BALTIMORE, Md. - Feminists, lawmakers and activists from across the country convened here June 29 - July 1 for the National Organization for Women's 2012 National Conference.
The timing of the conference happened to coincide - nicely - right after the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The tone of the entire conference was celebratory towards the decision because of the positive implications it carries for women's health care, from reproductive rights to premium pricing.
In addition, the scope of topics was wide and focused on the problematic Stand Your Ground gun laws, voting rights restrictions, Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, youth issues from violence to how to have a more inclusive feminism towards youth, people of color and LGBT people, and, of course, the Equal Rights Amendment.
Speakers urged participants to help get out the women's vote in the important November elections, but even more important, they said, was for women to run for office.
A common theme throughout the variety of topics was the need to unify and fight for not only our personal causes, but for the causes of those we want to stand with in solidarity.
Maryland delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam started off the conference by telling attendees, "If you care about people, you're just about half-way there. Though, we are unshakeable when we are in this bond of unity."
One way to unite is to form a stronger bond between the older generation and the younger generation of feminists. During the second day, "Young Feminist Organizing" was a main theme. Prominent young feminists spoke out, including Sandra Fluke, who was honored with NOW's 2012 Woman of Courage award for her ability to speak up for women's health when the Republican-led Congress tried to silence her, and Rush Limbaugh viciously attacked her.
Erin Matson, NOW Action vice president, said she felt like "the women's movement is on fire in 2012, and younger women are the flame."
Younger women are in fact the leaders of the women's movement online. There is a generational shift taking place within the women's movement, and NOW needs to evolve to celebrate the younger women carrying the movement into the future, many conference speakers said.
Younger women learn from the trails blazed by women's movements of the past. Mutual respect and understanding is needed.
A highlight of the conference was playwright Eve Ensler's speech. The creator of the Vagina Monologues, V-Day, and the new One Billion Rising campaign, brought the audience to laughter and tears simultaneously with her infectious personality and insightful politics. She led the entire conference in a dance party. With this excitement, she encouraged the crowd to "rise up and redirect the future!"
"Sexism, racism, colonialism, and capitalism have merged in a fiery caldron where women's bodies are where the battles are fought. The few, powerful, patriarchal men are afraid of the future. The GOP's latest war on women is the last breath of the patriarchal dragon. But, last breaths are dangerous because they are so desperate. The GOP has given us a gorgeous opportunity to unite and have each others' backs," Ensler said.
While NOW's focus for 2012 was wide, the messages behind each focus tied into the other, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake summed up this harmony: "Human rights are women's rights. Women's rights are human rights."
Photo: (PW/Kara Lindsey)