over the suit against the city manager.

After public outcry raised by Pinellas NOW, some city commissioners have stated that  they do wish to establish some criteria as to whose names will be inscribed; the commission will take a vote on the subject in September. Chapter Vice President Judith Kupersmith states, "We think it is reprehensible that these three men could have their names inscribed on an Honor Walk.  Our chapter will continue to work to see that this travesty does not happen. If the commission chooses to inscribe these men’s names, we will hold a protest."

New Hampshire NOW

New Hampshire NOW is demanding an apology from officials of the town of Londonderry after reports that a female resident was told she could not speak at a town council meeting.  A city official was reported to have said, "The problem with you stay-at-home mommies is that you have too much time on your hands" and, via a secretary, "Tell the little lady not to worry her little head about it.  The men have important jobs to do here."

New Hampshire NOW President Kris Moody was quoted in the Derry News on June 22: "Clearly these officials have no respect for women . . . We should not have to explain to them that women, including mothers, also have important jobs to do.  Women have brains and voices, and we demand the right to use them.  We also demand that we be treated with the respect that should be afforded to any human being."

NOW Member Wins National First Amendment Award

Bay County (Fla.) NOW member ReLeah Lent is the recipient of the 1999 PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award, presented at the annual PEN literary gala in New York City May 12.  The prestigious award is given annually by PEN American Center, a writers' organization, to a U.S. resident who has fought to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word.  The award, underwritten by actor Paul Newman, includes $25,000 and an original artwork.

Lent, an English and journalism teacher, was removed in 1997 as adviser to the student newspaper at Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Fla., after she opposed the principal's decision to censor an ad for a inner meeting of a lesbian and gay student group. Lent, the staff, parents and community members spent six months organizing, lobbying school officials and making presentations to the school board, but the principal refused to reconsider his decision.

In November 1997 Lent filed suit in federal district court against the school board, superintendent and principal for violating First Amendment rights of academic freedom and freedom of expression.  In June 1998 Lent reached an out-of-court settlement with the school board that included legal fees and damages, and other work-related concessions.  Lent was represented by the Florida Teaching Profession (NEA), and by local attorneys Mike Stone and Pam Sutton, who is a past president of Bay County NOW.  Lent remains an English, speech and debate teacher at the school.

Many thanks for information provided by: Ann Timmer of Sun Cities Area NOW, Marjorie Signer of Arlington NOW, Milwaukee NOW Co-President Jennifer Olenchek, NE Regional Director Marcia Pappas, Mary Jo Cysewski of Los Angeles NOW, Stacey Karp of San Francisco NOW, Debra Cummings of Knoxville NOW, Kathy Ruffner-Linn of Raleigh NOW, Pam Whittington of Seattle NOW, Lou Marinucci of Somerset/Hunterdon NOW, Natalie Andre of South Palm Beach County NOW, Judith Kupersmith of Pinellas NOW, New Hampshire NOW President Kris Moody, and Gloria Pipkin of Bay County NOW.

Return to Fall 1999 National NOW Times
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