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.

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.

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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