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National NOW Times >> Winter 2004/2005 >> Article

Empowering, Enfranchising and Energizing Women of Color

by Dianne Munevar, Public Policy Intern

At last summer's national NOW conference in Las Vegas, delegates reaffirmed the organization's continued commitment to eradicate racism in all of its forms, and called for a spring 2005 summit where women of color and allies can strategize and collaborate on a strategic plan for our efforts.

In December, an ad hoc advisory committee comprised of 12 women of color who are NOW leaders at the local, state and national level gathered at the National Action Center in Washington, D.C., to plan for the Women of Color and Allies (WOCA) Summit to be held in April 2005 in New York City, with a tentative theme of "Empower, Enfranchise, Energize," a focus suggested by Gail Garcia McWilliams, a member of the National Board from Ohio.

Women of Color & Allies Committee

o Gail Garcia McWilliams
o Michele Colon
o Vanessa Salinas
o Anna Maria Thomas
o Latifa Lyles
o Diana Castaneda
o Erin Hanna
o Gilda Yazzie
o Allendra Letsome
o Bertha Smith
o Loretta Ross
o Maria Plasencia

Outreach Strategies

Throughout the meeting, the committee focused on including all women in the summit, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, age, or socio-economic class. NOW President Kim Gandy said WOCA must be "a real collaboration, not window-dressing."

The summit will involve women of all constituency groups and provide a forum for discussion on numerous issues affecting women of color, and collaboration on a plan of action.

In order to bring as many women as possible to participate in WOCA, the committee planned to utilize numerous forms of communication: mailing lists, flyers, magazine advertisements, emails and Internet. The committee will also seek scholarship funding. The committee agreed that NOW chapter leaders should attend the summit to learn about outreach on issues affecting women of color in their communities.

What Women of Color Want

During the two sessions of brainstorming, the committee agreed on some key components and themes to be addressed in planning for WOCA. The summit will explore a wide variety of key issues, from religion and spirituality in the movement to the impact of hip-hop culture to ways the feminist movement can address institutional racism.

Summit participants will develop ideas and plans to build bridges for all disenfranchised women and amplify their voice in the struggle for equality and dignity. The summit will offer opportunities for learning about issues that affect women's lives and how we can have an impact on those issues.

The committee also created a list of discussion themes for WOCA, including access to education and sex education, real family values, the impact of the drug war on women of color, disparities in healthcare, including reproductive health, welfare reform, housing and homelessness and homophobia in the color community.

"W" Needs a Lesson from WOCA

One of the most inspiring aspects of the committee's two-day meeting was the truly democratic process by which issues were discussed and proposals were decided.

NOW Action Vice President Olga Vives facilitated group discussion by accepting motions and amendments, requesting confirmations among the committee members and tallying votes—altogether keeping everyone on the same page.

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