Monday, June 22, 2009

First thoughts on the national NOW conference

I returned tonight from the national NOW conference and I am feeling very depressed about it all.The slate Philadelphia NOW supported, headed by dynamic leader Latifa Lyles, lost by 8 votes.

I’ve put a lot of time and energy into NOW and am convinced that a multi-issue feminist organization that operates on the national, state, and local levels is very much needed. However, I think the time has come for NOW to change its priorities.

Although the feminist movement has been extraordinarily successful,this success has not been shared equally. Women with economic privileges and access to elite educational institutions have made enormous strides in the professions, business, political and civic life. Of course there is still a glass ceiling in American life. However, many affluent white men have been willing to make room for their daughters--the same men who have fought the economic policies which would provide opportunities and a robust safety net for the majority of women in our society.

At this stage in its history, NOW must focus on expanding opportunities for the women who have not been the primary beneficiaries of the feminist movement—working class and low-income women, who are disproportionately women of color.

I was excited about Latifa’s candidacy because I was convinced she would move the organization in this direction. I have heard Latifa say on more than one occasion: “There is a tendency in NOW when we speak about recruiting more young women to focus on women on college campuses. How about the young women who are not in college? What are we doing to reach them?”

Under Kim Gandy’s leadership, NOW did address many of the issues Latifa would champion. However, it matters who is the public face of NOW. A young dynamic African-American woman who, although young, has many years of experience within NOW, would have dramatically changed the public perception of NOW.

Although I am very disappointed that Latifa will not be at the helm of the organization, I was heartened to hear that she will stay involved in NOW and work for change within NOW.

NOW missed a real opportunity by not electing Latifa, but the good news is tht many of the people galvanized by her candidacy are young, energetic, and committed to remaining involved in NOW.