I was really excited to head to the National NOW conference a few weeks ago. It was in Orlando, Florida, and I gave myself a few days before and after the conference to relax and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
On Friday morning I attended an awesome workshop on media coverage of sexual violence and came away with some great ideas for how to improve said coverage. It was great to be in a room full of folks who were just as outraged as I was about media coverage of things like sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and to brainstorm ways we could make positive changes.
It was an election year this year, and I volunteered to help the first all women of color officer ticket win the election. I attended a workshop later in the morning on Friday in which both women on the ticket spoke about their experience building coalitions, lobbying legislative bodies, and creating social change. It was at that workshop that my conference experience changed dramatically.
Behind me at the workshop sat two women who were wearing t-shirts supporting the other folks running for election, Toni and Gilda. While one of the women on the panel was talking they made rude, fairly loud comments about her experience and abilities. I was shocked that they would be so blatant with their comments, though others around me didn’t seem to notice. I didn’t say anything at the time (bad on me) but I did mention it to the women on the panel, and pretty much everyone else I ran into after the fact.
I tried to shake off the icky feeling and enjoy the rest of the conference, but other things that happened made me more upset.
I spent Saturday morning at the campaign table, talking to folks and handing out information. It reminded me very much of running my own campaign and it was pretty fun. While another volunteer and I were standing near the hallway that led to the rooms where the workshops were being held, a young woman who worked for NOW came up to me and told me that her and her colleagues had had a horrible time leading a workshop. A few older women had made them feel stupid for not being able to figure out a technology issue, and one of them even made a racial remark that prompted one of the staff (a young woman of color) to leave the room.
Later on that morning, after the candidates for President and Vice President had given their speeches and completed a Q & A session, an older white woman came up to one of the candidates on the all women of color ticket and started to scream at her. She then proceeded to do the same to several campaign volunteers, saying things about playing the race card, being racist, not respecting older feminists, etc. Keep in mind RACIAL JUSTICE IS LITERALLY ONE OF OUR SIX CORE ISSUES.
I had seen NOW members’ unfriendliness toward young feminists at National Conferences in the past, but I had never witnessed such outright hostility and racism. It was upsetting and disappointing, to say the least. It’s also something that needs to be addressed, and I hope the promises that newly elected NOW President Toni Van Pelt made in her acceptance speech to address these problems are not empty ones. We’re watching and we’re waiting, and we will hold NOW leadership’s feet to the fire on these issues. If we are going to be a feminist force to be reckoned with than we need to make sure that everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, age or any other identity – feels welcome in our organization.