Time for women to move fast-forward

DEARBORN, Mich. — More than 500 women made it clear that women’s concerns encompass racial equality, health care, war and peace, youth issues and more, as they gathered here at the National Organization for Women’s 41st annual conference, July 13-15. At a Young Feminist Leadership Institute during the conference, the dynamism of the young men and women activists on a range of topics showed there is a bright future for feminist issues.

As the conference opened, under the banner, “Fast-forward: Women take charge,” NOW President Kim Gandy said in a statement that with the 2008 election season already under way, “the time is now for women to move fast, move forward, and take charge. For the last six years, the Bush administration has trampled on our rights, dragged the country into an unnecessary and deadly war, reshaped the Supreme Court, and governed by its own set of rules.”

At a panel on “Countering attacks on affirmative action,” speakers warned that Ward Connerly and Jennifer Gratz, who successfully campaigned for a 2006 ballot initiative barring affirmative action programs in Michigan, are targeting up to nine other states for similar campaigns in 2008.

Panelists said Connerly and others have adopted deceptive tactics, as in Michigan, where they called their proposal the “Civil Rights Initiative.” They use the language of the civil rights movement itself, invoking words like “fairness” and “non-discrimination,” the speakers charged. They urged activists to be vigilant about these tactics and to try to keep such proposals from getting on the ballot.

A panel on health care talked of the need for single-payer, universal health care. Dr. Susan Steigerwalt from Physicians for a National Health Plan presented a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation (available at www.pnhp.org) on the advantages of such a system. Every other industrial country has universal health care and it works, she said. Janice Rocco of California commented that the insurance companies no longer take any risk and are not providing any benefit. Our health care system is broken “because of greed and profit,” she said.

A workshop titled “Moving from militarism: Promoting peace and justice through a feminist peace budget” presented cases where grassroots activism led to major changes in government budgets, notably in San Francisco, Toronto and Brazil.

Jane Midgley, author of “Women and the U.S. Budget,” said budget crises are never as dire as some claim they are. Over half of every U.S. tax dollar goes to the military and homeland security, and much of it is not well accounted for, she said, noting that there are over 4,000 different accounting systems in the Department of Defense alone.

A highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Woman of Action Award to Ava Lowery, 16, of Alabama. Because of her conviction that the war in Iraq was wrong, and having two uncles in Iraq, Lowery began a web site, PeaceTakesCourage.com. In February her site received 1.5 million hits.

A clip from one of her video pieces, “WWJD,” showed child victims of the war backed by the song “Jesus Loves Me.” The video cut to President Bush talking about supporting our troops, then cut to wounded soldiers. She said she plans to make a documentary on the war in Iraq.

Shortly after she launched her web site, Lowery received nasty e-mails and even death threats. She told the NOW conference that we should try to show love, compassion and peace to those who are hateful.

Elected officials, including Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who represents part of the Detroit area, and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun thanked women for their support and encouraged continued and activism.

Kilpatrick brought greetings from the Congressional Black Caucus, which she chairs. There is much work to do until the 2008 elections, she said. “Don’t let them take your country from you.”

“Get involved in somebody’s campaign — it doesn’t matter who, all the Democrats are good, although there is one woman I particularly like,” she said, alluding to Hillary Clinton. “Make candidates speak to issues of health care, housing, peace and education.”

Kilpatrick emphasized the importance of taking the White House in ’08. Bush doesn’t care that 3,600 soldiers have died, and that $600 billion has been spent since March 2003, she said. She expressed pride that the Democrats had voted three times to stop Bush’s Iraq war.

“Let’s work together to build a new America,” Kilpatrick said.