Friday, April 30, 2010

Summary of NOW Northeast Regional Conference & Our Workshop



Please read below a summary of the NOW Northeast Regional Conference by Kathy Sloan, who wears multiple hats within NOW as a NOW Board member, a member of the NOW Global Feminst Strategies and Issues Committee, and a NOW UN Representative.  

Five of us NOW – NY State Young Feminist Task Force members: Arielle Cohen, Layla Love, Meghan Shalvoy, Micah Bochart and I, drove to Albany the weekend of April 17 to attend the conference.  We really enjoyed meeting NOW National Executive Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer, and all the other attendees.  We were honored to be able to present a workshop that Kathy writes about below.

Photo by: Layla Love
l-r, back row, NOW NY State President Marcia Pappas, NOW-NYS YFTF members Arielle Cohen & Layla Love
l-r, front row, NOW-NYS YFTF members Jerin Alam, Meghan Shalvoy & Micah Bochart.

What is not in Kathy's write-up was one of the highlights of the trip for us.  Marcia Pappas, the NOW NY State President, took time out of her busy schedule to have dinner with us.  Marcia is responsible for this taskforce, and I couldn't wait for the other taskforce members to spend some time with her, so they could see why I admire her so much.  Of course, they all enjoyed meeting her just as much and immediately saw why she deserves respect.  We cannot wait for the NOW National Conference in July to connect to more NOW sisters and brothers, and re-connect to the feminists we met at the Northeast Regional Conference.

Sincerely,
Jerin Alam
Co-Chair
National NOW Young Feminist Task Force
NOW – NYS Young Feminist Task Force 
National Organization for Women (NOW)


NOW Northeast Regional Conference

April 17, 2010

SEIU Union Office Building

Albany, NY  

After conference and election rules were discussed and the agenda was adopted, the keynote address was given by Professor Mo Therese Hannah, founder of the Battered Women’s Custody Conference.  Mo began by describing how battered women aren’t believed in the courts.  So-called psychological evaluations just muddy the waters.  Fully ¾ of family law court cases involve domestic violence (dv).  DV of course is vastly underreported.  Further exacerbating the tragedy of judges awarding custody to batterers, many of whom have abused and/or sexually assaulted their children along with their partners, is the fact that battered women and rape victims are immediately considered suspect in the eyes of the court.   

The first Battered Mothers Custody Conference was held in mid-January of 2003 in Albany and was attended by 125 people.  The annual conferences consist of victims, professionals, attorneys, academics and grassroots activists.  Word quickly spread, particularly through the internet; the website, www.batteredmotherscustodyconference.org, serves as a clearinghouse of information.  California is the most advanced state in the country on this issue while simultaneously having some of the worst courts for abused women seeking custody.  The movement has grown tremendously over the last 10 years.  Media coverage of the issue tends to bend over backwards to provide “the other side’s” perspective; a recent show on Dr. Phil on the subject began with him announcing that these cases do not represent all such custody disputes.  When Dominique Lasseur made a documentary on the subject called “Breaking the Silence,” PBS was inundated with terrorizing calls and letters from “Fathers’ Rights” groups whom Mo appropriately calls male supremacists.  One of the fathers featured in the documentary threatened to sue Lasseur; these kinds of intimidation tactics tend to silence the media on the subject.  Particularly in dv cases that involve high profile, successful and prominent batterers, people refuse to believe that these powerful men are capable of such behavior.   

One of the great champions of battered mothers is the author and advocate Lundy Bancroft who has written several books on battered women and children.  His book “Why Does He Do That?  Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” is considered the “bible” on the subject of abusive men.  A national organization has been developed called the Protective Parents’ Alliance that’s providing support to abused women and their children.  Mo has co-edited a new book with Barry Goldstein which comes out this month titled “Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody:  Legal Strategies and Policy Issues;” it is a comprehensive compendium that will serve as a textbook on the subject.   

Dr. Hannah stressed the importance of court watches to bring attention to and call to account judges who are re-victimizing women and children by granting custody to batterers and dismissing the claims of abused women.  Discussion ensued about the downside of this when the numbers of “court watchers” are small; judges will often retaliate against protective mothers for bringing attention to their behavior and decisions.  It was generally agreed that there must be huge numbers of people involved which judges, courts and the media then cannot ignore.  Finally, Mo asserted that new studies are showing evidence of brain trauma in children who, along with their mothers, are subjected to violence and abuse.   

NOW Executive Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer followed Dr. Hannah with a presentation on NOW’s priorities and a description of the “Ratify Women” theme.  This includes passage of the ERA and ratification of CEDAW.  States and cities are adopting resolutions in support of national ratification of CEDAW; most prominent among these efforts is San Francisco which passed a local CEDAW law, resulting in harsher dv sentences, more flexible work schedules and other improvements.  Bonnie discussed NOW’s CEDAW tool kit and it was suggested that battered mothers’ testimony be included as a resource.  Bonnie went on to provide an update on health care reform.  Other NOW initiatives include efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment along with DOMA and protecting lgbt rights with the hate crimes prevention Act.  Finally, Bonnie discussed the Supreme Court with upcoming decisions on the Nebraska anti-abortion law and Proposition 8.  Several names that are being discussed as replacements for Justice Stevens include Alana Kagan, Diana Wood, Jennifer Granholm and Janet Napolitano.  Bonnie concluded with an explanation of NOW’s PAC and how it operates. 

Following elections for the NOW Board, a workshop was presented on the activities of the New York Young Feminist Task Force.  Elected to the NOW Board from the Northeast Region were Kathy Sloan and Marcia Pappas, with Marcia elected as Regional Director. 

Jerin Alam, the head of the Task Force, called on experienced feminists such as the NOW activists convened, to mentor a young feminist.  She also discussed the necessity for funding to carry out activities.  The New York Task Force is a very diverse group of 30, including feminist men.  Their activities have included a Paid Sick Days Rally in NYC with Gloria Steinem, anti-Stupak lobbying on Capitol Hill, an anti-Roman Polanski protest at a NYC film festival and exposing fake reproductive health clinics. 

Two members of the Task Force (Meghan Shalvoy and Arielle Cohen) provided a presentation on their project to expose the fake clinics which are prevalent on college campuses and in low income areas.  Posing as Planned Parenthood-like clinics, they are actually rabid Christian fundamentalist anti-abortion zealots who attempt to convince young women not to use contraception or have abortions and practice abstinence until marriage.  These “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” do not dispense contraceptives or provide abortions.  They provide grossly inaccurate information to young women who generally have no idea that these are not legitimate reproductive health centers.  They became ubiquitous with the Bush administration’s “abstinence only” funding and they are continuing to be funded under the Obama administration.  Under the recently passed health care reform legislation, $50 million per year will be provided to these groups for another 5 years.  The two Task Force members bravely went undercover to some of these “clinics” to document and expose these anti-abortionists.   

The second presentation was by Layla Love, a very gifted artist/photographer who travels all over the world photographing women and the realities they face.  Her photos have been published in book form and Gloria Steinem has purchased her photographs which she hangs in her home for inspiration.  Her work can be seen on www.lovephotography.org. 

The final presentation was given by Micah, a young male feminist, who discussed being a male feminist in a patriarchal, misogynist culture.  He stated there are 3 stages of becoming a male feminist: 
  1. Recognizing that the world is governed by patriarchy and its terrible effects on women and girls
  2. Understanding that women’s rights are human rights
  3. Accepting moral responsibility for the consequences of patriarchal thinking and behavior
Micah explained that he had been raised by two very progressive parents; his father declared early in his life that he was a feminist.  Micah naively assumed that everyone thought the same way until he got older and observed that the world does not function that way.  He cited the asymmetrical power structure that exists in the world between men and women, using examples such as pregnancy where there is practically no male responsibility for it and the overwhelming emphasis in society on physical/sexual attractiveness of women.  Young men must begin by speaking out and expressing their objection to sexist jokes.   

The conference concluded with final remarks by Austin Lin, long-time NOW activist from Cambridge. 
Reported by Kathy Sloan

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