National Conference Sets Busy Schedule for Year 2000

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney, Publications Manager
  • Members Call For Action
  • An Inspiring Opening
  • Women in Entertainment Provide Lively Discussion
  • Women of Courage Honored
  • Women in Office Bring Important Message
  • Diverse List of Issues Make it on to NOW's Agenda
  • Music, Poetry and Comedy Refresh Conference Goers
  • A Clear Focus for the Future


    Members at NOW's National Conference set an ambitious agenda for the coming year. From campus rape to global women's rights, from child care to feminism's online presence, activists are gearing up to get involved.

    The conference, held in Los Angeles, Calif., July 2-4, featured a number of high-profile speakers and entertainers as well as the unknown heroes who struggle every day for equality. Inspired by the words of so many great feminists, participants put together a broad "To Do" list.

    Members Call For Action

     Conference participants placed several important actions on NOW's calendar for the year 2000.  As we enter the new millennium, NOW will organize a Virtual March for Women's Rights, the U.S. participation in the World March of Women 2000 and a national protest against offensive and harmful media images of women.

    The Virtual March will be an online rally designed to unite feminists across the country via the Internet.  Planning for the Virtual March will also include work to increase access to the information highway for those with barriers to getting online.

    NOW members also agreed that our organization should take the lead in organizing a national action in Washington, D.C., as part of the World March of Women 2000, a global action initiated by the Federation des Femmes du Quebec.  (See "Three Billion Good Reasons to March in 2000" in the Spring 1999 issue of the National NOW Times.)

    NOW has already participated in an international meeting to discuss the organizing of the different components that will make up the march—including the U.S. national action on Oct. 15, 2000, an international rally at the United Nations in New York City on Oct. 17, 2000, and other actions all around the world.

    Finally, conference attendees voted for NOW to call a national day of action to"Pull the Plug" on sexist, exploitative media. This protest will allow people to speak out against negative images of women and lack of diversity on television, radio, the web, in movies and magazines. Participants will be encouraged to let advertisers and media outlets know what they find objectionable and exactly what they want to see.

    An Inspiring Opening

    Two featured speakers, California State Assembly member Sheila Kuehl (left) and Aileen Hernandez (right), NOW's second National President, stand together outside the main Conference Hall.  Photo by Zauzi Travis.

    Friday afternoon, Los Angeles NOW sponsored a Pioneer Reunion that brought together longtime NOW members with new activists. Organized by longtime activist Ivy Bottini, the Reunion included honors for those who shaped the feminist movement in its first decade and a "sharing" of the torch with new activists.

    Friday evening the Reverend Melinda McLain opened the conference with a spiritual blessing designed to bond and inspire believers and non-believers for the work ahead that weekend.

    NOW's second National President and founding member of the organization, Aileen Hernandez, put the final conference of the 1990s in perspective with a speech that touched on both the history and the future of feminism.  Members cheered Hernandez for her lifetime of activism for equal rights.

    Author Cherie Bennett spoke of bringing feminism and enlightenment to the business of teen literature.  She demonstrated her rapport with girls and young women in a reading from her popular novel "Life in the Fat Lane," and attendees lined up afterward for free autographed copies of the book.

    Women in Entertainment Provide Lively Discussion

    The roles of women in Hollywood provided the theme for an intriguing plenary session on Saturday afternoon.  An impressive panel of women working in the entertainment industry discussed both the portrayal of women in media and the realities of working in a business that often marginalizes and objectifies women and girls.
    Actress Tyne Daly of the ground-breaking 1980s TV series "Cagney and Lacey" graces the NOW Conference with her presence.  We will see more of Daly in "Judging Amy," a new series on CBS this fall.  Photo by Sue Rumph.

    Tyne Daly, star of the groundbreaking 80s series "Cagney and Lacey" and CBS' new fall series "Judging Amy," talked about her experiences as an actress over 40 searching for inspiring material.

    Also appearing on the panel was one of India's most popular actors, Meenakshi Seshardi, who is now living and trying to make a career in the U.S. Seshardi's unique viewpoint allowed her to compare the different challenges facing a woman performer in Asia and the U.S.

    Up-and-coming screenwriter/directors Gigi Gaston ("Beyond the City Limits") and Tina Valinsky ("Soft Toilet Seats") talked about how determination and toughness can help when you're working in a business that understands a lot about profits and very little about women.

    Pamela Gray, writer of last spring's highly-praised film "A Walk on the Moon," talked about the challenges of making a movie about a married woman's sexual awakening and her daughter's coming-of-age. She explained how orgasms and menstrual blood proved to be prickly subjects for some of the men behind the scenes, including producer Dustin Hoffman.

    Tempestt Bledsoe, known for her role as Vanessa on "The Cosby Show," and now appearing on "The Practice," shares her insights as a woman of color working in the entertainment industry.  Photo by Sue Rumph.

    Tempestt Bledsoe, best known as Vanessa on "The Cosby Show" and now appearing periodically on "The Practice," was engaging and frank, speaking about how women and people of color are sidelined at best and discriminated against frequently. She answered several questions from the audience with thoughtful and inspiring remarks.

    All of the women on the panel stressed that women need not be afraid to say "No" to sexist requests and to say "Yes" to making things happen for themselves.

    Following the Hollywood panel, NOW introduced its new Feminist Image Campaign, offering conference attendees a first peek at the just-completed advertisements that will be appearing on television and in print in the new year. (For more on this campaign, see "Feminist Image Campaign: Beyond the Old Stereotypes.")

    Women of Courage Honored

    The NOW conference celebrated women who are standing up to discrimination and have successfully used the media to expose discrimination, harassment and oppression by presenting its annual Women of Courage Awards.

    Martina Pickett was honored for her tremendous efforts to create a safe and just workplace. Pickett, who has become a NOW member, is one of the leaders in a class action suit filed against Detroit Edison, a Fortune 500 company and the largest utility company in Michigan.

    Women and people of color working for Detroit Edison allege gross workplace abuses including sexual and racial harassment, and sex, race and age discrimination. Through her struggle, Pickett has organized news conferences, informational forums and pickets at Detroit Edison's shareholders meeting.  She has produced public service announcements and built strong ties with Detroit community groups, including labor unions, religious organizations, NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and local NOW chapters.

    Pickett's award coincided with the membership's vote to name Detroit Edison a Merchant of Shame in NOW's Women Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign. (For more on this, see "NOW Names Detroit Edison Merchant of Shame.").

    The second Women of Courage honor went to a group of women known as the Tapestry of Polygamy, who were recognized for their work to stop the abuse of women and girls in illegal polygamous marriages.  Formed just a year ago, this organization assists those caught in coercive polygamous relationships, helping their transition into new lives, and gives visibility to the problem.

    Accepting the award were Lillian Bowles, Rowenna Erickson, Vicky Prunty and Carmen Thompson.  They explained to a rapt audience that many of the women in these cases are escaping polygamy to protect their daughters and minor female relatives from rape and incest as plural wives.

    The Tapestry also works to educate the public and government about the human rights violations of polygamy and to encourage prosecution of the offenders. Tapestry members have appeared on national television shows like "20/20" and have been covered extensively in local and state print media. The group helped win the first successful prosecution of a polygamist in 50 years. Two days after the award, conference participants unanimously passed NOW policy supporting the Tapestry of Polygamy's work and support for survivors of violence and abuse in plural marriages.

    Women in Office Bring Important Message

    Throughout the weekend, women serving in state and federal office brought their views and encouragement to conference participants. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and California Assembly Members Gloria Romero, Sheila Kuehl and Hannah-Beth Jackson told of their struggles every day with the good-old-boys and also the joys of passing meaningful legislation that impacts women and people of color.

    Each speaker rallied those in the audience to run for office themselves and help boost the ranks of feminists in the government.  Kuehl told a particularly moving story about her favorite movie, "The Wizard of Oz," and how each of us, like the characters in the movie, already have what it takes to realize our dreams.

    On Saturday night, NOW's Political Action Committee (PAC) held an auction to benefit the Victory 2000 Campaign.  Participants in the auction took home posters from NOW's new Feminist Image Campaign, a tour of MGM studios and even a cruise. With the proceeds of the auction combined with direct pledges made to the campaign, the NOW PAC raised more than $20,000 that weekend.  (See "NOW/PAC Announces Inaugural Victory 2000 Support Committee" for more information on the campaign and how you can help.)

    Diverse List of Issues Make it on to NOW's Agenda

    On the heels of NOW's extremely successful Lesbian Rights Summit in April, LGBT issues were a hot topic at the national conference. Members voted for two new policies, one that addresses the need to build bridges between LGBT people and straight allies, and another that reaffirms NOW's commitment to lesbian rights and replaces a 1980 resolution that listed what was not included under the category of lesbian rights.

    In addition, members resolved to work on a broad range of issues including family law and custody, Title IX, early childhood education and child care, midwifery, affirmative action, breast implant research, the prison industry, and the so-called "charitable choice" movement. The entire text of all the resolutions passed at the conference can be found at this link.

    This paper also includes in-depth information on another issue members voted for —fighting campus rape (see "Campus Rape Ignored . . . Even When There's a Videotape"). The next issue of the National NOW Times will include further information on NOW's support of efforts to repeal the Vatican's special status as an observer state in the United Nations.

    Music, Poetry and Comedy Refresh Conference Goers

    An exciting line-up of performers kept attendees entertained during and after long days of strategizing.

    Singer songwriter Cindy Bullens, who has worked with musical icons such as Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang, peformed her heartfelt rock ballads, including music from her new album "Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth," due out this fall.

    Presenting her slam poetry at several plenaries throughout the weekend, Alix Olson proved why she was the hit of the recent Lesbian Rights Summit.  Olson's powerful words and fierce delivery in such pieces as "America's on Sale" and "Daughter" brought the crowd to its feet over and over.

    Comedian Paula Poundstone kept the crowd rolling with laughter after an inspiring, yet long, day of workshops and plenaries.  Photo by Sue Rumph.

    Up-and-coming comedians Anna Cranage and Suzy Berger kept people laughing. Cranage offered an insightful and funny interpretation of Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," while Berger riffed on the lives of lesbians—both in and out of the closet.

    Main attraction (and NOW member) Paula Poundstone kept a packed room hysterical for well over an hour with her on-target observations and off-the-cuff interaction with the audience. Poundstone was not afraid to take jabs at NOW President Patricia Ireland's previous career as a flight attendant and even the titles of the conference workshops.

    A Clear Focus for the Future

    The weekend's workshops presented a variety of topics and themes. One of the main focuses of this 1999 conference was to begin the process of re-drafting NOW's Statement of Purpose. NOW's founding Statement of Purpose was adopted at the first National NOW Conference in 1966. An excerpt from the statement was incorporated into NOW's Bylaws and was amended at later conferences.

    Members at the 1999 conference revisited this statement to ensure its relevance at the turn of the century and to consider its content in light of the new Declaration of Sentiments passed at last year's conference. Utilizing the Issue Hearing process, three new statements were drafted. During the next year, these proposed statements will be circulated throughout the organization and then voted on as a bylaw amendment at the national conference on Miami Beach in the year 2000. The new proposed statements can be found with the resolutions.

    Return to Fall 1999 National NOW Times
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