National NOW Times >> Winter 2003/2004 >> Article
Powerful New Generation Prepares to March
Organizing for April 25: Notes from the Road
by Suzannah Porter, Field Organizer
They were women and men, from all backgrounds, of all ethnicities, and with varying interests. Later, I found out that when the University of Pennsylvania chose not to fund this active student group, Penn for Choice, its members shrugged and moved on. They organized "Choice Week" anywaya series of lectures, speakers and rallies that was completely funded by a grant they had written, submitted and won all by themselves. I was impressed.
"Wassup?" greeted one of the women. We first met just a week before at an event where NOW President Kim Gandy spoke about organizing for the March for Women's Lives on April 25. She wrapped me in a welcoming hug. "Hey everyone, this is Suzannah from NOW, she's gonna talk to us about the March."
Right then, Katherine Lee came in, her arms full of freshly-printed oversized posters. Lee is the young woman with the contagious grin and bright eyes who is behind Penn for Choice. She had also insisted that I come and meet her crew. "You came!" she exclaimed and hugged me. "Tell 'em about the March." Ten pairs of brilliant eyes listened as I went over the importance of the March for Women's Lives, and what NOW chapters and other campuses were doing. We brainstormed ideas for actions, came up with a coalition-building plan, and fine tuned advertising ideas. I came away motivated and moved.
Who says that young feminists are apathetic? I am honored be one of the voices of dissent to that hypothesis. As a NOW field organizer, I have been up and down the Eastern Seaboard, organizing for the March for Women's Lives. Far from apathetic, the feminist third wave is ready and up to the challenge. Every generation has a march that creates a collective feminist consciousness, initiates the new activists and changes their lives. This generation knows that April 25 is their march.
In Massachusetts, the Boston NOW chapter has set up a "Feminist Culture Club," geared toward third wave feminists with the goal of creating a "space for women to get together, share their experiences and empower each other." Topics have included body image, combating the "f word" (that's feminism, folks) and reproductive rights. Denise Nichols, Boston NOW's campus coordinator, works tirelessly to link campuses together to share strategies and the chapter, which is responsible for organizing all the buses for the city's reproductive choice coalition, is currently setting up a web site to sell bus tickets for April 25th.
In Baltimore, Maryland NOW president Duchy Trachtenberg set up an informal dinner with college activists representing five schools to discuss March organizing. We discussed what needs students have in turning out for the March. Soon afterward, the University of. Maryland–Baltimore County (UMBC) hosted its first rally as a kick-off to the new UMBC NOW chapter. Immediately following, eleven student activists stayed to meet with Duchy Trachtenberg, the NOW field team, and UMBC professors to strategize and plan a coalition effort for the March.
Even in Portland, Ore., in addition to selling airfare to the March, Oregon NOW hosted a Young Feminist Conference attended by 40 student activists from all over the state. With workshops, networking and panel discussions, the conference aimed to give young feminists not only the skills to organize their campuses, but also the skills to get out the vote for the crucial November 2004 election.
There's more to come. NOW has a detailed plan to support and fuel the efforts of this generation's feminist movement to get to the march. A crucial element is SLAMMsMarch organizing strategy sessions geared toward training and providing resources to campus activists. A SLAMM, or Student Leaders Activated and Mobilized to March, consists of state-of-the-art field organizing strategies including coalition building, long- and short-term goals, visibility and action planning, and fundraising. A major goal of the SLAMM is linking the reproductive rights movement with LGBT, civil rights, privacy, and sexual assault and domestic violence awareness movements. NOW-New York City, New Jersey NOW, and Maryland NOW have set plans in motion to bring student activists from nearby colleges to NOW organized SLAMMs in order to network, compare ideas, strategize and target according to the make up of their universities and colleges.
All the details and skills itemized in the SLAMMs will be documented and made available on the NOW web site in a comprehensive handbook. The Student March Action Strategy Handbook (SMASH) will be unveiled in January and will be distributed to all campus leaders who come to the SLAMMs. Included will be sample agendas for coalition meetings, media and communication tips, bus goal calculating, action and visibility ideas, talking points for like minded organizations and much more.
Penn for Choice later invited me to be the closing speaker for their rally culminating Choice Week. Despite anti choice protesters with loud voices and enormous signs, nothing could out-motivate the activists gathered there. People stopped, took up a NOW "Keep Abortion Legal" sign, and joined the growing rally. In a call and response chant, I cried out to them, "Because we trust a woman's choice ..." and they screamed back at me, "WE'RE MARCHING ON D.C.!" I don't doubt it.
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