by Cindy Hanford, Chapter and State Development Staff
In January many NOW chapters organized or co-sponsored Roe v. Wade rallies to protest the undermining of abortion rights. They also participated in events to honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In February, chapters had programs for Black History Month and Susan B. Anthony's birthday, and held Valentine's Day actions to support the right to marry for same-sex couples and passage of the Hate Crimes Act. And in March, NOW chapters celebrated Women's History Month. Clearly, chapters are always busy and appreciate the support members give at the local level.
Roe v. Wade 27th Anniversary
Wisconsin NOW participates in a Roe v. Wade rally at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the heart of winter. A shocking 95 percent of the counties in the state have no abortion provider.
Nearly 100 people braved chilly temperatures to attend a rally held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Friday, Jan. 28, to honor the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The rally was the final event in a week of activities which included decorating the campus's Bascom Hill with pro-choice facts and slogans and tabling with the student organization Coalition for Choice.
Wisconsin laws demonstrate the far right's determination to undermine Roe. Their efforts have resulted in numerous state restrictions on abortion rights, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, a written parental consent requirement for minors, the ability to jail pregnant women found to be using drugs or alcohol (scaring away those who need prenatal care the most) and an abortion procedures ban which defines a child as existing from conception and carries a sentence of life imprisonment for doctors. Wisconsin's ban is currently awaiting review by the Supreme Court.
Availability of services is also limited, with 95 percent of Wisconsin counties lacking an abortion provider. And Wisconsin has suffered attacks by anti-abortion extremists, with numerous arrests of clinic protesters and an anthrax hoax letter recently sent to a Milwaukee clinic.
At the rally, Shahla Werner, co-president of Wisconsin NOW, stated, "The pro-choice movement needs to become more active in campaigning and voting for candidates who are strong on choice so we can avoid relearning the tragic historical lesson of women dying needlessly to obtain reproductive health care."
San Francisco NOW
On Jan. 22, in celebration of Roe v. Wade, San Francisco NOW organized an action in downtown's Union Square to raise awareness about what has been gained and lost in the past 27 years.
Wire hangers were passed out with an attached fact sheet relating to reproductive choice and a postcard to the FDA in support of mifepristone (formerly RU-486). The wire hangers reminded passers-by of the days when abortions were illegal.
San Francisco NOW President Stacey Karp commented: "We cannot afford to go back to those days. This year is a big election year, and it is important that we make sure reproductive rights are in the forefront of the political discussions. The next president might have the opportunity to appoint three new Supreme Court Justices. This means that the right to choose is in jeopardy."
Tidewater NOW (Hampton Roads, Va.) held its annual Roe v. Wade vigil at Virginia Wesleyan College. Speakers included Chapter President Laurie O'Reilly and Virginia NOW President Connie Hannah.
Hannah voiced concerns: "For the first time since Reconstruction, the anti-choice party is in control and our work in Richmond will be more difficult than ever. But we must continue to fight for abortion rights in Virginia."
The chapter took the challenge and on Feb. 2 joined with NOW members from across the state and other pro-choice groups for a lobby day in Richmond. Legislators were given clocks to remind them: "Don't Turn Back the Clock."
NOW's Executive Vice President Kim Gandy attended the lobby day. "The reason Virginia NOW has such great legislative success was apparent at Lobby Day," Gandy said. "The crowd was energetic, articulate, informed and determined to change votes."
The Lesbian Rights Task Force of Tidewater NOW is busy organizing events at Old Dominion University, and the chapter looks forward to hosting the Mid-Atlantic regional conference May 6.
Remembering King Through Activism
Chapel Hill NOW member Dana Shropshire participates in the town's 18th annual Martin Luther King Day March and Rally.
Chapel Hill (N.C.) NOW joined several other local groups to organize the town's 18th annual Martin Luther King Day March and Rally. Police estimated that more than 600 people turned out for the event.
The march's theme this year was equal access to quality education in Orange County. The theme reflected several concerns, including racial disparities in achievement, discipline and tracking in the public school system, and tuition increases without accompanying wage increases at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Speakers at the rally called on the local school system, considered one of the best in the state, to better address the academic needs of all of its students, while at the same time drawing attention to the ways in which the larger community contributes to the problem by keeping wages for lower-income workers low and ignoring signs of racism throughout the educational system.
Each year, the coalition that sponsors the event continues to campaign around the chosen issue, holding other rallies, meeting with local officials and writing letters to the editor.
Chapel Hill NOW co-coordinator Shelley Golden said, "Every year the march brings to the surface the issues of a community trying to make a living in a primarily university-run town. The event always brings together different groups who recognize that injustice for some is injustice for all."
Cobb County NOW
Cobb County NOW in Marietta, Ga., sent a delegation to Atlanta's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March, as they did last year (see Spring 1999 NNT for photo). Chapter President Beverly McMurray, along with members Roberto Moraes, Bill Bolton and Eleanor Babcock, marched with signs emphasizing the continued need for affirmative action.
McMurray created colorful postcards for NOW's Valentine's Day action encouraging Georgia's U.S. Senators to pass the Hate Crimes Act (S. 622). The cards read "Have a Heart - Stop Hate Crimes" and "Have a heart this Valentine's Day by helping to pass the Hate Crimes Protection Act with protections for everyone." The postcards were mailed to all chapter members to send to their Senators.
Chapter members are busy planning to host the Southeast Regional conference on May 6-7, creating posters to enter in the NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day poster contest and distributing information about Love Your Body Day in the local school system.
NOW Victory: Sexist Billboards Removed
Gainesville Area NOW (Fla.) participated in the city's Martin Luther King March. Also taking part was Floridians Representing Equity & Equality, a group convened by Florida NOW and other organizations to counter attempts to eliminate affirmative action in the state.
After a targeted campaign by Baltimore (Md.) NOW, a local radio station's sexist billboards were removed from the city skyline. The billboards, advertising WOCT-FM 104.3's nationally syndicated morning program, depicted giant, bikini-clad women's breasts with the slogan "What a Pair!"
Baltimore NOW kicked off its campaign in early October to increase awareness of the billboards and target the morning show's advertisers. The billboards began to receive unfavorable attention, including a column by Dan Rodricks in the Oct. 1 Baltimore Sun. Shortly after Rodricks' column, the phrase "Politically Incorrect" was added to the billboards. Baltimore NOW President Lynn Buck's letter to the editor was published in the Baltimore Sun on Oct. 16.
Baltimore NOW held a protest on Oct. 28 under one of the billboards. Addressing dozens of activists, Buck vowed, "We plan to keep the pressure on WOCT and the advertisers of the morning program until all the offensive billboards are removed." The billboards began to slowly come down.
Activists continued to call the radio station and advertisers. After receiving a letter from Buck, Klein's Super Markets of Howard County terminated their contract. On Dec. 7, Hecht's called Baltimore NOW to announce that pressure from the store had convinced the radio station to take down the billboards. Other WOCT advertisers including Red Lobster and NE Restaurant (Bertucci's) wrote to Baltimore NOW expressing their concern about the billboards.
"Victory--how sweet it is!" said Buck. "Never underestimate the power of our voices when we work together and persevere."
Sun Cities Area NOW Intimidates Presidential Candidate
Members of the Sun Cities Area NOW in Arizona were waiting for abortion rights opponent Steve Forbes when he made a stop on the campaign trail. NOW earned front page coverage for their demonstration and Forbes was soon out of the race.
Members of Sun Cities Area NOW (Ariz.) were ready with their abortion rights signs when Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes came to town. Forbes' supporters repeatedly heckled the NOW group with cries of "baby killers" and "God will punish you." With both groups awaiting Forbes' arrival, his bus driver avoided the protestors (and a press opportunity) and took the candidate to a rear entrance.
NOW members went inside to hear Forbes speak. They were repeatedly asked to leave the public meeting and were taunted by the crowd, but held their ground. Finally, one of Forbes' entourage told the chapter members that they would have to leave or Forbes would refuse to appear. NOW members then left, amid applause from the conservative crowd.
It was protest organizer Susan Ziemba with her "Keep Abortion Legal" sign who made the top-of-the-fold front page picture of the local Daily News-Sun, not Steve Forbes--and the headlines were about Forbes' stance against abortion rights. Member Betty Roberts commented: "There are five more anti-choice candidates running for president, and sooner or later, they always show up in the Sun Cities area." The chapter will be there.
New Hampshire NOW Uses Media Attention on Elections
New Hampshire NOW joined with the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) and Lifetime Television to make history, sponsoring the first-ever nationally televised presidential candidates' forum exclusively on women's issues. The program, "Who Wants to be Our President," aired on Jan. 30, two days before the New Hampshire primary.
All Republican and Democratic candidates running in New Hampshire were invited. The entire hour was devoted to questions on the issues women have indicated they care most about: pay equity, health care, education, social security, violence and the environmental impact on health.
"We want to let women and candidates know that female voters and their priorities are critical to the outcome of this election," said NH NOW President Kris Moody. "This meeting is just the beginning of an unprecedented effort to ensure that women's voices are heard loud and clear this election year."
In addition, NH NOW worked in coalition with NCWO to call upon presidential candidates to K.I.S.S.-- Keep It Social Security. The groups handed out chocolate kisses to draw attention to their demands at a news conference on Jan. 29 to urge candidates to strengthen Social Security for women and families.
Moody stated, "We demand that our government keep its promise to elderly women . . . Women must join together so that the true risks and effects of privatization [on Social Security] are exposed, and the specific needs of women are recognized and included in this discussion."
Many thanks for information provided by: Shahla Werner of Wisconsin NOW, Stacey Karp of San Francisco NOW, Toby Abrams of Nashville NOW, Jane Barbara and Connie Hannah of Tidewater NOW, Shelley Golden of Chapel Hill NOW, Beverly McMurray of Cobb County NOW, Lynn Buck, Christine R. Brodak and Seanah Dennis of Baltimore NOW, Betty Roberts and Ann Timmer of Sun Cities Area NOW, and Kris Moody of New Hampshire NOW.