Was NOW Presidency Hijacked By Anti-Choice Palin Supporters?

This weekend, Terry O'Neill (age 56) bested Latifa Lyles (age 33) in what has been painted as a old-vs.-young battle for the helm of the National Organization for Women. But was it really an anti-abortion vs. pro-choice battle?

On the surface, it already seemed like a great second wave vs. third wave caricature just waiting for Katha Pollit to deconstruct. Let's meet the contestants, courtesy of Salon's Judy Berman. First up, outgoing President Kim Gandy's choice, Latifah Lyles:

Gandy, who is stepping down after eight years of presidency, is endorsing Latifa Lyles, who has spent the past four years as NOW's Vice President for Membership. At 33, Lyles would be NOW's youngest president. She and her supporters argue that Lyles' age and race — she's African American — will help the organization connect with two demographics it sorely needs help reaching: younger women and women of color.

She was running against former NOW President Patricia Ireland's choice (and the winner) Terry O'Neill.

Lyles' competition is Terry O'Neill, a 56-year-old white activist who held Lyles' position at NOW between 2001 and 2005. O'Neill's endorsers include Patricia Ireland, Gandy's predecessor and one of NOW's highest-profile past presidents, and another of the group's current vice presidents, Olga Vives. "There is a role that requires us to take unpopular stands and push on our friends," Ireland told the AP. "That's what I think Terry really gets. She's the one I believe will be very willing to use a wide array of tactics — not just traditional letters and e-mails, but also engage in civil disobedience, organize fasts, be at some congressman's district office."

So, you've got the young vs. old feminist trope and a feminist of color vs. a white lady: it's a ready-made fight about the Future of Feminism!

Lyles' supporters argued that she would be more able to effectively utilize social networking technology and rally young feminists to the cause; Ireland focused on O'Neill's willingness to rely on letters, fasts and Congressional office meetings as evidence that her leadership was needed, subtly suggesting that Lyles wouldn't be willing to provoke this Administration or certain Congress members to achieve NOW's agenda. They couldn't have played more into the outdated stereotypes about feminism if they tried — and, as mentioned, O'Neill won, playing into some people's stereotypes about NOW in the first place.

One of those people is Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Professors who writes:

Out of all the many women I know, I can't name five who are members of NOW. Or if I do know five NOW members, their affiliation has never come up in conversation. Why is that? Is it because NOW is still dominated by feminists over 50? Is it because NOW isn't visible in my part of the country? (I live in New York City.) Is it because NOW's advocacy is more "high-level" than grass roots, so NOW's work is not as visible as some other groups' work?

Ouch. If NOW isn't visible among feminists in New York, where the hell are they? I mean, they're not grassroots-visible in D.C. either, having just moved away myself.

Who they were, apparently, very visible to were the P.U.M.A.s, who supported Clinton during the primaries and still abhor Kim Gandy (and Ellie Smeal, who's not at NOW, by the way) for having the audacity to ever support Barack Obama. "Dr. Violet Socks" says:

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know that many of the leaders of the feminist establishment in this country behaved shamefully last year. (And if you don't know it, read this and this and this and this). If life were an Akira Kurosawa movie, Ellie Smeal and Kim Gandy would commit ritual seppuku in public to atone for the grave dishonor they did to the feminist movement. But lo, dig it! Life is not an Akira Kurosawa movie! And so instead of graciously offing themselves or at least promising to stop being dishonest Obama-enabling hacks, Ellie and Kim and cohorts keep doing shit.

Because, of course, voting for a man is an anti-feminist act.

Voting for an anti-abortion woman — as the PUMAs constantly tried to remind us — was a feminist one. Which takes us to the NOW election, where Sarah Palin supporters apparently swung the vote. Veronia at Viva la Feminista who attended the event, explains:

The Sarah Palin supporters swung this election. The election was certainly close enough - less than 10 votes separated the two slates. Then again, if Latifa's supporters had been able to bring just a handful of additional supporters, we'd have an entirely different picture to discuss. The Palin people out organized us, plain and simple.

Earlier, she touched on a little unfair campaigning done by those supporters on O'Neill's behalf.

But because apparently, from what I gather, Kim Gandy was asked about a handout that was circulating that showed NOWs finances plummeting. She said that it was a product of Sarah Palin followers.

She explains why they seem to care so much about NOW and Kim Gandy:

I do know that there is enough evidence in the blogosphere, which I won't link here, shows that there were Palin supporters supporting O'Neill's campaign. Does that make O'Neill the Palin campaign? No. But it does mean that the Palin supporters are still angry that NOW and Kim Gandy did so much to elect Barack Obama.

But, why would Republican Palin supporters care about NOW? Unless, of course, they're really just PUMAS, who we think need to be re-named from "Party Unity My Ass," since they're the only ones still trying to stick it to Democrats.

NOW Elects Maryland Woman Its Nex President [Associated Press]
Change Feminists Can Believe In? [Salon]
Did Palin Supporters Swing The NOW Election? [Salon]
Ho-hum … NOW Elects A New President [Feminist Law Professors]
Why NOW Needs New Leadership, And Why You Should Care [Reclusive Leftist]
Sunday At NOW 2009 [Viva La Feminista]
Live blog: 2009 NOW Natl Conference - Plenary V [Viva la Feminista]

Related: Amber Waves [The Nation]