Sunday, May 22, 2005

Equality NOW!

I just returned from my "activist" training at the NOW headquarters in DC. I left feeling really energized and excited about being part of the NOW community. I met women from Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, and Arkansas. Each of them was excited about starting a local chapter. The future of a progressive women's organization like NOW depends on local and state actions. NOW's chief lobbyist, Pat Reuss, explained that we are completely ineffectual at the national level. We have to focus our attention on making Senators and Congresspersons take notice of us in their home states and districts.

I am really impressed with NOWs mission and structure. It truly feels like a grassroots, non-hierarchical institution. All the DC NOW officers met with us, including Kim Gandy . She asked me if was part of the "teach in" at Gettysburg last year, which challenged the "Conservative Conference" posters that read: "Modern Feminism's Betrayal of Women." Some very right-wing students, backed in part by the Leadership Institute, invited equally right-wing speakers such as anti-choice women who claimed that the original feminists were pro-life. I realize now, after sitting through this training, why the teach in was so important to NOW: they want to see action, action, and action locally.

The students who took part in that action became committed to women's rights and are all now going to live in DC to work for non-profits that advocate women's equality. Action certainly does commit us more intensely to political struggles.

Starting this odyssey of activism is wonderful, even if my Dad is fearful. While yes, I need to try and keep the philosopher in me alive, the committment to fighting for my core values is empowering. After we broke yesterday, I rushed to meet my brother and Dad for dinner at the Capital Grille. Neither of them asked me about my NOW training. I was squirming in my seat. I know they were dying to ask and I was dying to tell them, but we all knew it would end in a shouting match.

On an earlier occassions, my brother asked me "does NOW fight against sexual harassment against men in the workplace?" and, my Dad wanted to know: "Does NOW protect abused husbands?" I need to learn how to better respond to these questions. They have a derailing effect. Of course, the logic behind them is: NOW supports equality, so does it defend men's equality too.

If both my Dad and brother were truly committed to the fight for male victims of violence, then I would be more patient. But, let's face it: these sorts of questions are thrown out to weaken the credibility of NOW, to suggest that they do not really believe in equality. What bothers me further is knowing that women constitute 85% of the victims of sexual violence (and that is a conservative estimate). So, yes, some men are violently abused by their intimate partners. But, worldwide, violence against women is an epidemic--with enormous economic and social costs.

I guess I will spend the greater part of my life trying to understand why fighting for women's equality is "radical."