Wave Change at NOW?
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.
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.