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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

NOW ACTS

by Cindy Hanford

Outrage over theft of the presidency was not confined to protests in the District of Columbia as George W. Bush was sworn in. From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, NOW members organized and participated in pro-democracy rallies on inauguration day.

Their protests expressed concern about violations of the Voting Rights Act, the dismissal of votes of women and people of color, political corruption and the threat to women’s rights over the next four years.

Two days later, many chapters held vigils to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. They used the opportunity to protest Bush’s nomination of anti-choice John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

In addition, NOW chapters continued their work on a wide variety of issues. Interest in chapter activism has increased with the threat to women’s rights posed by conservative Republicans controlling both Congress and the White House.

Portland and Clackamas County
On Jan. 20, the Portland NOW and Clackamas County NOW (Oregon) chapters picketed the Federal Building in Portland to protest Bush’s inauguration and to oppose John Ashcroft’s nomination as U.S. Attorney General. Barbara Dirks, a Portland NOW and National NOW Board member, urged the protestors to send a message to the Senate. "The Senate must not accept mere statements that he will enforce the laws of the land since he has proven that his priorities lie with the right-wing agenda," Dirks stated.

Protestors carried signs and chanted phrases like"2,4,6,8; down with Ashcroft’s kind of hate." After the demonstration, many people thanked the organizers for giving them a voice to vent their anger about Bush’s selection, not election, to the presidency. The picket was covered by two local television channels on both the evening and morning news.

Sonoma County NOW
Further down the Pacific coast, members of Sonoma County NOW in Santa Rosa, CA demonstrated in a protest organized by the Sonoma County Democratic Party. Chapter treasurer Linda McCabe spoke at the rally, along with NOW activist Francie Moeller, who is also chair of the California Democratic Party Disability Rights Caucus.

Bay Area
In San Francisco, five Bay Area NOW chapters joined in an inauguration protest. Chapters participating were: San José/South Bay NOW, San Francisco NOW, Palo Alto/Mid-Peninsula NOW, Oakland/East Bay NOW and Contra Costa County NOW. A rally began at noon with speakers from various organizations. Approximately 10,000-15,000 protesters marched around the Civic Center neighborhood for an hour, finishing in a city park where the speeches continued.

Mary Ann May-Pumphrey, acting co-ordinator of the San José/South Bay NOW chapter reports a huge array of thought-provoking protest signs, with messages such as “The People Have Spoken – All 5 of Them!,” “Bush needs a brain! Cheney needs a heart!,” “Bush was an accident – Support Roe v. Wade,” “Hail to the Thief,” and “Re-elect Gore.” May-Pumphrey stated, “The incredible energy of all in attendance made for a great kick-off to the four years of battling ‘compassionate conservatism’ which we are now facing.”

Illinois and Kane County NOW
Illinois NOW and Kane County NOW activists made the front page of the Kane County Chronicle with their inauguration day picket of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s home office.

"We need Speaker Hastert to protect us from the extreme right wing that Bush is putting into office," said Gay Bruhn, president of Illinois NOW. "Bush campaigned as some sort of nice guy — a compassionate conservative who would search for bipartisan solutions. He lied."

The protestors marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by denouncing Bush’s nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, citing his anti-abortion rights record. Demonstrators included representatives from state and local chapters of NOW, the American Association of University Women and the Illinois Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
On Jan. 20, more than 250 people gathered at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to mourn the Death of Liberty. The action was organized as a funeral with speeches and eulogies. Participants opened with a song, “Hail to the Thief.”

Pennsylvania NOW State President, Barbara Burgos DiTullio, began the protest by saying, “Our voting rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, were ambushed by the good ol’ boys in Florida, who used intimidation and flawed voting systems to steal the presidential election.”

In addition to NOW members, participants included the NAACP, Coalition of Labor Union Women, 2000 African American Women, NARAL-PA and PA Consumer Action Network. Protesters refused to bury Liberty, but instead insisted on her resurrection.

Across the state in downtown Pittsburgh, protesters gathered at the Federal Building to hold a moment of silence “for the death of democracy.” Jeanne Clark, President of Squirrel Hill NOW, said, “The presidency is in the process of being stolen. Bush was not elected. He was designated.”

Before the protest ended, the protesters joined in chanting, “We won’t go back; we will fight back.” Among the groups at the Pittsburgh protest were the NAACP, the Pittsburgh Coalition to Counter Hate Groups and the Black Radical Congress.

NOW New York State and Albany Area NOW
NOW-New York State and Albany Area NOW sponsored a counter-inaugural protest at a federal building in Albany. Members rallied to send the message that “Bush does not have a mandate; we will resist!”

Albany Area NOW President Heidi Siegfried and chapter board member Marcia Pappas called upon a broad spectrum of groups to co-sponsor the rally, and a diverse coalition participated. Protestors heard speakers from the Albany Labor Council, Albany for Vieques, Empire Pride Agenda, NAACP, NYS Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Peace Action, Social Welfare Action Alliance, and Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood and were entertained with music by the Solidarity Singers.

The rally received excellent coverage on all three local television stations. Organizers are confident that viewers in their broadcast area know that the Bush administration will encounter significant resistance to his intended policies on many fronts.

Tidewater NOW
Tidewater NOW held an inauguration protest at the Federal Building in Norfolk, VA. Despite rain, the chapter garnered coverage by all local news channels, the largest local paper and other print media. NOW leaders also stated opposition to state legislation that would require a 24-hour mandatory delay to get an abortion, legislation which the governor subsequently signed. Later in the evening, the chapter commemorated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with a feminist poetry reading.

Earlier this year, the chapter became a founding member of the Hampton Roads United Coalition for Voter Participation to promote voter registration, education and participation. The chapter assisted with a drive that registered almost 2,000 voters in two months, educated voters with leaflet drops, and got out the vote by working with the NAACP Voter Fund on Election Day.

In March 2001, the chapter plans a feminist art show and womyn's music concert for Women's History Month. May 18-20, they are organizing the Second Annual Mid-Atlantic Feminist Festival Exposing Bigotry in the New Millennium. The festival will feature NOW President Patricia Ireland, comic Suzanne Westenhoefer, and a beach party with musical performers, vendors, and artists. The chapter’s web site can be found at http://www.tidewaternow.org.

Wichita NOW
In August, Wichita (KS) NOW activists protested outside the local ABC affiliate against Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s show. In September, the chapter held a well-covered news conference to urge voters to contact Congress to re-authorize funding for the Violence Against Women Act. And, on Oct. 15, the chapter organized a local action for the World March of Women 2000 in coordination with the local Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Young Women’s Christian Association.

Currently, Wichita NOW is working to petition the U.S. Post Office for adoption of a postage stamp honoring Susanna Madora Salter. In 1887 in Argonia, Kansas, Salter was the first woman elected mayor in the United States. Nominated as a joke by men who opposed her work in the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she won the election with a two-thirds vote, just weeks after Kansas women gained the right to vote in city elections.

Chapter president Liz Hicks states: “We have circulated the petition among our members and to members of the Kansas State Historical Museum, the National Women’s Hall of Fame and several other historians.” NOW members have lobbied the Kansas legislature for a resolution in support of the stamp. Hicks portrays Salter in programs on women’s history and educates students about the lives of Salter and other Kansas women. For more information contact Liz Hicks at:

Wichita NOW
PO Box 3940
Wichita, KS 67201-3940
(316)316-269-9070
NOW@WichitaNOW.org

Gainesville Area NOW
Gainesville Area NOW (Florida) lead a successful campaign for the passage of a county referendum in support of universal health care. Jennifer Carvalho-Spector, Universal Health Care Coordinator for the chapter, reports that the chapter worked in coalition with University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College NOW and the Alachua County Labor Party. The coalition successfully lobbied the Alachua County Commission to put the referendum on the ballot and survived a court challenge to the ballot measure. The referendum passed with 64.49% voting in favor.

The chapter has created a Universal Health Care Organizer’s Packet that includes sample fliers, brochures and materials that focus on why women especially need a universal health care system. To order the packet, send $15 (to cover copying and postage) to:

Gainesville Area NOW
P.O. Box 2235
Gainesville, FL 32602.

Gainesville Area NOW also supported the protests and court watch project of Marion/Lake NOW in the trial of Dr. James Pendergraft (see picture). The charges grew out of the doctor’s civil suit against Marion County and the town of Ocala for their failure to protect employees and patients at his local facility. Subsequently, Pendergraft, who has five clinics in Florida, was convicted of lying under oath and conspiracy to commit extortion and mail fraud. Dr. Pendergraft faces a possible 30 years in prison, loss of his medical license and a fine of more than a million dollars. Abortion rights supporters view his prosecution as politically motivated and an attempt to limit women’s access to reproductive health care. Pendergraft has vowed to keep the clinics open, and his attorney is planning to appeal.

Pinellas NOW
For several years, members of Pinellas NOW (St Petersburg, Florida) have protested the control of the Catholic Church over many hospitals in their area. Catholic-run facilities follow the Ethical and Religious Directives adopted by the National Council of Bishops, which state that abortion “is never permitted.” Sterilization (including tubal ligation), contraception (including emergency contraception needed by rape victims), and recognition of living wills are also denied.

Catholic hospitals now constitute the nation’s largest single group of non-profit hospitals.

The NOW Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and four Pinellas NOW members have joined as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against one of the church-run hospitals, the Bayfront Medical Center and its parent consortium, BayCare. Since Bayfront is located on city property, the suit was also filed against the city and challenges the application of religious directives in a government-owned hospital as a violation of the separation between church and state.

In October, the chapter celebrated a victory when Bayfront Medical Center was forced to withdraw from BayCare. However, according to NOW Foundation Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, who oversees the Foundation’s litigation efforts, “The law suit is on-going in order to insure that the Ethical and Religious Directives are not instituted.”

Pinellas NOW President Sandy Oestreich states, “We must make sure that documentation is provided showing that big religion is gone from our hospital. Now, onward to freeing the other five community hospitals and preventing others from merging with the Catholic Church.”

Tallahassee NOW
On October 31, members of Tallahassee NOW with their best rhinestones and fake fur, wearing gowns or tuxedos, arrived in a white limousine at Florida’s Republican headquarters in Tallahassee for their second Bush Whacker action. Tongues placed firmly in cheek, they were “Billionaires for Bush.”

Chapter President Linda Miklowitz reports that the “billionaires” carried signs that said “Corporations Need Welfare, Too,” “Soft Money Speaks Louder than Votes,” “Don’t Judge Me Unless You Walk a Mile in My Guccis,” “Wealth care not health care!,” and “Presidents are good investments!” Never let it be said that feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

Many thanks for information provided by: Barbara Dirks of Portland (OR) NOW, Pam Whittington of Seattle NOW, Linda McCabe of Sonoma County NOW, Mary Ann May-Pumphrey of San José/South Bay NOW, Howard Katz of Kane County NOW, Barbara Burgos DiTullio of Pennsylvania NOW, Heidi Siegfried of Albany Area NOW, Maggie Sacra of Tidewater NOW, Liz Hicks of Wichita NOW, Jennifer Carvalho-Spector and Lori Tinney of Gainesville Area NOW, Sandy Oestreich of Pinellas NOW, and Linda Miklowitz of Tallahassee NOW.

To find the nearest chapter, readers can check NOW’s web site at www.now.org/chapters/states.html or call the NOW Action Center at 202-628-8669.

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