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National NOW Times >> Winter 2003/2004 >> Article

NOW Acts: Chapter Activities Are As Diverse As NOW Members

by Barbara Hays, Chapter and State Development Director

As NOW's chapter and state development director, nearly everywhere I go people ask me: "What are the NOW chapters up to?" I usually respond with: "Everything!" I've never been sure if the questioner expects me to say that there is one project on which all chapters are working, but knowing NOW members, that's highly unlikely.

Recently, our staff put together a summary of the chapters' annual reports, and looked at lots of chapter reports and newsletters to see what projects they had been working on. The answer is still: "Everything!"

The chapters of NOW can set their own priorities and goals, and usually take on a multi-faceted agenda including local, state and national actions covering a wide range of issues. Here are some topics and issues chapters are involved in as 2004 comes rolling in:

March Organizing: Chapters report strong and enthusiastic interest in the April 2004 March for Women's Lives. Many are doing outreach to the colleges and universities in their areas, and report meeting with like-minded organizations and forming coalitions to plan and share strategies for making this the largest women's rights gathering in our country's history. Interest in the March spans all ages, races, economic classes and geographic areas.

Carol Moseley Braun: NOW chapters across the country are educating their communities about Carol Moseley Braun's candidacy for President of the U.S. in 2004. In her travels as a candidate, Braun is meeting with many NOW chapters and talking with activists about important issues. Chapter leaders, regardless of how they might feel about Braun's chances, have been angered by the media's dismissive treatment of her as a candidate (and media criticism of NOW PAC's endorsement). By countering the media's negative attitude toward Braun's campaign, chapter activists are getting the word out about a longtime women's rights supporter who has exciting ideas for our country.

International Women's Issues: Many of our members are deeply concerned about issues affecting the world's women. Chapters promote heightened awareness of international family planning issues, like the impact of the global gag rule, as well as the concerns of Afghan women, both in that country and in the refugee camps in Pakistan to which many fled over the past 18 months. Many have done work increasing awareness of Female Genital Mutilation, especially as it relates to political asylum.

Judicial Nominees: Chapters across the country face an uphill battle in fighting the Bush Administration's nominees to the federal circuit courts. While the U.S. Supreme Court is a familiar entity to most people in this country, the federal circuit courts are a mystery to most. Bush's nominees have been right-wing jurists who are determined to turn back the clock on civil rights, and it has taken a while to get our supporters in the Senate to stand up to these nominees. Chapters have done a lot to educate people in their areas and to help folks get assistance on how to lobby against these dangerous judges.

Love Your Body Day Activities: NOW leaders in many areas have used this NOW Foundation campaign about healthy body images to help heighten the understanding and concern that so many women harm themselves physically by trying to look like the airbrushed, computer-enhanced women in ads. Chapters have organized programs airing the NOW Foundation video, "Redefining Liberation," especially in schools. Several groups reported putting on "Love Your Body Fashion Shows" highlighting women of all ages and sizes.

Support for Local Abortion Clinics: Much of the news lately seems to have given energy to our anti-abortion opponents. Chapters are reporting more clinic protests, and are facing tough battles in their legislatures as a new wave of restrictive abortion legislation rises and attacks on contraceptive access increase.

Wal-Mart: Chapters have been joining the Wal-Mart Merchant of Shame campaign in several ways. Many have adopted a store, where they offer brochures or information sheets explaining to customers where those low prices are coming from—the wages of the people who work there. Other chapters have helped to expose specific employment problems at stores in their communities.

Celebrate! While we work on many more issues than these, NOW activists know the importance of taking time to celebrate our efforts and thanking volunteers. Most come together around the year-end holidays. Whether it's a holiday party, solstice celebration, or new year's event, chapters welcome the chance to have a good time together!

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