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National NOW Times >> Spring 2002 >> Article

Effects of September 11 Felt at NOW

by Johanna Ettin, Direct Mail Manager

On the morning of September 11, word of the World Trade Center disaster was spreading through the national NOW office when we were ordered to evacuate. The Pentagon, only a few miles away from the Action Center, had just been struck. Outside the office, people on the street gasped as smoke from the Pentagon became visible on the horizon. Intern Heather Gain stayed in D.C. after Sept. 11 to help NOW speak out for women's rights in a time of crisis.

The staff of the NOW Action Center, located 1 1/2 blocks from the White House, gathered at the homes of those who lived close to the office to watch the news and try to contact their families. E-mail flew as NOW members around the country checked on the welfare of colleagues in Washington and New York City.

For several days after September 11, we passed armed National Guard soldiers while walking to the NOW office, and the tension made concentration difficult. Meetings were interrupted as everyone gathered at windows to watch police with bomb-sniffing dogs scour the area. A number of interns conducted negotiations with nervous parents who wanted them to "come home now."

As life returned to something like normal and a helicopter overhead no longer paused conversation and caused rapid heartbeats, the membership and fundraising staff took stock of the situation. How would our members respond, with George W. Bush now the darling of the media and the air waves saturated with talk of terrorism, war and national security?

Just as we began to answer that question, disaster struck again. In mid-October, several workers at the U.S. Postal Service's Brentwood, Maryland facility, where NOW's mail is sorted, became ill with inhalation anthrax. Tragically, two of them died. For two weeks in October, all mail at the Brentwood facility was held in quarantine, and NOW received no mail deliveries at all. (Because NOW is not funded by corporations or foundations, we rely on the mail for nearly all of our income — new memberships, renewals and contributions).

Even after the USPS re-routed new incoming mail through other facilities, the quarantined mail didn't begin to trickle in for six weeks, and even some of the new mail was also sent to Ohio for irradiation. We estimate that the mail disruption, which still continues, combined with the economic downturn and the aftermath of September 11, cost NOW nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Meanwhile, the threats to women's rights loom large. Under cover of disaster-inspired bipartisanship, the Bush administration cabinet and the Republicans in Congress put their ultra-conservative agenda on the fast track. Republican senators began using the national tragedy to push through confirmation of right-wing nominees for lifetime federal judgeships.

Despite these challenges, we are energized by the messages we have been receiving from NOW members across the country: We will not allow George W. Bush to wipe out decades of progress for women's rights.

NOW President Kim Gandy reports that in the weeks following September 11, some Equality Action Partners, members of our monthly pledge program, raised the amount of their monthly contributions or, to avoid problems with mail delivery, switched their contribution to credit card or direct electronic transfer from their bank accounts. Others added an extra $50 or $100 to their annual membership dues or joined as Equality Action Partners for the first time.

Gandy said, "Our members have always responded generously in times of crisis — and I don't know when I've seen a greater one in my 28 years with NOW. We've been deprived of income at the very moment we need it most to stop this administration from cynically using the fear of terrorism to turn back the clock on 35 years of progress. We're fighting a rearguard action to protect abortion rights and stop the court-stacking while defending against new threats like the proposed changes in the Social Security system which would be devastating for women."

If you would like to make a contribution to help NOW through these difficult times, mail your check to: NOW, 733 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20005. Tax deductible gifts may be made payable to NOW Foundation and sent to the same address to support our education and litigation programs.

Easier still, bypass the mail altogether by going to http://www.now.org to make a contribution by credit card or to become an Equality Action Partner with a monthly pledge. We need you NOW more than ever.

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