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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

NOW Acts

by Cindy Hanford, Chapter and State Development Staff

This spring and summer, NOW chapters throughout the country picketed FOX network affiliates, protested at federal buildings after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Brzonkala case, participated in June's annual Gay Pride events and organized on key local issues.

Florida NOW Fights to Save Affirmative Action

On March 7, in the largest civil rights march in Florida's history, 20,000 protestors marched in Tallahassee for affirmative action. The protestors stole the headlines from Governor Jeb Bush, and his State of the State message on the opening day of Florida's legislative session. Floridians marched against Bush because of his "One Florida" plan to dismantle affirmative action policies.

Florida NOW was the only women's rights group designated a convener of the March on Tallahassee. NOW organized a strong delegation.

The March was only one tactic in Florida NOW's efforts to save affirmative action in their state. In 1997, Florida NOW co-founded Floridians Representing Equity and Equality (F.R.E.E.). Florida NOW's role in F.R.E.E. is emphasizing the importance of affirmative action to women and working to bring women's groups into the coalition. F.R.E.E. now represents about 30 statewide organizations and works in coalition with several national groups.

"This coalition work is the backbone of our strategy," said Florida NOW President Toni Van Pelt. "It is some of the most satisfying work we do in Florida. We are truly linking arms in dangerous times, standing shoulder to shoulder."

Because of F.R.E.E.'s efforts, when Ward Connerly tried to replicate his California strategy in Florida, he encountered resistence and his wording of a proposed ballot initiative to ban "preferences" was effectively challenged. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that "the ballot ... [gives] voters no clue of the impact the amendments actually would have on government programs promoting social harmony and combating discrimination. Each voter is entitled to cast a ballot based on the full truth."

But the Court's decision did not put an end to the issue. Last year, Gov. Jeb Bush used an executive order to end affirmative action programs where he had the authority, namely university admissions and state contracting and hiring.

Bush repeatedly refused to meet with any group on the issue, prompting an overnight sit-in outside the governor's office by two state legislators-Sen. Kendrick Meek and Rep. Tony Hill, along with Florida NOW member Barbara DeVane. In the morning DeVane was the only one dragged from the room. The Governor finally decided to meet with the black legislative caucus and, as a result, public hearings were held. In Tampa, Miami and Tallahassee, thousands of citizens testified to the damage Bush's One Florida plan would cause.

The NAACP and Florida NOW filed an administrative challenge to Bush's plan is to do away with gender and race in college admissions applications. However, in July, Administrative Law Judge Charles Adams upheld the plan. Both parties are appealing the ruling.

F.R.E.E. has hired NOW member Mandy Carter as campaign manager. She and Van Pelt are organizing a series of women's forums around the state to help build coalitions and to emphasize why affirmative action programs are necessary for women of all colors. Pay equity and getting out the vote for the November elections are major themes in the campaign. Utilizing the publicity they received for their sit-in outside the governor's office, Meek, Hill and DeVane have launched "Arrive With Five," touring the state in an effort to get women and minorities to vote and bring five others to the polls with them on Nov. 7.

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW Pickets All Governors

On July 8, activists from the Ni-Ta-Nee NOW Chapter (Pa.) joined with members of a poverty coalition from Ohio and Pennsylvania to stage a protest at the National Governors' Conference held in State College, Pa. Local NOW activists chose their spot early Saturday morning to ensure that the governors attending the conference would see protest signs on issues that included poverty, reproductive rights, and gun violence.

This was the first in a series of demonstrations planned by Pennsylvania NOW PAC to expose the truth about Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. Gov. Ridge is portrayed by the Republican Party as a moderate, and therefore, was once considered a possible running mate for George W. Bush. But as the Pennsylvania NOW PAC posters indicate, Tom Ridge is NO moderate!

State Police were out in force and by the end of the day, clearly outnumbered protesters by at least 2 to 1. By the time this paper goes to press, many of those involved in the protest will have picketed the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

San Gabriel Valley/Whittier NOW Saves Domestic Violence Court

Largely because of the actions of the San Gabriel Valley/Whittier NOW chapter, the Domestic Violence Courtroom has reopened at Citrus Municipal Court in West Covina, Calif. Chapter President Darby Mangen states, "This victory was after a year-long struggle fought on the doorsteps of the court house. Our success will insure that victims can once again find security and solace in a special courtroom that is structured to give their families the best chance of resolve."

The chapter's year-long campaign involved picketing, rallies (one attended by NOW President Patricia Ireland), letters, press conferences, and meetings and phone calls with city officials. "We hope our action may catapult the idea of domestic violence specialty courts nationwide," Mangen says. "They make a real difference for victims of domestic violence."

Mangen credits all the California NOW members who lobbied on behalf of the campaign, the judges who supported the need to reopen the court, the community leaders who came forward to use their influence, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, and the City Councils that passed resolutions in favor of the Court. NOW/PAC-endorsed candidate Hilda Solis (running in California's U.S. House District 31 and currently a state senator) has introduced state legislation (SB 1340) for funding of domestic violence courtrooms statewide.

The San Gabriel Valley/Whittier NOW chapter has also been successful in its efforts to pressure authorities to enforce clinic defense laws. After years of defending the El Monte Women's Health Clinic, the chapter finally saw an anti-choice protester who had harassed patients outside the same abortion clinic four days a week for ten years, brought to trial and found guilty on two counts of battery and obstruction.

Greater New Orleans NOW Pickets the 5th Circuit

On May 23, Greater New Orleans NOW picketed the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals demanding reproductive freedom for women. Louisiana is asserting a "states' rights" argument to prevent health care providers from challenging a draconian anti-abortion rights law which declares abortion a civil wrong. Under the law, a woman may sue her provider for performing an abortion, even if she gave informed consent to the procedure. She may bring suit for up to 10 years after the procedure, and claim damages for wrongful death of the fetus as well as any harm she feels she has suffered.

If upheld, the law will likely cause all physicians in Louisiana to stop performing abortions. It has already been ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts-the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and a panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit. However, in January the Fifth Circuit agreed to a rehearing of the case by all 14 active judges, to address the "states' rights" argument. Abortion opponents are arguing that individuals cannot challenge the constitutionality of state laws in federal court, other than criminal statutes. This argument has not been raised in previous abortion rights cases because, until now, anti-abortion laws have generally been criminal bans.

Along with NOW members from Baton Rouge and the Northeast Louisiana NOW chapter, the Greater New Orleans chapter also picketed a Promise Keepers meeting in Baton Rouge on July 14. Since the Promise Keepers' inception, NOW chapters across the country have been protesting at their events. The all-male religious group's leaders embody the sexism, racism and homophobia of the radical right. NOW's informational pickets serve to educate the public about their agenda.

Milwaukee NOW Takes Feminist Message on the Road

On July 22, members of Milwaukee NOW motored around the streets of Milwaukee, Wis., in their sign-plastered F-Word Mobile, hoping to drive home the true meaning of the word feminism.

"The F-Word is Feminism! Shout it, Tell it, Yell it, Live it!" announced member Lynn Jacobson with the help of a hand-held bull-horn. Five group members spent two hours taking turns voicing their definition of equality, attracting attention from bystanders, passing cars and buses on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Enthusiastic passers-by clapped, waved and offered the thumbs up sign. The car sported signs that read, "Feminism = Equality" and "Feminists Believe in Social, Political and Economic Equality for All People - Do You?"

"Most of the responses from on-lookers were positive," said member Mazena Barakat.

The F-Word Campaign is a two-year pilot program of Milwaukee NOW. Its goal is to change the stigma surrounding the word feminism. The chapter hopes to encourage the birth of F-Word campaigns across the nation through other NOW chapters.

Future chapter excursions will cover nearby cities and will involve more unusual and unconventional methods of delivery. "We plan to take our campaign to the air," said Linda Fausel, F-Word Task Force Chair. The group plans to rent a plane to fly over festivals and football games sporting an F-Word banner, reaching people of all ages, races and genders.

Delaware County NOW Pickets Taliban

On May 18, Delaware County NOW (Pa.) held a protest and informational picket in Wayne, Pa., to counter an appearance by the Taliban representative to the United Nations who was speaking at a Middle East Forum.

Sixteen NOW members passed out information and talked to people about the plight of women in Afghanistan. As a result, by-passers and people who had intended to attend the speech by the Taliban representative joined in the protest.

Chapter President Kathy Mason noted that before the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan, women comprised 60 percent of the teachers and 50 percent of the students at Kabul University, 50 percent of the civilian government work force, 70 percent of school teachers, and 40 percent of doctors.

Mason states:"After the Taliban seized power in 1996, women and girls were stripped of their basic human rights. They are forbidden from attending schools, working outside the home, leaving the home without a male relative, speaking in public, and speaking to males who are not close relatives. Women are beaten and killed for not being properly covered or escorted."

Chapter activists distributed information and gave out the web addresses of NOW and the Feminist Majority so people could continue to track the problem. The chapter's hand-outs asked people to write letters to the U.N. to demand that pressure be put on the Taliban to change its treatment of women.

Many thanks for information provided by: Toni Van Pelt and Sheila Jaffe of Florida NOW; Barbara DiTullio and Joanne Tosti-Vasey of Pennsylvania NOW; Darby Mangen of San Gabriel Valley/Whittier NOW; Sandy Rapp of East End NOW; Terry O'Neill, Jeanne Cashen and Linda Sievers of Louisiana NOW; Robin Davis of Raleigh NOW; Kathy Mason of Delaware County (PA) NOW; Toby Abrams and Holmes Holland of Nashville NOW; and Linda Fausel of Milwaukee NOW.

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