This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.
Within the third plenary session at the NOW conference was the Political Roundtable, moderated by Bonnie Grabenhofer, NOW Executive Vice President. She briefly discussed the context of today’s American politics and how the War on Women is in full swing. The first speaker was Sarah Reece, director of the Academy for Leadership and Action at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She discussed the Task Force’s efforts to lobby for pro-LGBT legislation and to change people’s minds in favor of LGBT issues. Afterwards came Linda Hallman, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She discussed the NOW-AAUW campaign It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard to encourage young women to vote. Eleanor Smeal, a former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, spoke next. She listed the Republicans’ sins and underscored the importance of making sure the GOP does not succeed. Representative Carolyn Maloney was the final speaker. She too mourned the current anti-woman political climate, celebrated feminist victories, discussed her work in Congress to lobby for pro-woman measures, and urged the public to “go out and demand” equal rights.
I was afraid that this session was going to be irritating, since I figured it would solely consist of Republican-bashing and Obama-worship. While a lot of that did go on, I was happy that it was kept to a relative minimum, and speakers spent more time focusing on pertinent issues and how to fix them rather than whining about what’s happening and pointing fingers. My whole philosophy towards life is if you don’t like something, change it; shut up, stop complaining, and get to getting yourself out of situation you’re stuck in. When fellow progressives start blaming Republicans for all the world’s evils, it really gets on my nerves, since it doesn’t accomplish anything. Yes, it’s important to understand who is threatening our rights and why they are doing it, but it’s much more worthwhile to spend our precious time actively working against these people and trying to thwart their goals. As a result, I was glad that this session mostly focused on current efforts to stop the rollback of women’s rights and how people can get involved.
One particular campaign that I found absolutely fascinating is the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s attempt to have real, sit-down conversations with people who aren’t on board with the LGBT+ advocacy cause yet. It’s such a good idea, and I can’t believe it’s not used more often as an advocacy tool. Conversation and connection is an integral part of any viable relationship, and if we want people to think the way that we do on the issues, we need to establish a relationship based off of mutual respect. Going back to what I said before, if we constantly bash Republicans, we’ll never get into a conversation with one, and never be able to learn from each other and broaden each others' horizons. (Yes, believe it or not, there’s something to be learned even from - gasp - Republicans.) So in summation, I think this idea is brilliant and should be used more often as part of advocacy.
I also really appreciated the emphasis of how much one person can have an impact. Hallman’s entire address was about the magnitude of voting - the campaign is called It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard, after all - and the extreme importance of getting women to the polls in November. Smeal also discussed how we have to show our feelings at the ballot box. Throughout her speech, Maloney urged every individual to call his or her representatives and let them know how he or she feels on the issues. I’m a big fan of the concept that one person can leave a mark on the world, by doing simple actions or going for the big time, so I was happy to hear that these awesomely amazing women agree with me. Over the summer, I was discussing my feminist activities with someone I met, and mentioned how important it is to vote. The person I was speaking with was dismissive of the idea. One vote seems very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone says, “Oh, my ballot doesn’t count for much,” nobody would go to the voting booth. Seriously, every vote counts. All of our voices are equally important.