NOW Honors History and Forms Feminist Vision at 1998 Women's Rights Convention and Vision Summit

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Young Feminists Find Meaning and Inspiration in Rochester

More than eight hundred women and men gathered in Rochester, N.Y., July 1012, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the women's rights movement and the great strides women have made by writing a vision for the future of feminism - a new Declaration of Sentiments.

These feminists succeeded in their mission. And they celebrated indeed - with words, voice, song, dance, discourse, poetry and laughter.

This year's National NOW Conference, entitled the 1998 Women's Rights Convention and Vision Summit, sought great purpose and promised to be a significant historical event. We, as NOW Action Center Interns, couldn't have asked for a better experience for our first conference.

Fifteen Action Center interns went to the convention to learn, volunteer and participate. Upon arriving we were in awe at the sense of feminist community and spirit that had already taken over Rochester. We cheered at the large NOW banner draped outside the hotel. Inside the colors of feminism were in the air as purple, white and gold banners hung above us. We soon realized the excitement of being able to assume that each smiling face we saw belonged to a feminist. Already, a bond of activists committed to bettering the world was emerging.

This feminist spirit flourished at the convention's moving opening ceremonies which embraced the many facets of womanhood. Sylvia Smith, a previous NOW Woman of Courage recipient and leader of the Ongweoweh NOW Chapter, introduced a group of women from the Tonawanda Nation Territory who sang a traditional welcome to visitors. The opening night also featured a dramatic performance of Sojourner Truth's famous words and the rhythmic poetry of Sonia Sanchez. Sanchez's voice and verse evoked an array of emotional and intellectual responses as she addressed issues such as African slave trade, global feminism and the personal experiences each of us carries as a feminist. The event concluded with waves of laughter rippling through the room as comic Judy Carter showed us the humor in the daily feminist crusade.

Feminist Sheroes Featured

Throughout the weekend, featured speakers contributed to the excitement with their vision and reflections on the women's rights movement. Their words played an important part in the visioning process, helping nourish and encourage us for the work at hand.

NOW members were honored to hear former Vice Presidential nominee and current U.S. Senate (N.Y.) candidate Geraldine Ferraro. We were ecstatic to be in the presence of this phenomenal woman who serves as a role-model for so many. "Whatever the vision we leave with today, we will need more women in leadership to take us there," Ferraro said. "Every woman in elected office is a step forward."

Former NOW president and founder of the Feminist Majority Eleanor Smeal roused the crowd with her powerful speech recounting the many victories women have secured since NOW's founding in 1966. Her energy and resolve seemed to invoke the legacy of Susan B. Anthony with the idea that "Failure is impossible!"

New York's lieutenant governor, and challenger for the state's governorship, Betsy McCaughey Ross spoke of the positive impact a female governor could have on the state, as well as the importance of women in the political arena.

A tribute to the late Bella Abzug reminded attendees of how committed this feminist icon was to women's and human rights and what great achievements she made in public office; a video of Abzug's speech at NOW's 1995 Rally for Women's Lives demonstrated her commanding and effective presence.

Other voices of wisdom and inspiration included Barbara Smith, feminist author and creator of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press; former NOW President and writer Karen DeCrow and former NOW Executive Vice President Barbara Timmer.

NOW President Patricia Ireland delivered a riveting speech about where we've been and where we're going. …