A Report from the July 1995 NOW National Convention

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From: cbledsoe@ix.netcom.com

The Hot Topic

Dominating the conference were workshops, issue hearings and plenary sessions devoted to the discussion of a new ERA campaign and strategies for its ratification. And I do mean new ERA.

The final day of the conference, an overwhelming majority voted to proceed with the "inclusive" constitutional amendment favored by Patricia Ireland and Eleanor Smeal - inclusive because it not only prohibits discrimination based upon sex, but also based upon race, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnicity, national origin, color or indigence. This new ERA, which includes language guaranteeing a women's right to an abortion, was the culmination of two years worth of discussion, debate and endless wordsmithing.

After the depressing results of last year's elections, any ERA strategy seems at best ill-timed, at worst doomed. Acknowledging that the first step in this ERA campaign begins with electing pro-feminists in '96, and several elections thereafter, Ireland maintained her resolve to set an agenda for NOW based upon long-range vision and long-term strategy, and the crowd approved.

Violence Against Women and Feminist Activism on the Net

This year there were more women and men attending the Violence Against Women workshops, caucus and issue hearing than at last years conference, due perhaps to NOW's rally in Washington D.C. this past April, or possibly the highly publicized murder of Nicole Brown and the subsequent disclosure she was a battered woman. Pat Reuss with NOW LDEF filled us in on the status of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, urging us to pressure our representatives to provide full funding for the act. Appropriations measures fall crucially short of funding the Act, rendering it meaningless.

I was giving a workshop with Michigan NOW's State President Gloria Woods on a project we've been involved in called Silent Witness,so I couldn't attend the "Surfing the Internet" workshop. Seeing what WLO has done for activism on the Net has made clear the urgent need for feminists to step up efforts to utilize this huge resource, and I regretted missing the chance to participate in a discussion about the opportunities that exist for feminists to organize via the Internet.

Well, unbeknownst to me, my wildest dreams were already under construction. In the same month that Wired magazine was lamenting that while the Left sleeps the Radical Right is engineering a movement on the Internet, lo and behold, The Feminist Majority launched what is hands down the most impressive, thought-out and action-oriented web site on the Internet. Be there or be square!

Shannon Faulkner

Every year NOW gives out Woman of Courage awards, and the recipients and their stories never fail to inspire. This year Shannon Faulkner was one of the women honored, and the confidence and buoyancy she exhibited in her acceptance speech as she described her two year battle with The Citadel raised cheers again and again from the audience.

A month later that confidence would be replaced with a grim face and tears as she entered and then exited The Citadel. As I watched her on television that first day moving into her security-laden cloister, I was reminded of the final day of the conference when, sitting in the second floor balcony of the hotel, I spied Shannon, garment bag flung over her shoulder, walking through the lobby to the check-out desk.

She was unaccompanied as she walked through the quiet lobby. The day before she'd seemed larger than life, but now she appeared Lilliputian, oh-so-young, and utterly alone. Knowing the toll it takes on a woman to enter a male-dominated arena, this image of her immediately made me uncomfortable. It was to be a presage of that awful day when she tossed in her hat and said "No more."

The Regional Caucus

Our regional caucus could have easily turned into a pissing contest to see which state fared worse under the current repressive political climate, but in reality the tone was one of sympathy and comradery. Misery loves company? It was standing room only and there was plenty of rueful laughter and head-shaking as we rubbed shoulders, tallied our losses, recounted battles with our particular foes, cheered our gains, and vowed with an unspoken word not to give up the fight.

Titillating Coverage

Last but apparently not least, a handful of women created a stir when they went topless at NOW's march to the Capitol Saturday in Columbus. It turned out this is a Columbus thang; a month before five women had been arrested for going bare-breasted in a Gay Pride Parade and this repeat performance was a show of defiance which was ultimately ignored by police, but not the local newspaper. The next day there was an article mentioning the toplessness and a photo of the backsides of the topless women.

This reminds me of the rally in April - while there, I noticed a preponderance of cameramen on the stage platforms, which caused me to wonder about the lack of camerawomen. When I got home and watched the coverage of the rally on Cspan, near the end of the rally, they kept zooming in on the young feminists dancing in their bras. The next day the Detroit Free Press of course devoted a paragraph to the shirtless women in their report. Reminded me of the '70's when being a feminist meant burning your bra. So many topics and issues to discuss and the media is still mighty impressed with our breasts.