A Letter from Mass NOW’s President
Dear Mass NOW Community,
I hope you have been able to find moments of rest and rejuvenation over the summer while multiple pandemics continue to rage.
In March, as the gravity of the pandemic settled in across the country, I began convening the NOW State Presidents weekly to help each other strategize – our mission to convene feminist community and fight for feminist policy has never been more dire. I know Mass NOW and most, if not all, of our members have been distant from National NOW over the last 10 years. The last six months have illuminated both challenges and opportunities to our affiliation with National NOW, so I want to thank you in advance for reading though this unusually long newsletter as I attempt to provide clarity among the chaos and ask for your input in the future direction of Mass NOW as we reconsider our affiliation with National NOW.
When the State Presidents started meeting at the beginning of the pandemic, we quickly realized that hardly any of us had ever heard from the National NOW staff or our elected National NOW board members. In addition to our feminist state policy work, we united around shared concerns for transparency between the National Action Center and State Presidents. In May, we labored over writing letter after letter to request information about general operation practices during COVID, updates on how the NOW National Conference Resolutions are being implemented and progress on the National Committees. Most of our questions were never answered. We asked about plans for the National NOW Conference, and when we heard none, State Presidents met for consecutive weekends to create a detailed proposal for virtual conferencing and inclusive voting process.
California NOW State President Koleika Seigal often says “white supremacy thrives in chaos” and indeed, I believe National NOW’s failure to communicate with members or chapter leaders is an intentional strategy to cover up both general dysfunction and racism within the organization.
It’s been three months since the first news story about Toni Van Pelt, the former NOW President. Countless women of color staff, members and leaders have shared experiences of racism with Toni and within NOW. Nine members of the National NOW Board called for Toni’s resignation and since one more board vote was needed, 26 State Presidents wrote the rest of the National NOW board urging them to vote to remove Toni.
On August 16th, Toni emailed the State Presidents her resignation citing health concerns. Another email immediately following blankly reported, “The National Organization of Women has conducted a confidential internal investigation into the operations of the National Action Center of NOW, which has uncovered governance issues and evidence of a toxic work environment. Allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation were not substantiated.” We cannot start the process of racial healing without telling the truth. Failing to name and identify racism within NOW is calling the women of color who’ve spoken out, liars. We join the other women of color within, and who’ve already left NOW, in mourning yet another example of racialgaslighting.
Christian Nunes has now assumed the role of President of National NOW, and I believe is the second woman of color elected to the President role and one of nine women of color elected as a National NOW officer according to NOW’s “Long History of Working for Racial Justice and Equity” (another example of racial gaslighting). We enthusiastically support Christian’s leadership and are as committed as ever to collaborating with National NOW leadership to address systemic racism within our organization.
A new National NOW Vice President will be elected at an upcoming National NOW Board meeting on September 13th and a new National NOW Board is expected to be elected September 26th – though we still do not know how voting will be conducted. We recognize National NOW has yet to announce any details about the upcoming National NOW virtual conference and appreciate your patience with us as we wait for this information ourselves. In the meantime, mark your calendars for a National NOW Board Candidates Forum Wednesday, September 16th 3:00 – 5:00PM ET so members will have an opportunity to hear from candidates about their platform to represent members and advance intersectional feminism.
This has been an incredibly painful but necessary campaign to expose systemic racism with NOW and has contributed to a loss of NOW leaders across the country, including members of the Mass NOW board. Even though Toni is removed, we know racism never existed solely within her as an individual, but instead through the systems that allowed this behavior to persist. Examples of systemic racism include a National NOW board that has still failed to fire Communications Manager Kim Sontag after her violently racist facebook post, allowing 71 year old, white woman BJ Star to change her candidacy nomination to identify as Asian American in order to boost her election prospects, and repeated weaponizing of the bylaws to protect longtime leaders and disempower marginalized voices.
Where do we fit into all of this? How does Mass NOW show up to dismantle white feminism within NOW? Is working within the current NOW structure the best way to advance our goals of growing and strengthening the intersectional feminist movement? Exactly how do Mass NOW members want Mass NOW to affiliate and work with National NOW?
Mass NOW is continuing to lead the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition but has decided to take a break on regular scheduled programming to ask ourselves these difficult but necessary questions. In the meantime, we encourage you to join the MME Coalition, download the I AM bill advocacy toolkit, look through our Consciousness Raising toolkit on Mass NOW member portal and download curriculum guides for Mass NOW’s 12 priority issue areas and hold your own informal consciousness raising! (password NOW2020!)
The future of Mass NOW belongs to all of you, our members. We will be holding a series of Town Halls to answer questions and solicit feedback on the future of Mass NOW. Please join us as one or all of the upcoming discussions.
Wednesday, September 30th 12:00 – 1:00PM
Thursday, October 1st 6:00 – 7:00PM
Saturday, October 17th 10:00 – 11:00AM
You may also share your anonymous feedback, ask me a question directly or request a one on one conversation with myself if these times don’t work for you (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will also be mailing all of our members for whom we don’t have email addresses to bring them into this conversation too. We want to hear from you!
It’s been an honor to have served as your State President for the last five years and grow the intersectional feminist movement with you all throughout the Commonwealth. Regardless of the future of Mass NOW, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.