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Moving Our Feminism Forward: NOW’s Revised Bylaws

At the National Conference in June, activists from around the country came together to decide on revisions to NOW’s bylaws. Some highlights include an updated (finally!!!) statement of purpose, a few changes in the process for electing national board members, and use of undelegated voting at the national conference. You can read the full revised bylaws below.

NOW Bylaws

The name of this national membership organization of women and men is “National Organization for Women, Inc.” (NOW).

ARTICLE II.  STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

NOW’s  purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.

ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP

Any person who subscribes to NOW’s purpose shall be eligible to become a member of NOW and upon payment of national dues shall be enrolled as a member, with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereof. All members of subunits of NOW must be members of the national organization. No person who subscribes to NOW’s purpose shall be excluded from membership, segregated, or otherwise discriminated against within the organization.

Article IV.  SUBUNITS

Section 1. Chapters

A. Members residing or working in a given state, county, municipality, or a regional or metropolitan area shall be encouraged to form a chapter, or members may join or form virtual chapters that are not tied to a geographic region. A chapter shall consist of no fewer than ten members, formulate bylaws consistent with these bylaws, convene and operate for the stated purpose of NOW, and elect its officers. Chapters shall be chartered by the national organization upon meeting these requirements.

B. The policies and programs of each chapter shall be defined by its members so long as such policies and programs are not contrary to those enacted by the national bylaws, National Conference or National Board.

C. Membership in a chapter and voting privileges in the election of chapter officers shall be open to all NOW members who meet the chapter dues and length-of-membership requirements, if any; provided however that members may be voting members of only one chapter. All persons elected to leadership positions in the chapter must be members of NOW.

D. The local, grassroots chapters are the building blocks of NOW, serving as the focus of feminist action.

Section 2. States

A. Each state and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (hereinafter referred to as a state) which does not now have an existing state organization may apply to convene a state organization with the approval of a majority of the chapters or members of that state. States shall be convened and chartered upon meeting requirements set by the National Board or National Conference. States must continue to meet such requirements to maintain their state status, subject to the removal of their state charters in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article XIII, Section 2. State organizations shall convene chapters within their state, with the exception of virtual chapters, which shall be convened with the authorization of a national officer. If a state organization fails to approve or disapprove a convening request within 60 days, the national organization may convene the chapter.  State organizations may convene and support local networks or task forces within the state which are not independent entities.

B. The policies and programs of each state organization shall be defined by its members and chapters so long as such policies and programs are not contrary to those established by the national bylaws, National Conference or National Board.

C. Membership in state organizations and voting privileges in the election of state officers shall be open to all NOW members who meet the state dues and length-of-membership requirements, if any; provided however that members may be voting members of only one state organization. All persons elected to leadership positions in the state organization must be members of NOW.

D. In states without a state organization, that region’s Regional Director, in consultation with the regional Board members, may appoint a State Coordinator/President to serve until elections are held, not to exceed one year.

Section 3. Electoral Districts

A. There shall be electoral districts, each of which shall elect National Board members (hereinafter referred to as Board members or, collectively, the Board or National Board).

B. Membership in an electoral district and voting privileges in the election of National Board members shall be open to all NOW members who meet the length-of-membership requirements set forth in Article VII, Section 5 hereof; provided however that members may be voting members of only one electoral district. National Board members from each electoral district shall be elected in accordance with Article VII, Section 5 hereof, and such other requirements as may be proposed by the National Board and adopted by the National Conference.

Section 4.  Affirmative Action

Subunits shall have an affirmative action plan aimed at increasing diversity of participation at all levels of NOW.

ARTICLE V.  INTERNATIONAL AFFILIATES

The national organization may establish affiliates or may affiliate with existing organizations in other countries to promote feminism worldwide.

ARTICLE VI.  OFFICERS

The national officers may delegate such duties as may be necessary to allow them to implement the performance of their office, but they may not delegate their responsibility. The officers shall constitute the Executive Committee and be responsible at all times to the full National Board and to the members.

Section 1. Titles and Duties

A. President. There shall be a President who shall be salaried and shall be a voting member of the National Board. The President shall be the principal spokesperson and chief executive and financial officer of the organization, shall call the meetings of the Board, the Executive Committee, and the National Conference and shall preside at these meetings. The President shall also serve as the Chair of the NOW PAC.

B. Vice President. There shall be a Vice President who shall be salaried and shall be a voting member of the National Board. The Vice President shall preside at all meetings in the absence of the President, keep the minutes of the meetings of the Board, the Executive Committee and National Conference, be custodian of the records, and perform such other duties as may be delegated by the President and Board. For corporate purposes, the Vice President shall be designated Secretary/Treasurer. The Vice President shall serve as the Treasurer of the NOW PAC.

C. Upon a three-fifths (3/5) vote of the National Board at least 180 days before a national conference at which officers are elected, the Board may, after taking into account the organization’s projected 4-year budget and other factors it deems relevant, establish one or more additional Vice President positions, which may be salaried and which shall have the responsibilities and duties as determined by the Board.

Section 2. Qualifications and Terms of Office

A. All national officers shall have been members of NOW for at least four years immediately prior to election and shall have served at least one year as a chapter or state officer or National Board member. Each term of office shall be four years and shall begin 30 days following the election at the National Conference.  Each officer shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.

B. In the case of officers elected to fill a vacancy under Article XII, their partial terms shall not be considered in determining the term limitation.

Section 3. Executive Committee

The Executive Committee shall be composed of the national officers. Where action is necessary between meetings of the Board, the Executive Committee may act on behalf of the Board, provided that the action is consistent with existing NOW policy. The Executive Committee shall report all of its actions and decisions to the Board. A meeting of the Executive Committee shall be held only after adequate notice to all officers. The Executive Committee may meet by any means, such as a conference telephone call, which will allow the officers to confer as a body.

Section 4. Nominations

Nominations for officers tickets shall be submitted to the Nominating Committee in writing at least 90 days before the election Conference, provided that nothing in this shall be interpreted to require tickets for the election of national Board members in the electoral districts. Each officer ticket submitted to the Committee must contain a nomination for every officer position. Nominations shall not be taken from the floor.

Section 5. Elections

One of the proposed officer tickets shall be elected by a majority vote of the eligible members present whose preferences are counted in the final tally at the National Conference. If there are more than two officer tickets nominated preferential voting shall be used, and balloting shall be conducted according to the parliamentary authority prescribed in these bylaws.

Section 6. Salaries and Fees

A. The Board shall set the salaries of the paid officers for the next term, except that officers may not vote on matters of officers’ salaries.

B. All officers who receive honoraria as a result of their elected position shall remit to the NOW general fund one hundred percent of the said honoraria minus expenses.

ARTICLE VII.  THE NATIONAL BOARD

Section 1. Composition

The National Board shall be composed of the national officers and the Board members elected by members of the electoral districts.

Section 2. Duties and Powers

A. Administrative

The Board shall manage the affairs and control the funds and property of the organization; approve all appointments; and adopt necessary rules and regulations, provided that none of the Board s actions shall conflict with or modify the actions or directives of the national Conference or be inconsistent with the purpose of the organization.

B. Action

The Board shall develop and plan the action agenda and submit it to the National Conference for approval, implement conference resolutions, and facilitate national actions and the exchange of information.

C. National Board members shall be responsible to present the concerns (including actions and programs) of the states and chapters within their regions to the National Board and to report National Board decisions to the states and chapters within their regions. Further duties of National Board members within their regions may be defined by their region’s bylaws and policies.

D. At the beginning of each Board term, each Board member shall declare their personal commitment to give or get contributions and/or NOW memberships, taking into consideration the Board member’s resources, including contacts, geographic location, existing responsibilities and other relevant factors.

Section 3. Meetings

The Board shall meet at least three times each calendar year at the call of the President or at the request of one-fourth of the Board members. At least thirty days’ notice shall be given for regular meetings of the Board. At least seven days’ notice shall be given for special meetings.

Section 4. District Election of Board Members

A.  There shall be six electoral districts which shall be drawn every ten years, following publication of the U.S. Census information, by the National Board with the approval of the National Conference.  The electoral districts shall have roughly equal numbers of NOW members and such other characteristics as the Board and Conference may approve.  The first such districts shall be:

1.    Pacific – Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington;

2.    Western – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Texas

3.    Heartland – Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin;

4.    Southern – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee;

5.    Eastern – Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia;

6.    Northern – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont.

B. Each electoral district shall have no fewer than two (2) members elected to the National Board.  Any electoral district with a delegation that includes a person of color shall be entitled to three (3) members elected to the National Board.  No more than one (1) National Board member shall be elected from any one state.

Section 5.  Procedures and Standards for Elections

A. Any NOW member who has been a member in good standing for at least two years immediately prior to the date of election shall be eligible to serve on the National Board. Board members must remain residents of the electoral district from which elected in order to remain on the Board.

B. All National Board members shall be elected at district caucuses held during NOW’s annual national conference in even-numbered years or at a district conference held in March, April or May of even-numbered years.  All members of the electoral district in good standing whose dues are received by the national organization or its appropriate subunits at least ninety days prior to the national, district in-person, or online district conference and who are present may vote.  Minimum procedures shall be:

1.    The National Board members must be elected by a majority of the votes cast.  Preferential or cumulative voting is permissible.  In preferential voting, Board members must be elected by a majority of preferences counted in the final tally.

2.    At least sixty days’ notice in an every-member NOW publication must be given of elections for National Board members.

3.    Electronic voting in accordance with procedures adopted by the national Board and approved by the National Conference is permitted, provided that it must be conducted in a secure, affordable and accessible manner.

4.    The procedure for nominating National Board members in the electoral districts shall be the same as that for nominating officers of the national organization.  The State Coordinators in each electoral district or their designees shall serve as the nominating committee for that district.

5.    Districts must notify the National Action Center no later than January 1of an election year that the election will be held at a district conference.  The State Coordinators and National Board members in each district who are not running for election or re-election shall select the site for a district election conference.

Section 6. Term of Office

A. National Board members elected in the electoral districts shall hold office for a term of two years or until their successors are elected.

B. Board members shall take office at the close of the National Conference in the year in which they are elected.

C. No Board members shall be eligible to serve more than two consecutive terms. In the case of Board members elected to fill a vacancy under Article XII, their partial term shall not be considered in determining the term limitation.

D. Any National Board member who is absent from three consecutive National Board meetings for which reimbursement is provided shall be automatically removed from the National Board without recourse to Article XIII, Section 2, Removals.

Section 7. District Directors

One National Board member from each electoral district may be designated by the district to serve as the District Director of the district.

ARTICLE VIII.  MEMBERSHIP MEETINGS

Section 1. National Conference

A. There shall be an annual meeting of the membership (hereinafter referred to as the National Conference or the Conference) which shall rotate through the regions, with separate rotations for election and non-election conferences, and shall be held for the purpose of transacting the business of the organization.

B. The National Conference shall be the supreme governing body of NOW.

C. The Conference shall be held in the month of June or July, and at such other times as the membership may decide by written petition of ten percent of the membership or a majority vote of the National Board. The Board shall fix the exact date and place of the national Conference and give at least sixty days’ advance notice thereof in an every-member NOW publication. It shall make arrangements for hotel and meeting place accommodations and determine the Conference agenda.

D. In the even-numbered years, the National Conference shall include a special issue or constituency summit in the event that NOW Foundation does not sponsor such a summit.

E. No membership meeting at any level of NOW shall require NOW members in good standing to pay a registration fee or any other fee in order to participate in the business events or activities of said meeting. No distinction of any kind shall be drawn by the Conference or the Committee between those able to pay fees over and above basic dues and those unable to pay such fees.

Section 2. Voting Privileges

A. Only members in good standing whose dues are received by the national organization or its appropriate subunits at least ninety (90) days prior to the Conference and who are duly registered and in attendance shall be eligible to vote at the Conference. Each member in attendance shall have one vote.

B. Use of the unit rule is prohibited. There shall be no proxy voting.

C. A quorum shall be twenty-five percent of those members registered and eligible to vote and shall include one officer and two other National Board members.

Section 3.  Participation in Conference

The National Conference shall be open to all NOW members, who shall be entitled to speak whether or not eligible to vote.

ARTICLE IX.  COMMITTEES

Section 1. Nominating Committee for the Election of Officers

A. Election.  The members of the Nominating Committee shall be elected in their electoral districts. There shall be one member from each district. The committee shall designate the chair from among its members.

B. Duties.  The Nominating Committee shall not endorse an individual officer ticket and each member shall maintain strict neutrality regarding all tickets.  The Nominating Committee shall:

1.    Publicize and distribute in an every-member NOW publication information on the deadlines for submission officer ticket information. These deadlines shall be set by the National Board.

2.    Accept officer ticket nominations from members.

3.    Determine each nominee meets the qualifications as described in these bylaws.

4.    Provide uniform information sheets to be submitted by the officer tickets.

5.    Assume responsibility for the distribution of information on all eligible officer tickets.

6.    Publish and distribute officer ticket information in an every-member NOW publication at least thirty days before the Conference.

Section 2. Standing Committees of the National Board

A. The Board shall organize itself into committees so as to best accomplish its work.  Committees may include but are not limited to:

Membership

Action and Programs

Structure and Process

Fundraising

Finance and Budget

B. The members of the standing committees shall serve for the duration of the term of the administration under which they serve.

C. The standing committees shall report to the Board at regular intervals and to the membership at the annual Conference or through an every-member NOW publication.

D. The President shall designate the chair of each committee subject to the approval of the National Board.

E. The chair of a standing committee shall be any NOW member unless otherwise provided for in these bylaws.

F. The members of the standing committees shall be appointed by the Board.

G. The functions and duties of the standing committees shall be designated by the Board.

Section 3. Advisory Committee

There may be a National Advisory Committee appointed by the Board which shall consist of a chair appointed by the Board and not more than one-hundred NOW members who shall serve two years. The Advisory Committee shall be available to the Board for advice and consultation as requested and for assistance in fundraising. The chair shall be a non-voting member of the Board and shall serve for a term of two years, the completion of the term to be at the close of the National Conference in odd-numbered years.  The Advisory Committee shall assist in the identification and cultivation of potential major donors to NOW.  At the beginning of every Board term, each Advisory Committee mameber will declare their personal fundraising commitment for NOW, taking into consideration the Advisory Committee member’s resources, including contracts, geographic location existing responsibilities and other relevant factors.

Section 4. Special Committees of the National Board

There shall be other committees which do not have the authority of the Board for management of the corporation, but which may advise the Board, officers, and membership-at-large, or may perform such other duties as the Board, National Conference, or President may wish to assign. This will include a permanent task force of young feminists aged 30 or under to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the board to advise the Board of Directors and National Conference on matters of agenda, leadership recruitment and issue prioritization regarding young feminists in NOW, and a permanent task force on racial justice to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Board to advise the Board and National Conference on matters of agenda, leadership recruitment and issue prioritization regarding feminists of color in NOW.

Section 5. Committees to Implement Conference Resolutions

There shall be committees to implement Conference resolutions. Such committees can be established and their membership and direction be determined by the National Conference, the President, or the Board. Chairs of such committees shall be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Board.

Section 6. Composition

Although a committee or task force may allow participation by non-NOW members in its activities, all positions of responsibility or decision making authority shall be held by current NOW members.

ARTICLE X.  FINANCE

Section 1. Fiscal Year

The fiscal year shall begin January 1 and end December 31.

Section 2.  Dues

A.  Annual dues shall be paid on the anniversary date of the day on which the member joined. The amount of dues shall be set by a two-thirds vote of the Board, which shall establish regular and hardship dues. Any member whose dues are in arrears for one hundred and eighty (180) days following the anniversary date on which the membership was first recorded in the national records shall be dropped from membership rolls one month after the mailing of a warning notice that the membership has become delinquent.

B.  NOW members shall pay annual dues to National NOW, which shall be responsible for forwarding state and chapter portions (rebates) to the appropriate units.  Rebates shall be sent at least monthly.

D. The membership of persons who remit national dues during a National Conference shall take effect upon adjournment of the Conference.

Section 3. National Budget

The Finance and Budget Committee shall prepare a proposed line-item budget for the fiscal year by October 1 of the prior year. The budget, after having been published in a NOW leadership mailing, shall be approved by a majority vote of the members of the Board present and voting at a meeting preceding the commencement of the fiscal year on January 1. After the budget is adopted, an abbreviated version will be printed in an every-member NOW publication. Review and revision of the budget may occur at any regular or special meeting of the Board by a majority vote of those present and voting, with subsequent notification to the membership indicating a summary of the revision and current financial experience to date.

Section 4. Audit

The results of every audit shall be available to the members upon request.

ARTICLE XI.  GRIEVANCES

Grievance procedures shall be determined by the National Board.

ARTICLE XII.  VACANCIES

Section 1. President

In the event of a vacancy in the office of President, the Vice President-Executive shall immediately assume the office and duties of President.

Section 2. Other Officers

In the event of a vacancy in any other national office, the Board shall appoint any member of NOW who meets the criteria for elective office in the national organization. Officers so appointed shall take office within thirty days of the appointment.

Section 3. National Board Members Elected from the Electoral Districts

A. Vacancies in electoral district National Board positions shall be filled by any member of that district who meets the criteria for national office and is elected by a vote of two-thirds of the State Coordinators and the remaining Board member(s) of that district.

B. The existence of a vacancy shall be consistent with the provision of Article VII, Section 4, B.

ARTICLE XIII.  RECALL AND REMOVAL

Section 1. Recall

A. National Board Members Elected in Districts.

A petition signed by ten percent of the membership of the region shall initiate the recall of a National Board member elected from that region. The petition shall designate either a Conference vote or a postal ballot as the method of recall. The National Board has the responsibility to carry out the mandate of the petition. In the case of a postal ballot, the voting procedures shall be in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

B. Officers

1. A petition signed by ten percent of the NOW membership from each region shall be necessary to initiate the recall of a national officer. Recall charges shall be filed with the Vice President-Membership. Time for collecting signatures shall be no more than 120 days from the date of publication of charges in an every-member NOW publication. Petition signatures shall be filed with or mailed to the Vice President-Membership. Mailed petitions shall be postmarked no later than midnight of the 120th day.

2. Grounds for recall must be stated in writing and submitted to the Vice President-Membership. Stated grounds for recall must appear on each individual petition. Petitions shall be limited to no more than thirty signatures per page.

3. A petition containing the required number of signatures, after having been filed with the Vice President-Membership, shall be certified by the VP-Membership within fourteen calendar days. Both the officer subject to recall and the person(s) filing the signatures shall be notified in writing of the status of the recall petition by the Vice President-Membership within three days of the date of certification or failure thereof. The required number of signatures shall be determined by the total national membership at the time of the National Conference prior to the date of the filing of recall charges with the Vice President-Membership. After certification, recall notice must be published in the next every-member NOW publication.

4. The original filing of charges and each petition shall designate a postal ballot as the method of recall so long as the recall vote shall be in accordance with the procedures for election. In case of a postal ballot, voting procedures shall be in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. The National Board has the responsibility to carry out the mandate of the petition.

5. The postal ballot shall be mailed to all delegates elected to attend the prior national Conference. The recall vote shall be approved by an absolute majority of delegates. The time for delegates to return ballots shall be no more than seventeen calendar days.

6. Under no circumstances shall the time for recall extend beyond ninety days after the date the recall signatures have been certified by the Vice President-Membership.

Section 2. Removals

After notice and opportunity for a hearing, the National Board, by a two-thirds vote of its actual membership, may remove any officer, Board member, chapter charter, or membership if the Board determines the actions in question are contrary to the purposes of NOW and injurious to the organization.

ARTICLE XIV.  AMENDMENTS

Section 1. National Conference

These bylaws may be amended by a three-fifths vote at the national Conference, provided that:

A. The amendment is proposed by either a majority vote of the National Board, 500 members, two state organizations, or fifty chapters.

B. The proposed amendment is submitted to the Board at least 120 days in advance of the national Conference for publication in an every-member NOW publication.

C. The existent bylaw plus the proposed amendment is published in an every-member NOW publication at least sixty days prior to the meeting of the National Conference.

Section 2. Postal Ballot

These Bylaws may be amended by a referendum of postal ballots in which a majority of the valid returned ballots show approval of the change, provided that:

A. The amendment has been proposed by either a majority vote of the National Conference, the majority of the Board, 2,000 members, seventeen state organizations, or one hundred-fifty chapters.

B. At least sixty days before the mailing of the ballots, an announcement is made in an every-member NOW publication, including the existent bylaw, the proposed amendment, and pro and con arguments written by representatives of opposing sides.

C. The above announcement is repeated in the ballot mailing.

Section 3. Publication of Amendments

The National Board shall print in an every-member NOW publication announcements of all amendments submitted to it within proper deadlines by proper bodies as defined in Sections 1 and 2 above.

ARTICLE XV.  PARLIAMENTARY AUTHORITY

Except as herein provided, all proceedings of NOW shall be governed by Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

ARTICLE XVI.  DISSOLUTION
Section 1. Method

The corporation may be dissolved in the following manner: A petition for dissolution signed by ten percent of the members of each of a minimum of fifteen chapters spread across at least three electoral districts shall be submitted to the National Board. Upon the certification of the signatures on the petition a postal ballot to dissolve the organization shall be sent to all members and shall require a two-thirds vote of those valid returned ballots to uphold the petition to dissolve.  Costs for this are to be covered by those chapters that are petitioning.

Section 2. Disposition of Assets

Upon the dissolution of the organization, the National Board shall, after paying or making provisions for payment of all liabilities of the corporation, dispose of all the assets in a manner appropriate to that purpose or to such organization or organizations as shall at the time qualify as devoted to the purpose of NOW.


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National Conference Re-Cap

I was fortunate to be able to attend NOW’s national conference in New Orleans a few weeks ago, thanks to a scholarship from DC NOW. I arrived at the Hyatt Regency in NOLA on Friday afternoon, just in time for a quick bite before the next structure modernization plenary.

IMG_2647

The view from my hotel room, which inspired me to reflect on everything that happened (and didn’t happen) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina almost 10 years ago.

We spent a good chunk of the weekend learning about, debating, and voting on long overdue proposals to modernize NOW’s structure. It was intense and exhausting but well worth it as we made significant progress in our efforts to make NOW a more smoothly functioning, welcoming, and intersectional organization. Bylaws changes will be published soon, and we’ll write another blog post on the topic once that happens.

While most of the conference was dedicated to structure modernization we also had the opportunity hear from some amazing activists and leaders and attend interesting and informative workshops. The awards plenary on Friday afternoon honored two amazing women, Kathleen Gasparian and Deon Haywood. Gasparian began her career in immigration law working in the International Student Affairs Office of Loyola University. She went on to earn a JD from Loyola in 2002, and was then selected for the Attorney General’s Honors Program and served as a judicial law clerk for the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Gasparian, noting the large number of immigrant children fleeing violence and poverty who had come to New Orleans, founded “PB&J Pro Bono and Juveniles”, an effort to recruit and match pro bono attorneys with immigrant children who have recently crossed the U.S. Southern border and who cannot afford legal services. In the first round of the project, pro bono counsel was provided to over 69 children. Gasparian’s success in bringing multiple groups together to help immigrant children was inspiring and refreshing given recent political debates that have dehumanized immigrant children and families.

Deon Haywood, who received the Mastrobuono Award, is the Executive Director of Women With A Vision, Inc., a New Orleans-based community organization founded in 1991 to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. In 2009, Haywood oversaw the launch of WWAV’s NO Justice Project, a campaign to combat the sentencing of women and trans* people arrested for street-based sex work under Louisiana’s 203-yr-old “crime against nature” felony-level law, which resulted in a federal judicial ruling and the removal of more than 700 women from the sex offender registry. In 2012, WWAV’s office was set on fire and everything was destroyed. Authorities determined that the crime was aggravated arson but a suspect was never identified or apprehended. Despite the loss, WWAV forged ahead and continues to do important work around the issues of sex worker rights, drug policy reform, HIV positive women’s advocacy, and reproductive justice outreach. Haywood is a fearless, kick-ass feminist and we hope to hear more about WWAV and their great work in the future.

On Saturday we heard from a panel of experts on the topic of organizing for the 2016 election. You can see a video of the PAC Plenary on NOW’s Yotube channel.

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PAC Plenary Panelists (and NOW leaders), from left to right: NOW President Terry O’Neill, Tania Tetlow, Eleanor Smeal, Dr. Janet Canterbury, moderator Patricia Ireland, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, Barbara Arnwine, NOW Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer

Saturday’s keynote plenary provided an opportunity to learn about recent work in the fields of reproductive justice, media representation of women, and public education.

All in all it was a great conference. I met some fabulous young feminists, learned a lot, and got to be a part of the important structure modernization process.


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A Letter from the President-What Will the New Year Bring?

Today marks the first day of the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session, and Minnesota NOW would like to accomplish so many things, including:

  • Pass the CHEER (Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights) Act. The CHEER Act will prevent companies in Minnesota from discriminating against their female employees by denying them preventive health care;
  • Pass science-based and sex-positive sex education legislation;
  • Defund Crisis Pregnancy Clinics, who provide misleading, incomplete, and inaccurate information to pregnant women in need;
  • Pass Sick and Safe Leave legislation;
  • Pass Equal Rights Amendment legislation in Minnesota and put the vote before the people;
  • Revise the language in the MN Human Rights statute to be more inclusive and provide greater protections, in particular for LGBTQIA and people of color;
  • Support passage of a $15 Minimum Wage;
  • Ensure adequate funding for prevention of sexual assault and human trafficking.

I wish that I could be optimistic about achieving these goals, but given the make-up of this new legislature, it is more realistic that we will provide the best possible defense to those who would roll back our hard-fought rights in our six core issues: Constitutional Equality, Racial Justice, Reproductive Rights, LGBTQIA Rights, Economic Justice, and Freedom from Violence.

Do not think that this means we have become timid. We will continue to push the envelope and fight not just for what is easy, but for what is right. We will continue to build our coalitions and recruit more activists to join our feminist horde.

In solidarity,

Beth Johnson, President of Minnesota NOW                                                                   Organize-best defense is a good offense


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I should have been in a theater on Monday night

On Monday night I should have been in a theater watching Invisible War with 116 people who want to fix a broken military judicial system that enables the continuation of pervasive sexual assault. Sadly, MN NOW and our co-sponsors fell 50 people short of the required 117 tickets sold to screen Invisible War.

I first saw Invisible War a couple years ago when Gender Justice organized a screening, and I was so disappointed in how few people showed up. They did nothing wrong in how they marketed the screening. There was no other event that any of us knew about that was drawing away any possible audience. They even lined up an amazing panel of experts to discuss the film and answer questions. To this day, I don’t know why more people didn’t show up, but I was determined to screen it again. But once again, we didn’t get the turnout that the movie deserved. We didn’t get the turnout that the survivors deserve.

So why? Maybe our potential audience was distracted because they were busy with Get out the Vote efforts. The election was on November 4, and our deadline to sell 117 tickets was just three days later on November 7. Maybe, maybe not. I have a few other thoughts about why people aren’t showing up to see this important movie.

A friend tells me that it’s available on Netflix, so why would someone pay for a ticket to see it? I’m glad that it’s on Netflix and hopefully reaching a wide audience, but I see a definite value in screening it for a group. When I saw it, I received the benefit of expert panelists who could address questions from the audience. I attended the movie with a friend who had survived sexual violence in the military, and her insights were invaluable. Additionally, this movie will challenge your heart and soul. It is not easy to watch. I would recommend that you have someone to emotionally support you after watching it.

At my social media seminar today, the organizer pulled up a meme of a baby with a scrunched up face. All of the attendees giggled, and he made the point that he chose that image because all of us in the room had some connection to the image (one pregnant lady and two doting aunties in the room), and that is why it appealed to us. The point of the lesson was that people respond to familiar and appealing images. Perhaps we don’t relate to the experience of the woman soldier on the promotional materials and so we feel somewhat removed from their lives.

I hope that the people who read this will share your thoughts about why people didn’t show up for the viewing, because we are not deterred. We will find a way to screen the movie, because the message is too important not to share.

The isolation that any rape survivor feels is multiplied times ten when it happens in the military. The process of military justice is not conducive to justice for survivors at all. Imagine if your boss raped you, and he was your only means of obtaining justice. Imagine being stationed in the middle of nowhere, and having to work alongside your rapist(s) day after day with no independent venue for justice.

This is why it is important for us to show up in droves to view Invisible War, even if we don’t serve in the military.

Here are some of the truths shared in Invisible War:

“Service members must report rape to their commanders. However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership.”- Brian Lewis, who was 20 years old when he was raped while in the Navy.

14 percent of female veterans report experiences of gang rape.

About 40 percent of victims in one study indicated that the perpetrator was their ranking officer.

One-third of victims indicate that the perpetrator was a ranking officer’s friend.

“I was repeatedly drugged and raped by several of my superior officers over a nine-month period. …There was no one I could turn to because, like so many victims of sexual assault in the military, my attackers were in my chain of command. So I kept my mouth shut.” – Testimony of Trina McDonald, who was 18 when she was stationed in Alaska and assaulted.

62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation.

Heath X reported that he was gang raped, told he was lying, threatened, bullied, assaulted again and tried to commit suicide all during his first month in the service. He left, became homeless, was incarcerated and was diagnosed as suffering “intense psychological pain.” He was taken to a naval jail, and then returned to his post where he had to serve with the “gang of molesters” that had attacked him before. He faced court-martial or dishonorable discharge. He was denied benefits because he was dishonorably discharged. He was 18.

90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged.

80 percent of perpetrators and those accused are discharged with honor.

Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by a commanding officer. He also broke her jaw, leaving her with lifelong pain and serious depression. When she attempted to bring him to justice, she was informed by her commanding officer that she’d be court martial as a liar. The commanding officer admitted that an assault happened, but said it didn’t include rape. As such, he was only restricted to his base for 30 days without pay for a short time.

By the terms of the current military legal code of justice system a general’s decision to overturn a jury verdict is the final word.

If you find these truths to be disturbing, I encourage you to see and hear them directly from the survivors’ mouths. MN NOW will continue our efforts to screen this movie again in the Twin Cities, with your help.

~Beth Johnson, MN NOW President

This is dedicated to my dear friend, who passed away last year from injuries related to a serious drinking problem. She drank to numb the memory of the rape committed by her training officer while she was serving our country.

~The chances of a female veteran developing PTSD are nine times more likely if she has been sexually assaulted.

~Military victims of violent assault or rape are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than service members and veterans who have not experienced sexual assault and rape.


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Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence in the Military

The American military is an institution founded in patriotism and shrouded in the mystique of brotherhood and love of country. I’m grateful for the important and life-threatening responsibilities that the men and women of our military undertake on a daily basis. I also know that it’s something I could never do. The aim of this post is not to question the bravery of those who serve our country but to express my anger with how the U.S. military handles instances of sexual assault.

I read an alarming statistic the other day in my research about sexual assault in the military — a female soldier is more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. Also, women make up 15% of armed forces, but 47% of sexual assault cases. Although women are ‘allowed’ to serve in the military along side men, in terms of their own bodily autonomy they are certainly not equal.

Soldiers — both men and women — who report sexual assault are subjected to lifelong consequences that affect their physical and emotional wellbeing as well as their career. Ninety percent of sexual assault survivors in the armed forces are involuntarily discharged. The perpetrators of these crimes aren’t usually punished in any way. In fact, 80% of those accused are actually discharged with honor.

I recently rediscovered an article in Huffington Post that lists 50 powerful and eye opening statistics about sexual assault in the military — and links to the original articles and research for your reference. I found that reading these statistics and other studies and watching “The Invisible War,” has made me realize how frequently sexual assault occurs in the military and that it’s a huge problem we have yet to solve.

We’d love to hear feedback from anyone who has served in the armed forces about their experiences with sexual assault — whether it was something you witnessed, experienced, or came across while you were serving. If you have something to contribute, please sound off in the comments or Tweet to us at @Minnesota_NOW using the hashtag #NotInvisible.

We are co-sponsoring a screening of the Invisible War on November 17th at St. Anthony Main Theater, and hosting a discussion with a panel of experts after our screening. If you haven’t seen The Invisible War, or even if you have, I highly suggest you make the time to watch it with us — we need folks from all perspectives to truly create a well-rounded discussion.

Get your tickets here!


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Paycheck to Paycheck and Economic Justice

Economic justice is one of Minnesota NOW’s core issues, a term that encompasses a number of concerns including education, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, childcare and more.

On Tuesday, October 21st, Minnesota NOW’s Economic Justice Committee hosted a screening and discussion of the film Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The film follows Katrina Gilbert, a mother of three who experiences numerous setbacks in her struggle to secure economic stability for herself and her children.

Katrina works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) where she makes $9.49 an hour. Similar to many single mothers living in poverty, she is forced to make hard choices about things like which bills to pay and what healthcare services to forego so that she has enough money left to provide the necessities for her family. She wants a better life for her kids, and decides to go back to school to help her achieve that goal, only to have her financial aid application rejected.

Katrina is one of millions of single mothers living in poverty in the United States. Stories like hers are not uncommon, even here in Minnesota. Below is a selection of statistics from the economics section of the Status of Minnesota Women and Girls report (2014):

  • Women make up the majority (60%) of low-wage workers in Minnesota, many of whom do not have access to paid sick days.
  • Sixty-seven percent (67%) of female-headed households in rental housing and 49% of those who own their home are paying costs that exceed the recommended 30% of their income.
  • Minnesota has the third highest cost in the United States for quality childcare, making it difficult for working mothers and families to balance the responsibilities of work and family.
  • There are more than twice as many Minnesota elder women living in poverty than men (38,463 compared to 16,915).

These statistics, and the full report linked above, show how far we have left to go in the fight for economic justice.

Legislation like the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), signed into law during the last legislative session, is a good start. Minnesota NOW will continue to fight for economic justice, and we’d love for you to join us.

  1. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and share with your friends.
  2. Join our Action Committee. We’re got big plans for 2015, and we need a team of fired up advocates to help us out!
  3. Make a donation. We are a volunteer run organization, and make the most of every dollar.

To learn more about Minnesota NOW and to become a member go to our website.


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Equality & Safety: What the ERA Means to Me

As a self identified feminist, and an outspoken one at that, I often find myself in conversations concerning the validity of ‘modern feminism’. Many people think that women are ‘basically equal’ to men now, so there’s no need for feminism. That is absolutely not the case. Not only are women economically unequal to men in this country, but our rights aren’t even solidified in the constitution. This means that our rights can essentially be repealed by court decisions and in Congress if they so choose. So I thought in light of the upcoming Women’s Equality Day, I would like to take a minute and write about what constitutional protection through the ERA means to me and why I find it important.

First off, the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

When I first heard about the ERA, I assumed it was going to be a long and drawn out packet of information. As you can see, it is not. The fact that the ERA is one sentence is symbolic for me. We’ve been trying to get this passed since 1923. One sentence added to the constitution would give all women equal constitutional rights, and 90 years later we’re still struggling to make it happen.

Women’s equality in this country still has a long way to go. Ask any woman who regularly goes out in public and I can guarantee you she’ll have at least one ‘street harassment’ story to tell you. It is unsafe for women to go for a run or jog alone at night, to walk to their car, or even to walk home after a night out because of the underlying threat of violence. And if that violence does occur, it is often the woman and not the attacker who is blamed because of what they were wearing, what they were drinking, or a litany of other offenses that you ‘should have known better’ than to do.

On top of that, women still make anywhere from 75-85 cents on the dollar (average is about 77 cents) to what men make in comparable roles with comparable experience. This gap is even more severe for women of color, who average 55-64 cents for each dollar. That’s economic inequality, and despite legislation that expressly forbids that kind of discrimination, it still happens. Passing the ERA will give teeth to the laws we already have in place, and will formally recognize the rights of women as equal to the rights of men.

These are just a few examples of why the ERA is important to me. Can you think of other reasons why you think it’s important? Leave them in the comments or Tweet them to us @Minnesota_NOW!

By the way, if you want to join us in a discussion about the ERA, join us on August 26th at Urban Growler! See the details here.

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