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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2001 >> Article

NOW Acts

by Cindy Hanford, NOW Staff Writer

When NOW’s National Board called for an Emergency Action for Women’s Lives on February 11, NOW chapters had 10 weeks to organize and raise funds to get activists to D.C. for the April 22 action. Chapters met the challenge and took pride in knowing that NOW was taking the lead to defend women’s reproductive freedom.

In addition, many chapters organized Valentine’s Day actions to call for passage of federal legislation against hate crimes, celebrated Women’s History month in March, and worked to draw attention to the inequity between the salaries of men and women on Equal Pay Day (April 3).

Wisconsin NOW Works to Raise Women’s Pay and Get Out the Vote

On Tuesday, April 3, Wisconsin NOW held an Equal Pay bake sale in Madison, selling baked goods to men for $1 and to women for 75 cents. The event called attention to the pay gap that still exists between men and women.

Equal Pay Day falls on Tuesday to mark the day of the week that women’s earnings catch up to those of men’s previous 5-day work week. The event falls in April because women must work 16 months to make as much money as men do in a year. Statistics from the Department of Labor show that women earn between 72 and 77 cents on the dollar when their median pay for full-time work is compared with that of men; minority women make even less.

In addition to selling baked goods, activists handed out information on pending federal legislation to address gender-related pay inequity: the Fair Pay Act (S. 684/H.R. 1362) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 77/HR 781). Wisconsin NOW also reminded people to vote in their state’s spring elections, which also occurred on April 3.

Maine NOW Calls for End to Hate Crimes

On Valentine’s Day, Maine NOW members rallied against hate. Activists stood amid three-foot-tall snow banks in Portland, holding signs reading "Speak Out Against Violence." The rally was part of a national effort by NOW to use Valentine’s Day to raise awareness about hate crimes. Other organizations supported the protest, including the Maine Speak Out Project, Peace Action Maine and the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program.

NOW supports federal legislation to expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes targeting women, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Maine NOW President Renee Berry-Huffman gave examples of recent violent crimes in Maine motivated by sexism and homophobia. She was quoted in the Portland Press Herald: "When things like this happen, it’s a call to action. We need to make people aware of this. We need to bring attention to the fact that there is no room for hate."

Florida NOW Fights Anti-Abortion Rights License Plates

In Tallahassee on March 1, Florida NOW was in Leon County Circuit Court asking Judge Nikki Ann Clark to ban "Choose Life" license plates. Florida NOW, a Palm Beach County synagogue and three other plaintiffs argue that the plates violate constitutional provisions separating church and state. The suit asks Clark to recall the 13,000 plates already on cars. As of April 30, the judge had not ruled on the case.

Legislation in support of the plates was first passed in 1998, but was vetoed by then-Governor Chiles. In 1999, the legislation passed again and was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush. In November 1999, Florida NOW filed a lawsuit against the state to prevent distribution, but the case languished in a Palm Beach County court and tags were released to the public in August 2000. Eventually, the Fourth District Court of Appeals transferred venue to Leon County.

The group that lobbied for the plates argued that "Choose Life" is a message meant to encourage adoption, but refused to substitute language directly mentioning adoption. Quoted by AP, Florida NOW’s lawyer Barry Silver said the license plate’s proponents purposefully chose an anti-abortion rights message. Silver stated, "They could have passed a license plate that said ‘Adopt A Child’ and we wouldn’t be here."

NOW argued in court that the phrase "Choose Life" is so closely related to the anti-abortion rights movement that people could assume the state agrees with that movement, even though abortion is constitutionally protected in Florida. A pro-choice rabbi and minister testified that this also undermines their authority with their congregations and unconstitutionally involves the state in religion.

The tags will generate revenue for organizations that provide support to pregnant women "who are committed to placing their children up for adoption." The program will provide no funds to women who wish to keep their children. Funds may not be distributed to any agency associated with abortion activities, including counseling for or referrals to abortion clinics.

Anti-abortion rights groups in 35 states are working to promote similar tags, with legislation already introduced in 12 states for the 2001 legislative session. In August, a federal judge temporarily blocked Louisiana from issuing "Choose Life" plates, citing violation of the First Amendment. Activists working to stop such state legislation and needing legal arguments against it, may contact Attorney Linda Miklowitz; c/o Tallahassee NOW; P.O. Box 47; Tallahassee FL 32302-0047; or 850-656-0012.

Activists in California Protest Music of Hate

On Feb. 21, NOW President Patricia Ireland joined activists from California NOW, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and other organizations outside Grammy Award ceremonies in Los Angeles to protest the hate and violence in the lyrics of rap artist Eminem.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) nominated Eminem, infamous for his menacing lyrics, for four Grammy Awards and invited him to perform at the ceremonies. Eminem was honored by the Academy with three awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance.

Eminem’s lyrics are explicitly violent and particularly attack women, lesbians and gays. Consistently calling women bitches, sluts and whores, Eminem sings about killing his wife, raping his mother and having his crew rape his little sister on her birthday.

NOW’s news release announcing the protest stated, "Violence against women is a serious problem, one that women’s rights groups, shelters and survivors of male violence deal with every day. To ignore Eminem’s lyrics proves only how numb our society is becoming to violence as entertainment."

Eminem’s Grammy wins are a seal of approval from the recording industry. To express concern, write to NARAS, 3402 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90405 and ask them not to reward artists who promote hate and violence.

Greater Syracuse NOW Produces Play, Offers Script to Chapters

Greater Syracuse (New York) NOW recently produced a play about Margaret Sanger titled "Woman Rebel" and is offering to make the script available to other NOW chapters. Elaine Lytel, a long-time NOW member, wrote the play in 1981.

Former NOW President and current Greater Syracuse NOW Vice-President Karen DeCrow writes: "Lytel passed away in January 2000. Her NOW colleagues were pondering an appropriate tribute. Robert Seidenberg, a chapter member, recalled the play, which had not been produced since 1981. His idea was translated into action by Earl Colvin, producer at the Syracuse community theatre, Theatre a la Carte."

On March 20, a staged reading was held. DeCrow reports it was an excellent production and a major success, attended by a large crowd. DeCrow notes, "Alas, the issues raised during Sanger’s lifetime - birth control and reproductive freedom - are as relevant today as they were during Sanger’s lifetime." Elaine Lytel’s children, David and Laurie Lytel, have agreed that the play script should be made available to any NOW chapter interested in producing a staged reading. If interested, contact Laurie Lytel at (702) 362-5626 or Karen DeCrow at (315) 682-2563.

Fayetteville NOW Celebrates Susan B. Anthony’s Birthday

Fayetteville (North Carolina) NOW celebrated Susan B. Anthony's birthday on Feb.15 with a fund-raising lunch. Anthony is credited with leading the fight for women’s suffrage and was involved in the temperance movement, the movement to abolish slavery and the women’s rights movement. As early as 1872 she was advocating that women receive equal pay for doing the same work as men. Robin Davis of Raleigh NOW, dressed in period clothing, quoted Anthony’s writings.

Wendy Riddle, local radio personality, spoke to the group about the progress made by women in broadcasting since she started out in commercials in the early ’70s. She had been told that it was "station policy to not hire women" and "Girls can't read the news." She has co-hosted a morning show for the past 25 years and consistently wins awards for her work. Joyce Malone told her story about becoming the first African-American woman to get her wings as a paratrooper in the army, despite being told she would fail.

Fayetteville NOW President Esther Barkley said, "This event was such a success it will be our first annual celebration of our foremother’s birthday."

Women’s clinics in Fayetteville have repeatedly been the target of clinic violence, and anti-abortion protestors picketed the hotel where the fundraiser was held.

Tallahassee NOW Organizes Counter-Holiday

Members and friends of Tallahassee NOW gathered to commemorate Not MY President’s Day on Feb. 19. The event was held on the second-floor balcony of the Leon County courthouse, in the shadow of the state capitol where, according to activists, Republicans stole Florida’s 25 electoral votes.

Activists performed a dramatic reading of the transcript of a BBC news program titled "What Really Happened in Florida," explaining how 20,000 or more votes were taken from presidential candidate Al Gore. Tallahassee NOW collected contributions for NOW in Bush’s name and promised that contributions to the chapter would be acknowledged to "Resident Bush."

News crews from the local ABC and CBS affiliates and Florida Public Radio covered the event. A statewide news channel interviewed Tallahassee NOW President Linda Miklowitz about the counter-holiday. "This is the first of four annual ‘Not MY President Days,’" promised Miklowitz.

Many thanks for information provided by: Linda Miklowitz of Tallahassee NOW; Deborah Bell of Texas NOW; Maggie Sacra and Lorraine Baysek of Tidewater NOW; Renee Berry-Huffman of Maine NOW; Karen DeCrow of Greater Syracuse NOW; Roberta Waddle and Judy Lowe of Fayetteville NOW; Elizabeth Volz of NOW-New Jersey; and Shahla Werner, Jean Beschta, and Rachel Murray of Wisconsin NOW.

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