Thanks for the Memories
by Rosemary Dempsey,
What a time this has been. As I prepare to turn off my most consistent
companion, "Ms. L. Top," in anticipation of one of my last flights
back to DC's National Airport, I am tired, elated and once again in awe
of all of the incredible women who have allowed me a glimpse into their
hearts and a share of a chapter in their lives.
How to capture a slice of this incredible seven-year journey as Action
Vice President for NOW?
What are the most brilliant memories?
The recurring theme is the women who have made things happen. Their
vitality, their courage, their fears and their unbridled optimism that
by taking action we will pry open the gates to the "American Dream"
so that women and all the "others" get onto those elusive, even
playing fields beyond:
- June Barrett of Pensacola, with
tears in her eyes, leading a march against clinic violence less than 48
hours after her beloved husband Jim had been murdered and she had been
shot protecting women from the hate of anti-abortion fanatics.
- Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt writing and speaking about the horror of
her own female genital mutilation and the millions of girl children so
abused, for years an almost lone voice crying out to ears closed all around
- Two women of the South who described to me the hate calls, harassment
and finally, being burned out of their home for daring to live openly together,
white and black in a small Appalachian town.
- The activists at a small state university in the Northwest bringing
together for the first time in history the Black Student Union and the
BGLT (Bi-Gay-Lesbian-Transgendered Students) to organize for the 1996
March to Fight the Right in San Francisco.
- The little children of the United Farm Workers, wide-eyed and innocent,
marching past invective-shouting Ku Klux Klan members during NOW's "March
for Our Lives" in Tampa, Fla.
- The thousands of college women working together to bring hundreds of
thousands to NOW's marches on Washington in 1992
and 1995, bridging
all kinds of previously unsurmountable barriers: greeks, guerilla girls,
athletes, anarfeminists, Black, white, Asian Pacific and brown . . . and
then coming onto the National Mall with school and organization banners
held high, wave after wave of colorful energy and commitment.
- The junior high students in rural Maine beaten up and hounded by homophobes,
yet bravely working to defeat the anti-lesbian
and gay referendum and concerned that the other students "seem
to get lesbian and gay but don't understand about bisexuality" --
so they started a club to talk about it.
- The women of the House of Representatives marching over the "Hill"
to challenge the Senate boys' club actions on white-washing Tailhook as
their sister senators stand united on the floor demanding accountability.
- U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
holding hands, the microphone, and the floor until a vote revering the
Confederate flag is reversed.
- The women of Japan and the women of the Mitsubishi
plant in Normal, Ill., standing against incredible odds and facing down
patriarchal cultures determined to make examples of them; their faces and
stories forever now a part of mine.
- Standing in the freezing rain in Buffalo, N.Y., with Ginny Montes,
looking like estranged cousins of the KKK with our garbage-bagged heads,
forming a clinic defense line with other national board members we dub
the Wall Hawgs. We draw disapproving looks from some very serious young
clinic defenders who reprimand us for not understanding the seriousness
of keeping the clinics open.
- Faith Evans rapping and teaching,
a radical feminist whose presence and vision reassured NOW's leadership
in the ongoing struggle to stop attacks on poor women; his untimely death
challenging us to even greater commitment.
- Chapter folks pulling off action after action, lobbying at the state
legislature, running for the school board, picketing, defending clinics,
running campaigns, juggling families, work and sanity in the hope that
the 21st Century will reap the progress that their struggles have sown.
We, all of us, have seen great changes in these seven years. The Civil
Rights Act of 1991 in which women finally won the right to a jury trial
and damages in employment discrimination cases; the Violence
Against Women Act in which women won the civil right of freedom from
gender-based violence; the culture-bending phenomenon of Anita
Hill; the women of Tailhook, Aberdeen,
The Citadel and VMI; lesbians and gays
in the military; the women elected to Congress in 1992; the great marches
and rallies; passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act,
a first for reproductive freedom in the U.S. Congress.
And we have seen the intense backlash from the Army of God, Operation
Rescue, Promise Keepers, the Majority leader of the
U.S. House of Representatives sounding the alarm that Congress has become
too "fem-centric." And most infuriating, the increased harassment
and attacks on our younger sisters and their self-esteem.
My vision for the future is one that holds unlimited challenge and possibility.
This generation of young feminists is unapologetic and determined to claim
and mold this culture as its empowered movers and shakers. This is the
future of NOW. As I am ending a remarkable chapter in my life, I look forward
to turning the page and jumping with both feet into the rest of the story.
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