ORLANDO – The National Organization for Women plans to light up the Florida Hotel and Conference Center on Sand Lake Road in Orlando June 30-July 2 with all due righteous indignation, and not just for women.
“We have, for many decades, had six core issues; including reproductive rights, human rights, always been for LGBTQIA rights, racial justice and economic justice. Then getting women into the Constitution through the [Equal Rights Amendment],” explains departing NOW President Terry O’Neill, who will be present at the event which will also include the election of a new president for the organization.”
Under the Trump administration, O’Neill says, the rifts between progressive groups both within the community and without have become more apparent, as evidenced by recent interruptions of Pride parades in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.
“Sometimes when friends come together to discuss things, we are polite,” she says. “Sometimes when we want to object to a policy, even if they’re our friends, we tend to treat them as if they are our enemies. This is absolutely a huge problem within the women’s movement. We are badly splintered.”
For O’Neill, that gap is fairly binary based on the numbers from the 2016 general election. While 50 percent of white women voted for Trump (and effectively against their interests, O’Neill says), 96 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton – “not based on identity,” she says.
“What’s really smacked me in the face is that the women’s movement has not made that a big deal,” she says.
NOW’s annual conference will see a gathering of luminaries including state Rep. Amy Mercado, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, Florida Sen. Linda Stewart, members of Congressman Darren Soto’s staff, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings and U.S. Congresswoman Lois Frankel.
“In the case of the Equal Rights Amendment, sex equality includes full-LGBTQIA human rights,” O’Neill says. “And for full sex equality, you must include girls and women of color; we need to talk about violence against women. Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended at school statistically, as are those in the LGBTQIA community. We need to look to the margins and address the policies of the marginalized.”
And by that, she means everyone in the progressive community coming together at the table.
“We need to make sure that all the progressive organizations are working together, that they know each other, that they break bread together. And they talk about their hopes and fears,” she says. “I think that the progressive movement has understood since the election that we need to break down those silos, and sometimes that means having uncomfortable conversations. And at the end of the day, we are brothers and sisters together in a huge global struggle for human life.”
(Image from National Organization for Women’s Facebook page.)