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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

Taking Back the Senate Starts NOW

by Linda Berg

While feminists now have unparalleled representation in the Senate, the cause has not been significantly advanced in the House of Representatives as a result of the 2000 elections. As for George W. Bush’s presidency, any illusion of moderation was extinguished with the cabinet nominations of John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson and Gail Norton. Lest feminists celebrate gains in the Senate too enthusiastically, it must be noted that that body was not able to muster the requisite political backbone to deny confirmation to undeniably radical right-wing cabinet nominations.

However, women’s rights supporters have licked our wounds long enough! It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the 2002 elections.
If history is any guide, the first election following reapportionment offers women the best opportunity for gains. By taking advantage of the multitude of open seats that reapportionment presented, women’s political outrage over Anita Hill’s appalling mistreatment and the lack of women on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas nomination battle, NOW PAC helped elect so many women in 1992 that the phrase “the year of the woman” was coined to describe it. Imagine the power of harnessing the anger over this year’s presidential election chicanery and the nominations of Ashcroft, Norton and Thompson, not to mention Linda Chavez. There is not one faction of the progressive community which is not inflamed. NOW PAC must turn that collective outrage to electoral advancement.

NOW PAC has always been committed to taking every opportunity to elect feminists to all levels of political office. In 2000, NOW PAC’s Political Institute was created for the express purpose of offering skills-building workshops to NOW’s grassroots members and increasing the number of trained political organizers available to work in campaigns across the country. During the 2000 elections, NOW PAC Political Institute attendees worked on virtually every federal race where women’s rights were crucial. New feminist Senators Hillary Clinton, Debbie Stabenow, Jon Corzine and Maria Cantwell have expressed deep appreciation for the work of NOW activists in their campaigns.

The first Political Institute for the 2002 election was held in January in Nevada, since that state will gain another congressional district through reapportionment in 2002, and the semi-annual NOW state presidents’ caucus and Nevada NOW conference were being held in Mesquite. Linda Berg, NOW’s Political Director presented an analysis of the 2000 election and conducted a half-day workshop. The workshop focused on candidate recruitment, one of the first steps in filling the political pipeline with feminists, and identifying seats which can be filled by good candidates.

Nevada activists were particularly enthused since they already have elected one Las Vegas NOW activist, Shelley Berkley, to Congress and are looking forward to the opportunity and challenge of electing another.

“Unless we understand that everything we care about is in dire jeopardy, the powers that be will attempt to obliterate every gain we made. Our only recourse is to go back to the trenches,” stated former Nevada NOW President and national board member Harriett Trudell. A veteran of earlier NOW PAC recruitment projects in Louisiana and Tennessee, Trudell now serves as the political director for the Nevada State Democratic Party which will play an integral role in determining which candidate receives strong support for the new district.

Although candidate recruitment was this workshop’s focus, all aspects of grassroots political organizing are discussed in NOW PAC’s Organizing Manual, distributed at Political Institute briefings. “The Political Organizing Manual has everything you need to know about political campaigns,” commented Kate Hill, New Mexico NOW President.

The Political Institute will be back by popular demand in Philadelphia at the National Conference this summer. “This training has never been more timely or important” stated Connie Hannah, Virginia NOW President.

In addition to the Political Institute, NOW PAC last year launched its first PAC sustainer support committee. Through regular monthly donations, NOW members guaranteed a steady income for NOW PAC which enabled it to give substantial early contributions to feminist women candidates and allowed the flexibility to respond instantly when more resources were needed.

Given the challenges that lie ahead, NOW PAC is asking all NOW members to consider supporting their political action committee with a monthly contribution. Only $15 a month adds up to a contribution of nearly $700 to elect feminists by next inauguration day. What power NOW members could generate for feminist candidates throughout the country!

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