NOW conference highlights beating the far-right

ALBANY, N.Y. — Ensuring voting rights and defeating the extreme right were themes of many speakers at the National Organization for Women’s “Young Feminist Summit” and annual national conference held here July 21-23.

The conference’s 700 attendees celebrated NOW’s 40th anniversary and paid tribute to NOW’s past presidents starting with Betty Friedan, who died earlier this year.

Conferees endorsed HR 676, the single payer health care bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

“Threats to reproductive freedom are constant,” NOW President Kim Gandy told the gathering. “And this organization is not going to stop until every woman’s rights … are guaranteed.” Noting that in 1971 NOW became the first national organization to demand lesbian rights, Gandy said that today the fight for unity and the rights of all is intertwined with the fight for women’s rights.

“If you win only for the majority,” she added, “no one’s going to go back for the people who are left out.”

Participants included several elected officials and candidates, who stressed the need to defeat the ultra-right in Congress.

“We have to make a difference to win a Democratic majority, thereby making Nancy Pelosi the first female Speaker of the House,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). Maloney called the current Congress the “most hostile Congress we have seen … constantly beating back our rights.”

Kirsten Gillibrand, running in New York’s 20th CD and considered one of the likeliest 20 candidates to beat a Republican in 2006, told the delegates the extreme right has undermined the U.S. government’s checks-and-balances system, threatening democratic rights in general and women’s rights in particular.

“No one,” Gillibrand said, “is holding the president accountable. What we need to do is to take back the House.” Gillibrand said she is for a fight against terrorism, but also for the Iraqi people’s right of self-determination, setting a withdrawal date and ensuring no U.S. bases are left behind.

The conference resolved to step up NOW’s international activity by working more closely with the United Nations, supporting women’s rights movements in other countries and examining more closely how U.S. policy affects women in other countries.

Among the many workshops was one called “Beware of Dirty Tricks,” which taught young activists about poll-watching and urged them to watch out for far-right attempts to steal elections.

“In some precincts,” said Janice Rocco, of NOW’s PAC, “the number of votes for [Bush] was higher than the actual number of votes.”

An award for “Women of Action” was accepted by teenagers Emma Blackman-Mathis and Jettie Fields of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania. Their organization of 24 high school students successfully pressured the multimillion dollar corporation Abercrombie & Fitch to retract sexist and racist T-shirts.

The conference also featured a demonstration in front of the state Capitol for marriage equality — recently ruled against by the NY State Supreme Court.

“I joined NOW today actually,” said a young woman from Massachusetts. “I had to; I found this conference so invigorating. I feel empowered. Everything seemed so bleak, but now I feel like I’m part of a movement that agrees with what I believe in.”

Linda Feldman and Polina Volfovich contributed to this article.