National NOW Conference and Young Feminist Leadership Institute Bring Feminists of All Ages Together
By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director
July 25, 2007
"This was one of the best NOW conferences in years!" said one attendee, echoing a sentiment spreading through the halls of the Dearborn Hyatt, just outside Detroit, Mich. -- the site of the 2007 National NOW Conference and Young Feminist Leadership Institute. Held over the weekend of July 13-15, the conference incorporated rousing speeches, informative workshops, skill-building sessions, networking with friends old and new, and even a little dirty dancing. Check out our photo gallery from the conference.
"I am thrilled that this NOW conference once again sent hundreds of women and men back to their communities and campuses reenergized, motivated and prepared to organize for equality and justice in their own communities," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "This was just the push we all needed for the important work ahead of us over the next 16 months and beyond."
Young Feminists Taking Charge
This year's conference theme -- "Fast Forward: Women Taking Charge" -- not only reflected the accomplishments women have made in politics and other arenas throughout the last year, but also recognized the next generation of women leaders and the progress they will continue to achieve.
The Young Feminist Leadership Institute (YFLI), one key component of the conference, was designed to engage an exciting group of women and men in building and expanding an active feminist community to advance women's rights. Read more in this article written by a member of the National Young Feminist Task Force who was one of the organizers of the YFLI.
A Call for Political Involvement
"Drummunity" musician Lori Fithian opened the first general session with her collection of percussion instruments -- attendees entering the main hall could pick up a drum or tambourine and join in, and many did just that. The first speaker, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, entered to this rhythmic call and built upon it with her empowering and inspiring words. Granholm covered the incredible impact of Title IX, images of women in the media, helping the next generation of leaders get to the top, and more. Read selected quotes from all the speakers.
NOW's eighth annual Political Institute offered a series of workshops and interactive panels designed to help elect more feminists to public office. Presenters in the institute, including current and former officeholders and political fundraisers, helped participants develop skills to get out the vote, work in campaigns, raise money, and prepare to run for office themselves.
Legislators from various levels of political office spoke at the Political Institute brown bag lunch on Saturday. Sharing stories of challenge and triumph were: Hon. Carol Moseley Braun, former ambassador, senator and 2004 presidential candidate; Hon. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Indiana State Senator Sue Errington; and Duchy Trachtenberg, Montgomery County (Md.) At-Large Councilmember. Both Errington and Trachtenberg are former NOW state presidents in their respective states.
Also on Saturday was the NOW Political Action Committees' silent auction, with dozens of intriguing items up for bid. Because of the funds raised at the auction, the NOW PACs will be able to send out organizers even earlier to key campaigns where feminist candidates are running.
Greetings from our Feminist Friends in Hollywood
One of the most fascinating plenary sessions focused on images of women in media, and featured speeches by three talented women who live and work in Hollywood. Emmy-nominated actor Sherry Stringfield--who has starred in NYPD Blue, as Dr. Susan Lewis on ER and, for you daytime drama fans, Guiding Light--was refreshingly down-to-earth and spoke of how women in Hollywood need the support of groups like NOW. Stringfield is a longtime NOW member, and encouraged the attendees to reach out their sisters working in the media to support feminist writers, actors, and directors.
Jill Soloway, author of Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, who for years was co-executive producer of (and a writer on) Six Feet Under and now is writing for Gray's Anatomy, gave an absolutely hilarious and moving account of life as a writer, a female writer. Soloway described Hollywood's penchant for telling men's stories, where women are often on the sidelines. She also told the audience about joining forces with Hollywood NOW to do battle against the sexually violent, exploitative billboards advertising the movie Captivity. They quickly succeeded in getting the billboards taken down, because they had failed to get approval from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), only to see a faintly less disturbing version replace them.
Attendees also heard from the first Miss Plus America, Chenese Lewis, who is also the chair of Hollywood NOW's Love Your Body Committee. Lewis spoke of the hurdles she has faced as a woman, an African-American, and as a plus-sized model and actor--but with her glowing, positive outlook, it was immediately clear why Lewis is a rising star.
Closing out the session with a bang was Dr. E. Faye Williams, a dynamic and unforgettable speaker. Williams, the national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, spoke about the dehumanizing words aimed at women from all parts of the media, but particularly in music and music videos. Her theme of rendering "irrelevant" those who promote negative attitudes toward women (and the people who profit from them), was well received by the crowd.
More Amazing Speakers
This year NOW presented its Woman of Action award to Ava Lowery, a 16-year-old peace activist who created the web site PeaceTakesCourage.com, which features videos that Lowery creates, demonstrating the atrocities occurring in Iraq to both U.S. soldiers and civilians. One of her most moving videos was focused on reaching the Christian community: "WWJD," a heartbreaking montage of wounded and dead Iraqi children, was screened for the rapt crowd.
NOW also honored Judy Goldsmith, a past president of the organization, who was unable to receive our tribute at the 40th anniversary conference last year. Goldsmith shared some remarkable memories from her term, which included the 1984 Mondale/Ferraro presidential campaign, the rise of clinic terrorism and her arrest at the South African Embassy protesting apartheid.
So many amazing speakers were on the agenda! Attendees heard from: Olympic gold medalist and business executive Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, who helped us honor this year's 35th Anniversary of Title IX, the landmark law that guaranteed women and girls equal educational opportunities in federally funded education programs. She spoke of the impact of Title IX on her athletic career and on her life -- she is currently head of Women in Cable Telecommunications -- and on women and girls.
C-SPAN was on hand to capture NOW President Kim Gandy's keynote speech, which took the crowd through the wild ups and downs of the last year, including the positive results of the 2006 elections, the negative Supreme Court decisions and so much more. You can catch her on C-SPAN, along with three of our other remarkable speakers: acclaimed Latina author Angie Cruz, who penned Soledad and Let it Rain Coffee, on the importance of writing and being true to yourself; founder of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Jewell Jackson McCabe, on the importance of women working together across our differences; and Charon Asetoyer, founder of the nation's first reservation-based resource center for Native American women, on the challenges in South Dakota, and threats to women's rights and native soverignty.
Workshops Cover Vast Ground
This may have been the broadest ever selection of workshops at a NOW conference. In addition to the workshops on political organizing and young feminist leadership, other topics included: women, war and peace; universal healthcare; ending poverty; uniting with Arab and Arab-American women; women victimized in family courts; media reform from A to Z; gender diversity; affirmative action; mothers and caregivers rights; gender, race and hip hop; the Indigenous women's movement; the HPV vaccine; the impact of the recent Supreme Court decisions on reproductive rights, pay equity and school integration, and how women can elect the next U.S. president.
With all those important issues on the agenda, it was important for conference attendees to unwind. On Friday night, Robin Tyler performed her uproarious one-woman show, "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom." A longtime NOW activist, Tyler took the audience through three decades of lesbian and gay history, including marches on Washington, break-ups with ex-lovers and her upcoming historic California Supreme Court equal marriage case.
On Saturday night, participants were treated to a wonderful reception, complete with food and drink, sponsored by General Motors Foundation and its vice-chair, Debbie Dingell, who is also a dedicated advocate for women's rights and civil rights. NOW worked closely with Dingell last year when she was chair of One United Michigan, the statewide effort to defeat an anti-affirmative-action ballot measure. Musical performer Silent Violet got things started, and DJ Sara G. played tunes for the women and men -- young, old and everywhere in between -- who crowded the dance floor for hours.
NOW Tackles the Issues
As always, the last day of the NOW Conference was devoted to debating policy that would determine some of the key actions NOW will add to its already busy agenda in the coming year. Eight resolutions were passed on subjects including: Health issues of women in the military; ratings for sexual violence in movies; the rights of women with disabilities worldwide; the devastating and unjust immigration raids that affect women and their families; girls in Kenya; misogyny and racism in music lyrics and video and more. Read the full text of all the passed resolutions.
"NOW members are addressing the issues of the day that impact women's equality," said Gandy. "From the very real violence that women face here and around the world, to the violence, degradation and stereotyping of women by the media, we are taking on these challenges together and we will not back down."
Don't miss next year's National Conference. In the crucial 2008 election year, we will be meeting in the National Capital area on the weekend of July 18-20, so mark your calendars NOW for an amazing weekend!
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