NOW’s 2018 National Conference a Smashing Success

If you weren’t there in San Jose with us, you missed what many attendees described as the “best NOW conference ever!” We gathered just after the Fourth of July in the sunny Silicon Valley city for the ‘Speak Truth to Power NOW’ event which showcased 18 energizing speakers, six distinguished awardees and a wide array of hot topics at 27 workshops.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, vice president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, welcomed attendees to the conference. The county has a very progressive Office of Women’s Policy which helped to secure generous support for the event.

The highlight of the conference was an address by famed attorney, Gloria Allred, who most recently represented a sexual assault survivor in securing a guilty conviction against serial rapist and comedian, Bill Cosby. Gloria also introduced the documentary screened Friday evening about her life and career, Seeing Allred, depicting her courageous campaigning against harassers, abusers, and sexist employers In her early feminist activist life, Allred was also the president of her Los Angeles NOW Chapter. NOW presented Gloria with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), as usual, told it like it is. Lee talked about the shameful treatment by the Trump administration of immigrant families and about the administration’s steady rollbacks of our most valued programs and policies. Rep. Lee, whose district covers Oakland, Calif., expressed her very serious concerns about the increase in voter suppression tactics targeting people of color. She called upon Congress again to restore the Voting Rights Act.

Most riveting was the PAC Roundtable Luncheon discussion with elected officials, organized by the NOW Political Action Committee (PAC) which featured members of Congress from the local area, Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, along with Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman (D), Maine Representative and former national NOW officer Lois Galgay Reckitt (D), Virginia State Delegate Hala Ayala, (D) recently president of her Prince William County NOW chapter, and Nina Ahmad, former Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement in Philadelphia as well as president of Philadelphia NOW and unsuccessful candidate for Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania.

Sen. Pat Spearman is the legislator most responsible for bringing Nevada ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to a successful vote in 2017 and she gave an absolutely electrifying speech during the Roundtable Luncheon. Participants also heard from many NOW leaders recommending impressive feminist candidates running in their districts.

A very special part of the conference honored the person who designed NOW’s iconic logo; do you know who that was? Almost lost to NOW history in the intervening 52 years, the designer, Ivy Bottini, was recognized with a Woman of Courage Award. Now 92 years young, Ivy was not able to leave her Hollywood home to attend the conference, but a video with her message to the conference attendees was shown. West Hollywood NOW Chapter president, John Erickson, and vice president, Karen Eyres, accepted the award for Ivy. Ivy is a pioneering lesbian rights activist and one of the earliest members of NOW, having co-founded the first chapter of NOW in New York City.

Erickson, also a member of the California Commission on the Status of Women spoke during the third Plenary Session about the work of the commission and of his West Hollywood NOW Chapter.

Carol Robles-Roman, a NOW Advisory Board Member and Co-President of the ERA Coalition, brought conference attendees up to date on the exciting ratifications of the Equal Rights Amendment in Nevada and Illinois. Robles-Roman is the former Deputy Mayor of New York City and President of Legal Momentum (formerly NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund).

Also, film-maker Kamala Lopez showed her film, Equal Means Equal, about the potential impact of the ERA in addressing the many barriers that women face. Watch the trailer and to rent for a NOW Chapter event

Esta Soler, the legendary leader in the historic effort to pass the Violence Against Women Act, addressed the conference. Soler is the founder of the San Francisco-based organization, Futures Without Violence (formerly the Family Violence Prevention Fund). Over decades of advocacy on behalf of victims of violence, she has trained law enforcement officials, called out sports organizations covering up for violent athletes and prodded hesitant legislators to take action to end domestic violence..

From one of the most successful feminist legal advocacy organizations in the country, Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), Legal Director Jennifer Reisch offered an overview of her organization’s recent gains for women’s equality. ERA’s record of success in dozens of cases of sex discrimination and harassment is impressive. The ERA was instrumental in passing a landmark equal pay “substantially similar” law in 2015, ushering in a wave of similar bills in many states, and most recently developing a package of model legislation to counter workplace sexual harassment.

The conference was also a Young Feminist Summit and it was a thrill for our YF committee members to introduce each of our featured plenary speakers. An award was given to outstanding young feminist, Charlene Carruthers, a Black, queer feminist community organizer and writer who currently serves as the national director of the Black Youth Project, an activist member-led organization of Black 18-35-year-olds dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. Carruthers was presented with a Young Feminist of Action Award.

Also, an award was presented to Moriah Engdahl, a 16-year-old gun reform activist from tiny Gillette, Wyoming who spoke out in her conservative community after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. She organized a school walk-out in remembrance of the victims and a student march to Campbell County Courthouse to protest a Wyoming statute that allows school staff to carry firearms on the job. NOW presented Moriah with a Young Feminist of Courage Award.

A long-time NOW member, Ethel Guttenberg of Cincinatti NOW, spoke movingly at the conference about losing her 14-year- old granddaughter, Jaime, in the Parkland shooting. Several resolutions advocating for enhanced gun control measures have recently been passed by the NOW National Board and conference attendees.

NOW Foundation’s special Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health was presented to activist, educator and patient Jennifer Brea who produced a Sundance award-winning film, Unrest, about her experience with the disabling myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome). With Unrest and an activist support network she established #MEAction, Brea has been able to reach hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and Europe to bring more awareness of the need for research funding for ME/CFS. The cause of ME/CFS is not well understood and there is no cure; the majority of MS/CFS patients are women. Brea generously provided copies of her film to all conference attendees. View the trailer for Unrest .

Finally, NOW honored one of our most valued and distinguished colleagues, Kathy Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminist Majority. One of the founders of Feminist Majority, Spillar has been a driving force in executing the organizations’ diverse programs securing women’s rights domestically and globally since 1987. Spillar is also Executive Editor of Ms. magazine overseeing editorial content of the magazine and related website. She has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, speaking on a wide array of feminist issues. Spillar was presented with the Woman of Impact Award.

Much thanks goes to the local organizing committee, headed by Erika Maslan, assisted by Mary Davis, Katia Senff and other wonderful NOW activists from Contra Costa County NOW. Their chapter paid for goodie bags and for the band, the Goat Hill Girls, who performed at the NOW PAC Party and Silent Auction.

The 2019 National NOW Conference will be held July 17 – 21 in Minneapolis, Minnesota near the Mall of America.

California NOW Conference Convened

Following the 2018 National NOW Conference, the California NOW State Conference began at the same hotel and featured a membership meeting, CA Political Action Committee updates and candidate introductions, announcement of a new Digital NOW Network and information about the new Watch Us NOW, CA, an online show discussing such topics as intersectionality, gender equity, education, finances and reproductive justice.

Featured speakers included Michelle Dauber and Jennie Richardson who reported on the successful outcome of the recall election of Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. In 2016, Persky gave a lenient sentence of six months to Brock Turner who raped an unconscious woman. Turner was found guilty on three felony counts which could have resulted in 14 years imprisonment. (National NOW also assisted in educating our members about this travesty of justice through a targeted email effort when the recall campaign was launched.)

CA NOW president Kolieka Siegle presented her executive committee, state board members and a video #IBELIEVEHER, followed by speakers on state legislation addressing Police Transparency and Accountability and a proposed Tampon Tax Act that would life state taxes from tampons and pads. CA NOW leaders also conducted a number of interesting workshops and yoga sessions for the National NOW Conference.