This past summer, I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Mid-Suffolk chapter of NOW to attend the national conference in Orlando, Florida. A yoga fundraiser organized by the members of the Mid-Suffolk chapter helped raise funds that allowed me to fly out to Florida to attend the conference. Thanks to all of the hard work put in by our local chapter, I was able to have one of the most enlightening experiences of my life, meet feminists from around the country, hear the voices of women who are inspired to do more in the wake of our current world, and become more inspired myself. Luckily, this year’s conference was an election year, so I was able to learn about the inner-workings of NOW and the election process. I was able to attend different workshops that gave interactive seminars and listen to the amazing, inspiring speakers that captivated all attendees of the conference.
Going into the conference, I had a lot of expectations. I knew there would be a number of people, mostly women, who joined the organization many years ago in the early years of the organization and people who joined more recently, especially after Donald Trump’s election. I was pleasantly surprised to see a large mix of people at the conference who had recently joined NOW and others who have been dedicated members for years. At most NOW meetings I attend, I’m the youngest person in the room (a freshman in college), but I’m glad to see that this is starting to change. At one workshop, I heard a twelve year old girl speak about her experiences with inequality on the playground, which no young girl should have to do. In that same workshop, I heard a story from a woman who changed her school board’s policy on allowing girls to enroll in the Auto Mechanics class in the 1960’s. This large demographic of women who attended the conference gave me an eyeopening perception of the affect of NOW on women of all ages from all over the country. One thing I did notice, however, is the lack of racial diversity in NOW at a national level. There are women of color, from all races, in NOW, but there definitely are not enough. Although all women face injustices, there is no question in the fact that women of color tend to face more injustices than white women, which makes it hard to understand why NOW is lacking in diverse members. This conversation was present in the workshops I attended and the campaigns as well.
At the meetings and workshops I have attended in the past, I felt like I was a part of a strong group of women unified under NOW, so I was interested to see the partisan split in the election for the new board. China Forston Washington and Monica weeks ran together for President and Vice President of National NOW against Toni Van Pelt and Gilda Yazzie. Pelt and Yazzie ended up winning the election after the teams campaigned, performed speeches, and answered direct questions from NOW members. The candidates actually represented a racially diverse spectrum as all the women who ran came from different backgrounds. The members of NOW were extremely invested in the election and their favorable candidate. I was surprised to see the extreme split in the campaign since I have seen NOW as a group of like minded individuals; however, the split was not surprising. Washington, being a domestic abuse attorney for many years, focused her campaign platform on helping victims, creating an intersectional agenda, strengthening the organization starting on a local level, and many other aspects. Pelt and Yazzie focused their campaign platform on reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the ERA. The opposing candidates did have many, if not most, overlapping ideas and goals. From what I saw, the election came down to the candidate’s speeches, their personalities, and the way they interacted with the voters. Like in any political campaign, there were scandals, arguments, and lots and lots of passion.
One thing I found to be surprising was the heavy weight of an old, seemingly miniscule scandal in the election. From what I saw and heard, I understood that one candidate wrote something online that was misunderstood by many people. She apologized for offending anyone, explained what she actually meant, and showed her deep regret; however, it looked like this would be the deciding factor for the election. After all, an election would not be an election without scandal.
At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend many workshops and here many speakers. One speaker that stuck out to me in particular was Congresswoman Val Demings who represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. When Val spoke, the energy in the room was at an all time high. Her ability to round up a crowd, get them cheering, and fired up about their cause is truly unmatched. She is the first female to have served as Orlando’s Chief of Police, inspiring everyone at the conference to become just a little bit more confident with themselves and their abilities.
One workshop that had a great effect on me was one on Women of Color running for political office. The women who ran the conference conducted research at the University of Connecticut on women of color running for office around the country. They shared statistics and facts that proved that women are likely to win if they run for office, but there is a lack of women actually running. Like Val, this workshop had the women in the room fired up and ready to change the world.
Overall, I had a great experience at NOW’s National Conference. I was able to make connections with people from around the country and learn more about the inner workings of now, feminism, and many forms of injustices around the world that can still be changed today. If anyone has the opportunity to attend the National Conference, I would highly recommend it. It was an experience I will never forget!