Pledge to ‘link arms’ vs. Right

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The nearly 1,000 delegates and guests to the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) annual conference, held here June 21-23, are united to make a difference in the 2002 elections, at the ballot box and in the streets. The participants, who came from 42 states and the District of Columbia, agreed that the 2002 elections are the main arena for the defense and advancement of women’s equality.

The conference theme, “Linking Arms in Dangerous Times,” highlighted the importance of the elections. Over a quarter of the conference was devoted to small workshops, each designed to motivate, educate, agitate and activate women to flex their political muscle in the days between now and November 5. Reps. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) delivered passionate pleas to halt and reverse the Bush administration’s assault on women, at the polls in November.

The conference did not just network, exchange and plan; five busloads of delegates and guests marched on a nearby Wal-Mart, demanding unionization, fair wages and an end to on-the-job sexual harassment and discrimination. (See story page 6.)

The 2002 elections and NOW’s fight back was the theme of NOW President Kim Gandy’s keynote address. “There are growing dangers following Sept. 11,” Gandy began. “The right wing swung into action immediately. The attacks of Sept. 11 enboldened them. They had the same policies on Sept. 12 that they had on Sept. 9, only now they are on steroids.”

Speaking of right-wing attacks on NOW after Sept. 11, Gandy zeroed in on the Bush administration and Attorney General John Ashcroft as outlawing and declaring “unpatriotic” the democratic right of Americans to question policy and appointments.

At stake in November, in addition to issues of equality and the economy, is the integrity of the federal courts, Gandy said. The Bush administration’s strategy is to eliminate the separation of church and state and hamstring Congress’ ability to enforce existing laws guarding civil and democratic rights.

“What the courts are doing,” Gandy explained, “is declaring that Congress did not have the authority to include enforcement regulations in the Fair Labor Standards Act, the American with Disabilities Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA]. Already, seven of the 11 Federal Circuit Courts have ruled that state and local governments are exempt from FMLA.”

Further, Gandy said, the Ashcroft clones are limiting the rights of individuals to bring suit under Title IX, which has brought relief and justice to women in universities and throughout the professions. Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is in the crosshairs of the ultra right in the U.S., Gandy continued, and their goal is to stack the courts before the people know what hit them.

Reaching across generational lines, Rep. Mink detailed the struggle to achieve Title IX protection in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its impact in opening doors to the professions for women. “Those who have followed us did not experience the same discrimination we did, because of Title IX,” Mink said. “There are more women doctors, attorneys and all the professions than ever before. The Republicans in the House want to gut those protections. We have to defend Title IX but we have to do more.”

Delegates rose to their feet applauding as Mink demanded that higher education opportunities be extended to poor women. “The Republicans in the House have no consideration for single moms. They just raised the hours of work to qualify for welfare from 30 to 40 hours per week. We are hoping to kill it in the Senate.”

This, Mink said, is what Republicans consider opportunity, “education, not funding for child care. They say ‘leave no child behind’ but what have they done?”

Mink called on the delegates to take action. “You have the chance to speak up for poor women and defend poor children ! You have the right, the mandate to demand that Congress leave no child behind, not the House Republicans. To fund education, fund higher education and fund child care. Open the doors of opportunity to all women.”

“We are fighting back. We are beating them!” the NOW president said, calling for the delegates to take action in the elections. “I am asking you, pleading for you to consider doing things you might not have done before. Take a leave and knock on doors in New Hampshire in October; take personal days and plan to see Minnesota in the fall. Paul Wellstone can show you around. Take vacation time in October to work on these elections. In 14 races, we are the margin of victory. We can do it!”

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Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.