At the Mass NOW State conference on March 27, 2021, California NOW State President Kolieka Seigle gave the following opening remarks about this year’s conference theme: Building Intergenerational and Intersectional Power.
Good Morning Massachusetts. Hello from California!
My name is Kolieka Seigle and I’m the first African American President of the California National Organization for Women.
What a pleasure and privilege it is to be able to organize with and convene feminists to build power. We don’t have to be here this morning but we get to be here. We get to do this. How awesome is that? I don’t know about you but I’m fired up for the work before us and thankful for the partnership with Massachusetts NOW.
I want to personally thank the Co Directors of Mass NOW, Sasha and Bria, for inviting me and California NOW to join you this morning, for exemplifying sisterhood and working with us to tackle systemic inequity.
I come before you today to bring you greetings from the West coast, to unpack our theme this morning: Building intergenerational and intersectional power within NOW’s context and to uplift the work of our Local and State chapters who are the grassroots and the life blood of our organization.
Lets get after it: Building Intergenerational and Intersectional Power.
To take us back: In 2015, Louisiana hosted NOW’s National Conference in New Orleans. The Author and Mother of Intersectionality, Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw was presenting. Since Dr. Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum are based in California, we mobilized our Members of Color to come out in droves to support her.
Our goal was simple: Get Intersectionality adopted into NOW bylaws.
Upon arrival we were dismayed. Dr. Crenshaw’s work was not the feature on the main plenary but a pre-forum to a much smaller audience. The conference goers had the option to attend.
As you guessed, it was a fight to get intersectionality adopted into NOW’s bylaws.. During the Bylaws discussion of the Conference – Intersectionality was outright dismissed by the members of NOW and was voted down unilaterally at every turn. This was a moment in time I will never forget.
‘How can this be possible? In a so-called progressive organization?’ I thought. You start to have an existential experience. I remember feeling my chair and my feet firmly on the ground but asking myself: ‘why am I here?’
It wasn’t until the sitting President at the time, broke protocol (she facilitates the Bylaws portion of the program and does not vote) She stood up and proclaimed – ‘if I could vote, I would vote to include intersectionality into our bylaws.’
It was like a magic wand had been waved. I mean bitty bobbidy boo. She called for another vote and just like that the membership stood and adopted it.
Remember: NOW members had just heard from the author of Intersectionality. But that wasn’t sufficient. It took white leadership to convince the membership.
Fun fact: I haven’t seen Dr. Crenshaw back at a NOW National Conference since.
This is our history. So it’s not surprising that 6 years later in 2021 there are still many of our members that can’t get their head around Intersectionality and are even hard-pressed to define it.
The reasons some struggle with the word “intersectional” itself is because an intersectional framework doesn’t always show up in our deeds, in our systems, in our processes or how we treat each other as feminists.
NOW must unequivocally recognize that Black Lives Matter here. The Great reckoning with that phrase can’t be solved with a press release, a position statement, or one of our glorious and going nowhere resolutions. We must do the work to dismantle or our own internal and institutional racism, reject our homophobic and transphobic systems and processes – and clean up our own house before telling anyone to clean up theirs.
Please let me be clear: NOW has failed it’s members of Color, it’s Black membership, the heartbeat of the organization, it’s Indigenous Membership, it’s Transgender membership.
NOWs racial justice and lgbtq equality efforts have been and will remain performative until we take corrective action and right the wrongs of our past
I’m not speaking about the days of old. During my own tenure, I have bore witness to Women of Color being shouted down at Conferences, having the Bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order weaponized against them, sanctions placed on the sole black woman on the National Board at that time.
In California we often say that this intersectional and intergenerational work is not race but a relay. It’s not a race but a relay. A relay can only be completed by working together. All of us.
What do you really mean by that Kolieka? Women of Color aren’t trying to take over NOW by calling attention to and demanding action on intersectional issues that impact us such as police brutality, missing, murdered and taken, Indigenous and Trans women, Black maternal health, voter suppression etc. We aren’t trying to disrupt or change your legacy but to lift as we climb and to expand upon the work of prior generations.
In addition, ageism must end for NOWs survival, full stop. Young femnist must have a say in our work.
So what makes, passing the baton so difficult? Is it because many of you fail to see yourselves in us? The young, The Trans, The Black, The Brown. The Future. Your future.
In closing: to continue to build the feminist movement, we ask our elders to support youth and marginalized identities in leadership and to trust us to carry the feminist agenda through utilizing an intersectional framework. It is safe with us.