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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

Feminists Organize and Strategize Under the Sun at 2000 National NOW Conference in Miami Beach, Florida

by Valerie Hennings, Communications Intern

On June 30, NOW activists from across the country hit Miami Beach, Fla., with much more than sun and sand on their minds. The 2000 National NOW Conference, held at the Fontainebleau Hilton, was an intense three day event that aimed to educate, energize and empower all of those in attendance. The 600+ conference delegates and attendees actively engaged in an abundance of workshops, issue hearings and plenary sessions. Inspirational speakers addressed issues including international women political leaders, immigration, reproductive health, war crimes and the 2000 presidential campaigns.

"The 2000 National NOW Conference brought feminists together for a weekend of political strategizing and activist organizing that will strengthen our impact on this year's elections," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "The Conference's international flair and inter-generational focus built momentum for U.S. participation in the World March of Women 2000, a global action to end poverty and violence."

The conference theme, The Power of Women, reflected the fact that the 2000 elections are a critical point for the future of women, and that activists can affect the outcome.

Fabulous Feminist Speakers

This year's National Conference was marked by unforgettable speakers who addressed the critical issues of concern for women today. Donna Brazile, Gore 2000 Campaign Manager, revealed how she took her leadership background in activist organizing and worked her way to become the first African-American woman to head a major contender's presidential campaign.

In her discussion of how to build strong feminist allies among women in leadership positions and others in activist roles, Brazile stated, "As women, we should support one another and be willing to network and continue to build the strong alliances we need to win. When we win, all women will win."

A subsequent panel of distinguished guests discussed women in power and the often-times difficult act of working for change from the inside. Those contributing to this inspiring discussion included Brazile, Judith Ratzan, MD; Thomasina Williams, Esq.; and Olga Vives, Senior Vice-President of Business Development for MinorityAmerica.com.

On Saturday afternoon, Laura Liswood, Executive Director of the Council of Women World Leaders; Minna Schrag, who served at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is currently Chair of the Board of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Marleine Bastien, President/Founder of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), spoke on global issues concerning all women.

Liswood underscored the increasing power of women internationally as heads of state. She discussed what it takes for women to advance and succeed as leaders: "To lead, it takes courage. It takes courage [to move] from being in the crowd to being in front of the crowd. It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and have your ideas be the ones that people react to."

Schrag spoke on the issue of rape as a hate crime. "We must continue to work to bring an end to violence and poverty here in the United States and everywhere in the world," Schrag said in her discussion on the use of rape as a means to terrorize and control women. By sharing stories of women who have suffered under such persecution, Schrag emphasized that violence against women is a problem in the U.S. as well as in other cultures.

Bastien expressed her concern with the poor treatment of Haitian immigrants seeking refuge in the U.S. In her call for the right to due process for Haitians, Bastien stated, "Women around the world today are asking for justice."

She added, "As long as women are prevented from attaining the highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness that might be theirs."

Women of Courage Awards

NOW recognized four extraordinary women at this year's conference. Three Woman of Courage Awards were given to those who have demonstrated immense valor and who will continue to pave the way for others in the fight for equality. In an emotion-filled evening, conference participants came together to celebrate these women.

Julia Gabriel, Christy Brzonkala and Elaine Gordon were this year's award recipients. Gabriel was recognized for her tremendous courage in working to improve labor conditions for immigrants and for testifying against those who force illegal servitude. Laura Germino and Lucas Benitez also received honors for their valiant efforts in the fight against poverty and for farm workers' rights.

Brzonkala was presented an award for her brave struggle as the first person in the nation to sue the men she accused of raping her under the Violence Against Women Act-a case she took all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gordon was honored with a posthumous award which her daughters and grand-daughters accepted. She was praised for her great integrity, character and unwavering commitment to forwarding feminist issues in the Florida state legislature.

Lily Mariye, film director and actor on "ER," received the first-ever NOW Film Maker of the Year Award. She presented her thought-provoking directorial debute, "Shangri-la Cafe," a short feature film that addresses the issue of racism and how one Japanese American woman refused to allow herself to be pitted against African Americans.

Political Institute

In keeping with NOW's dedication to increasing feminist representation in the U.S. political sphere, the conference included a NOW/PAC Political Institute. The Institute's workshops demonstrated the essential elements of electing feminists to office. NOW activists presented topics which included analyzing the demographics of a voting district, forming an effective campaign team, grassroots fundraising and getting constituents to the polls. The Institute provided activists with skills in this intensive hands-on training.

NOW/PAC treasurer Karen Johnson commented, "These workshops gave insightful examples of political techniques that work and don't work in getting women elected."

NOW/PAC expects to place dozens of activists who have completed the training in targeted campaigns.

Intergenerational Dialogue

An exciting new addition to the National NOW Conference was an inter-generational dialogue. This dynamic component of the program brought feminists of all ages together in an open session to identify, discuss and expand upon the many issues that are of importance in their organizing efforts and personal lives. After breaking up into small groups, girls and women from their teens to 80+ tackled questions designed to enhance understanding among feminists at all stages of life. These in-depth, one-on-one dialogues revealed the many stages of feminism-where we've been, where we are and where we're going.

This dialogue was just the beginning for feminists dedicated to creating a partnership for the new century that will use everyone's experience, energy and ideas to change the world.

With these events charging the weekend, the 2000 National NOW Conference was an empowering and reaffirming testament to the work done by many in the name of women's rights and equality for all. Its success is proof that the power of women will continue to grow in the future.

Ireland concludes, "The energy from the Conference will take us right into October with the World March of Women, and from there our energy and determination will be seen and felt in the November elections.



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