National Conference Re-cap, or, We Need to Do Better, NOW Sisters

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.



Reflecting on 2015, Looking Ahead to 2016

As we ring in the new year let’s take some time to reflect on the great things we did in 2015 and look ahead to 2016.

In January, MN NOW activists attended the Women’s Economic Security Summit. The Summit was a great opportunity to learn more about the advocacy and public policy work that remains to be done following the passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act in 2014.

In March, ERAMN, including several MN NOW activists, lobbied at the state capitol in support of efforts to finally pass the ERA. By the end of the legislative session a resolution asking Congress to remove the ERA ratification deadline was passed by the Senate. Victory!

We held our annual State Conference at St. Cloud State University in April. Attendees worked on feminism-inspired collages, heard from some fantastic speakers, and bid on some great silent auction items. We recognized a few of our awesome Minnesota NOW activists for their efforts and elected new officers to the board. MN Valley NOW hosted a screening of Paycheck to Paycheck in April and MN NOW had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity rally.

A few of our athletically-inclined members ran in NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s “Run for Your Rights” 5K in May.

In June we tabled at the Pride Festival in Loring Park. We handed out some snazzy fans made by a MN NOW member that included pictures and info about some amazing LGBT activists. The Cackle of Rads trivia team, featuring MN NOW members, took home their third straight first place trophy at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium’s Trivia Perusal.

We celebrated Women’s Equality Day in August, with a happy hour at Honey in Minneapolis. Senator Sandy Pappas and Representative Rena Moran talked what inspired them to get involved in the fight for constitutional equality and discussed next steps we can take in Minnesota to make it a reality. We also recruited a few new activists at our Activist Open House.

MN NOW participated in the annual SlutWalk event in October. The speakers were powerful, the performers were great, and the solidarity among the marchers was inspiring. We held the first meeting of our feminist discussion group, Feminist Forum, at the end of October. We’d like to continue this group in 2016 – if you’re interested in hosting a discussion let us know!

In November we participated in Give to the Max Day and raised over $1,200 for the MN NOW Foundation. We also held another Activist Open House and set our priorities for the coming year at our board meeting.

Looking ahead to 2016, we’ve got another great state conference in the works. We’ll continue to host our Activist Open Houses and table at events like the Pride Festival. We’re hopeful that we can accomplish more legislative victories on our core issues this year, including passage of the ERA legislation that ERAMN is supporting, a special session to address racial inequalities in Minnesota, and changes to sexual assault and domestic violence policies.