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National NOW Times >> Fall 2008  >> Article

2008 National NOW Conference a "Super" Event

By Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

"No Capes, No Masks, No Boundaries: Feminist Super-Women Unite!" -- the 2008 National NOW Conference theme -- saluted the superhero in all of us. Hundreds of women and men from across the country gathered in Bethesda, Md., July 18-20. And the speakers, honorees, workshop presenters and participants truly were fantastic and very inspiring.

Woman of Courage honoree Barbara Hillary  reached the North Pole at the age of 75.

Photo by Liz Newbury

Woman of Courage honoree Barbara Hillary reached the North Pole at the age of 75.

Wonder Women: Speakers and Honorees

The weekend's first general session was a political brown-bag lunch on Friday, designed to engage more women in running for public office. Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal moderated the session with three dynamic speakers: U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, and political commentator and activist Jehmu Greene. Edwards was recently sworn in to the U.S. House, making her the first African-American woman to represent Maryland in Congress. She addressed the value of person-to-person contact in campaigns and thanked NOW PAC for our early support of her campaign.

Mizeur spoke of the serious issues at stake for women in this year's elections and the importance of being involved locally to make change. Greene, who as president of Rock the Vote took the organization from 1500 members to over one million members, talked about the power of the youth vote and the continued under-representation of women in elected office.

At the Friday evening plenary session, NOW President Kim Gandy presented former president Patricia Ireland with a Woman of Vision award. Ireland served as NOW president from 1991-2001 and was commended for her work on global women's issues and her efforts to bring together the feminist, anti-poverty, civil rights, disability, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movements.

The focus of Friday evening's general session was Global Feminism, a topic brought home by Irshad Manji, Mónica Alemán and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). Alemán, coordinator of the International Indigenous Women's Forum and program director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, spoke about indigenous women and the need for cultural diversity within the feminist movement.

Manji, the best-selling author of "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith" has been called "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare." Getting into the conference theme, Manji showed everyone her Wonder Woman wristband and encouraged the crowd to withstand the pushback that comes with speaking out for justice.

Maloney, author of the new book "Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated," spoke about international women's issues, including sex trafficking, the need to ratify CEDAW, family planning and more.

On Saturday morning, NOW presented Woman of Courage awards to Lilly Ledbetter and Barbara Hillary. Ledbetter, who worked at Goodyear Tire for 19 years, sued the company for wage discrimination. In a dramatic reinterpretation of longstanding anti-discrimination laws, the Supreme Court took away every cent of back pay and damages she had been awarded. Now Ledbetter is working to get federal legislation passed that would help other women avoid the same fate.

Ledbetter also told a funny, yet infuriating, tale of not one but two major media outlets that interviewed her at home and insisted on shooting "B-roll" (background) footage of Ledbetter in her kitchen making coffee (they asked her to bake a cake, but she drew the line there).

Hillary followed her dreams all the way to the North Pole, becoming the first African American woman to reach the Arctic -- at the age of 75! Hillary charmed and inspired the crowd with her humor and wisdom, encouraging everyone to work toward their own "North Pole dream."

NOW President Kim Gandy delivered an expansive keynote speech. She thanked Hillary Clinton for putting 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, talked about traveling and speaking for the Clinton campaign, and spoke of the backlash that has followed the enormous progress of the women's movement. She concluded with an analysis of key issues that the next U.S. president should tackle to advance women's equality.

Media on Notice

The Saturday afternoon general session featured our first Media Hall of Shame awards and four media-savvy guest speakers. Carol Jenkins, president of the Women's Media Center, has 30-years experience in broadcasting. Accused by a former boss of "agitating" the women at the TV station where she worked, Jenkins now agitates women to help change the face of media.

Former NOW president Patricia Ireland received a Woman of Vision award.

Photo by Liz Newbury

Former NOW president Patricia Ireland received a Woman of Vision award.

Dr. Erika Falk, associate program chair for the master's degree in communication at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of "Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns." The book chronicles the biased press coverage women have faced since Victoria Woodhull ran in the 1800s, and the data show very little has changed from that time to the present.

Marie Cocco enlightened the crowd on life as a syndicated columnist, a field where women are the exception. Cocco wrote more than one piece on the sexism directed at Clinton during the primaries, including her popular column "Misogyny I Won't Miss." But when NBC's Meet the Press did a show about media sexism and extensively discussed her column, Cocco wasn't even invited to be on the panel.

Author and former Miss America contestant Nancy Redd closed out the session with a lively and bold presentation, speaking of her own early desire to live up to the unrealistic images of women promoted in the media. Her book "Body Drama" tells girls and young women the truth about their bodies, complete with un-airbrushed, honest, no-nonsense photos of real women and girls. A prospective editor even told Redd she wouldn't publish the book because the women pictured inside were "too ugly" -- but making the New York Times' bestseller list gave Redd the last laugh!

Workshops: Building a Strategy for Justice

Compelling workshops and issue hearings filled the weekend. Some of the issues covered include: the impact of the subprime foreclosure crisis on women; sexual assault in the military; women caught in the mental health system; the prevention of sexually transmitted infections; women's retirement security; the road to same-sex marriage; women in prison; the problem with family courts; women and faith; and much more.

A Grassroots Organizing Institute was designed to help activists form successful coalitions in their communities, create actions, work with local campuses, get out the vote and build an online network. Participants earned their "feminist tool belt" through hands-on activities such as canvassing outside the conference hotel for a better Family and Medical Leave Act and creating their own Facebook profiles.

The roster of workshops also included a series of Global Feminist Strategy sessions that addressed such issues as: forming alliances to stop exploitation, racism and sexism; immigrant women's rights; the murders of women in Juarez, Mexico; and U.S. asylum for women fleeing gender violence.

Nancy Redd wrote 'Body Drama', a book that shows and tells girls the truth about their bodies.

Photo by Liz Newbury

Nancy Redd wrote "Body Drama" -- a book that shows and tells girls the truth about their bodies.

But That's Not All

On Sunday, as always, NOW got down to business. Members discussed and passed an amendment to the National NOW Bylaws and eight resolutions that will guide NOW action in the coming year.

The resolutions addressed the following issues: women's reproductive health rights; proposed state bans on equal marriage; the U.S. healthcare crisis; combating racism; the impact of law enforcement on female immigrants; global feminist issues; the backlog of Social Security benefits for people with disabilities; and the mentorship of new feminists within NOW.

"The 2008 NOW Conference was an extraordinary gathering of remarkable activists, and lived up to its 'super women' theme," said Gandy. "The women and men who attended the conference didn't have masks or capes, but they returned home inspired to be even stronger crusaders for women's equality."

Read and see more about the 2008 NOW Conference.

Editor's Note: This is an abbreviated version of an earlier web story.

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