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Wave Change at NOW?

Valhalla's picture

I have to admit, I'd pretty much written NOW off a long time ago as an DC-insider suck-up organization. And Kim Gandy's choice of Obama-worship over substantive advocacy for women last year would have been a turn-off in any case. But the recent election of new NOW president Terry O'Neill has allowed me, well, a bit of hope.

The election shaped up as a female-only replay of much of the divisions in the primaries (hot young things full of hope vs bitter elderly knitters), a point even Salon's Broadsheet noticed. O'Neill's opponent was Latifa Lyles, who had Gandy's endorsement and an Obama-like rhetorical style, which Salon's Berman, oddly, quotes as proof in support of Lyles' substance:

"It is time we join our legacy, our stature, our traditions, and our networks with new technology and new voices to emerge as the unparalleled social justice movement that we are," writes Lyles, who is making use of Facebook and Twitter in her campaign.

O'Neill, on the other hand, is (ostensibly) a fighter who doesn't believe that getting invited to White House dinners is the bestest, highest form of rights-advocacy:

"But even with a friend in the White House and a lot of friends in the Congress, it's going to take well-organized, grass-roots movement to advance our agenda," O'Neill said.
...
"There is a role that requires us to take unpopular stands and push on our friends," Ireland said. "That's what I think Terry really gets. She's the one I believe will be very willing to use a wide array of tactics — not just traditional letters and e-mails, but also engage in civil disobedience, organize fasts, be at some congressman's district office."

Salon (sorry to obsess about Salon here, but this Lyles endorsement was so poorly written it made me crazy) backed Lyles because she's young, she uses Twitter, and because Berman bizarrely holds O'Neill responsible for NOW's poorly designed website. Gandy and Lyles have had the reins at NOW for the past 8 years and presumably had some small bit of responsibility for the website design (and it is pretty poor); it's not clear how that was a mark against O'Neill, except that Lyles uses Twitter! And Facebook!

Besides the inside-outside the Beltway distinction, Lyles and her supporters raised the same age and race conflicts memes that the OFB played so loudly during the primaries (although to Lyles' credit, I found no mention of ice floes. Perhaps she thought she might still need us bitter old deadenders for a little while yet, to pay her salary):

"It's hard to ignore the fact there's been a generational shift in the country, and an organization that doesn't recognize that is living in the past," Gandy told the Associated Press.

Noting that she contrasts with NOW's mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

Warning: the white-and-over-40 quote above is from msnbc, and a paraphrase, so who knows what she may have really said. In any case, msnbc felt it important to point out that Lyles was the pick of the new Pepsi generation:

However, Jessica Valenti, a prominent younger feminist who has been following the NOW campaign, says her contemporaries would be far more excited if Lyles triumphs over O'Neill.

I don't know about anyone else, but I think some serious civil disobedience would be pretty exciting. Gandy's take is pretty odd, given that she has led the organization she's calling outdated for the past 8 years.

Both candidates campaigned on returning to grassroots organization and improving membership numbers, although Lyles credibility on that score may have been hurt by dramatically falling membership numbers during her tenure as, as well as her association with Gandy's make-nice-with-DC brand of leadership.

Violet Socks sees O'Neill's election (which was by only 8 votes, make of that what you will) as a sign that NOW may yet revive itself real force for women

NOW used to be an honorable and effective organization, and it can be again. I know some of you are too fed up to care anymore, but here’s the thing: NOW is still the biggest feminist group in the country. More to the point, it’s still the number one go-to joint when the media wants to know whether something or somebody (hint hint) is doing right by the women of America. So it would be really good to have someone other than Kim Gandy or her cohorts on the horn.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Kim Gandy’s tenure as president of NOW is up, and the election for her replacement is in June. Kim’s hand-picked successor is Latifa Lyles, NOW’s current Vice President for Membership. I’ve got nothing against Latifa personally, though I do note that membership has dropped during her tenure as the membership director, which is possibly not an encouraging sign. But the main problem with Latifa is that she’s the choice of Kim Gandy and Ellie Smeal (they’re a team, you unnerstan). She’s their candidate. With Latifa we will get more of the same, only samer.

TC and Allegre have more on the story. Allegre also has some serious $ and membership numbers.

Perhaps O'Neill's election is just the last gasp of non-polite streetfighter politics over empty flash and style administrations, or maybe it heralds a realization that the hopey changey thing was short on both. Both candidates are supposedly focused on health care, although as far as I can tell O'Neill is the only one who remembers we need to fight those stupid "conscience-rules." But for the first time in a while, I fired up the pc today to find a little bit of real hope waiting for me.

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Submitted by lambert on

... Hillary's use of throwaway cellphones to reach her non-Internet-using base -- who has time after the sixteen hour day, and in any case, the kids need the computer -- would have looked like genius.

Fuck twitter. The last thing any of us needs is another digital timesink. If O'Neil's serious about civil disobedience, fasting, etc., then the tweets will come. Just like Iran, eh?

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Submitted by lambert on

... I don't even have a link to it, but I remember it being discussed at the time, and giving a big thumbs up to a woman in a Hillary T on the escalators at borders as she worked the phone!

Scanty evidence, I know..

UPDATE Tried Googling for it, but of course CDS has overwhelmed everything.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Submitted by jawbone on

your post and the good quotes, analysis. NOW should be important; maybe it will be again.

I'd love to do a NOW group visit to my Repub rep, shake up his sense of entitlement to the office.

I do wish some group with organization and large membership/following in place would take advantage of the MCM*'s new love and admiration for street protests and get us out in huge numbers for healthcare reform. Even Obama seems to love those street protesters! I'd love to see how long it lasts when it's "homegrown" protesters....

*MCM--Mainstream Corporate Media

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

and stop fighting the old battles. But I still carry the scars from the NOW lesbian purges in the 1970s. For those of you who don't remember, or never knew, in those days it was fashionable and effective to accuse feminists of being a bunch of hairy-legged, man-hating dykes. (I know, where does this stuff come from? Glad those days are over.)

So, NOW chapters across the land really and truly purged their lesbian members. It was ugly and hurtful and accomplished nothing of value.

All of this to say that I gave up on NOW decades ago. Maybe O'Neil can shake things up to the good. I'll certainly be watching. One point that Lyles made that I believe has real merit is that NOW and the feminist movement in general have always been predominantly white and middle-class. Feminist organizations must figure out how to speak to issues that impact women of color and the poor. And, of course, the young. Must not forget the young.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

so besides the links above, all I have is this link to O'Neill's campaign website. Her slate included 3 other women who seem to be a pretty good mix of ages and race (at least, as much of a mix as you can get with 4 people), but also a pretty good mix of backgrounds in activism (of the feet-on-the-ground type), legislative relations, and administrative savvy. I know it's not much, and it IS a campaign site, but the pics section show that 1 or all of the slate put in some serious face time for marriage equality and at gay pride events.

I read somewhere, but later could not find the link to, a comment that during O'Neill's tenure as VP of Membership, NOW's membership numbers increased. O'Neill directly preceded Lyles in the VP of Membership position. If it's true, then she has experience with how to engage more people in the organization. I hope it was experience in engaging across ages, races, sexual orientations and other groups.

Because the problem is not that we have too little condescension from our tribe. -- okanogen

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

Last year, the man was ruthless against Clinton, going so far as being petty and ridiculing her for citing her own Scraton and Arkansas history to connect with the local population during the PA primaries (Remember the joke about the "six shooter" and duck hunting?). Obama has displayed that casual dismissal, if not scorn, for us with regards to single payer and against gays in the DOMA briefing. And those are just two issues.

As with regards to young women: are they focusing solely on those in their early 20s because IIRC women in their later-20s were not fleeing Clinton (in fact, she won the entire later 20s crowd in FL*) so I don't know why the Obama showhorse style would be so highly prized to the point of rejecting the workhorse.

Oh, and lastly: I'm no longer calling myself a feminist. Why? Well, because the framing permanently de-normalizes the idea of being against misogyny. No other fight against bigotry is framed that way. For example: what do you call people who don't believe in racism, antisemitism, or (now) homophobia? Nothing. They're just "people." The language choice allows being against these types of intolerance to become a norm. But when you're against misogyny, you're called a feminist as if you're to be distinguished from society. Only activists engaged in a political fight should be labeled and even then it shouldn't be called "feminism," which is the very idea of women and girls being treated as full human beings, but something else. I mean, we don't call civil rights activists "anti-racists" (or something to that effect), so why are we doing that when political activists combat misogynistic bigotry?

*Does anyone have a poll showing that? I remember very clearly seeing that and I know it wasn't CNN or the NYT.

mojave_wolf's picture
Submitted by mojave_wolf on

I've mostly been following this via Violet's blog, and I don't know that much about the candidates, but I'm very happy that her preferred candidate trumped Gandy's. Based on past track records, I know whose judgement I prefer.

For the unfortunately numerous, mostly under 25 and brainwashed by some really bad history classes kids who seem to think this is a triumph of old conservative racist feminists and keep repeating their absolute bullshit bashing of 70's 2d wave feminism as being non-inclusive, I mention that O'Neill had the support of Carol Mosely Braun (who really should have been our first black president of the United States--or second, if Jesse Jackson had won; both of them genuine liberal/progressive reformers, instead of the Republican bullshit artist the under 25 crowd just helped put in office), and also refer them to Suzie at Echidne: NOW has had other officers who were women of color, and people seem to forget that. Here are its founders. The second president of NOW, Aileen Hernandez, was black. She was elected in 1970.
http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2...

Also a terrific article about the ageism of the attacks on O'Neill by supporters of Lyles/Gandy here: http://octogalore.blogspot.com/2009/06/n... .

Octogalore mentions Jessica Valenti ignorantly spouting (except she said it a lot more politely than that) about the boring white 70's feminists (like Hernandez?), as opposed to the cutting edge work the cool feminists like Valenti are doing today. Let's see, 70's feminists, helped push to legalize abortion and keep it legal, and make it possible for women like Valenti to have careers. Cool feminists like Valenti? Mostly bash other feminists while abortion rights are eroded, misogyny in the media grows, I believe violence against women is on the rise especially in the last few years (sorry, need to sleep and no time to hunt up the link for the #'s), and women continue to not make significant (any?) pay gains over the late 70's, which was sort of a high water mark for women of all colors, if I got my history right.