The National Organization for Women has a deep-rooted problem with racism, according to a new report in the Daily Beast. Board members are now calling for President Toni Van Pelt to resign.
Members say that women of color are routinely “heckled, silenced, or openly disparaged at NOW meetings and offices,” according to the report, and that Van Pelt, whose leadership has clashed with younger members in the past, has long prevented women of color from advancing within the organization. Monica Weeks, president of NOW’s DC chapter, recalled a campaign stop at a Florida NOW chapter in 2017, when she ran for vice president of the organization.
Weeks told the Daily Beast:
“It’s important because we need to give a voice to those most oppressed in order to make everybody better,” Weeks told the audience, many of whom were around her mother’s age. “That’s women of color, that’s disabled people, that’s LGBTQ people.”
She was about to move on to the most relevant part of her stump speech—how NOW could help do all this—when she was interrupted by a white woman in the audience.
“White women, too!” the woman yelled.
“And then yeah, don’t forget the white women,” Weeks replied evenly.
“Just the women with the pussies!” another woman called out, in what seemed to be a reference to trans women. In video obtained by The Daily Beast, you can hear an audience member groan.
The Daily Beast piece further documents numerous racist incidents and microaggressions experienced by members of color, including Weeks getting called a “hot-headed Latina” at a 2017 conference; Weeks’s black running mate, China Fortson-Washington, was dismissed as “angry.” White members complained about “this Black Lives Matter crap” and seemed uninterested in elevating women of color within and outside the organization.
Van Pelt, meanwhile, reportedly called congresswoman Pramila Jayapal “Punjabi,” told a black woman, “I don’t care about your opinion,” and, most egregiously, sidelined org. vice president Gilda Yazzie, a Native American woman:
In the months since taking office, they said, Van Pelt had slowly reduced her Native American No. 2’s responsibilities, denying her access to payroll software and instructing staff not to talk to her about payroll-related issues. At one point, the letter claimed, Van Pelt ordered a staff member to buy a stamp of Yazzie’s signature and deliver it to her own home—ostensibly so she could use the vice president’s signature without her consent.
The staffers also claimed Van Pelt had told at least two employees that she chose Yazzie as a running mate only because she needed a woman of color on her ticket.
The group’s current vice president, Christian Nunes, told the Daily Beast that as a black woman, she has experienced a similar pattern to Yazzie’s in her role.
“I thought that I was really going to be able to help this organization,” she said. “But ultimately I feel like I’ve just been a token.”
Indeed, there is reportedly a pattern of racism at the organization, one so toxic nine members of NOW’s board are calling for Van Pelt’s resignation. More than 15 former NOW members have come forward to accuse Van Pelt of racism in the past, and the board members say NOW “should be led by an individual who has the full confidence of its leadership and members to not only carry out but also represent the mission of the organization.”
The board needs three more votes to oust Van Pelt.