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Dec. 15, 2017

In this Issue:

  • Still Time to Oppose Harmful GOP Tax Bill – Call NOW
  • Happy Holidays to All!
  • Reclaiming Our Power and Our Vote in 2018 – Facebook Live Panel
  • Reminder for Chapters – Annual Reports and Rebate Eligibility
  • Chapter Highlights
  • NOW Launches ‘Enough is Enough’ Campaign on Press Call
  • NOW Foundation Joins Brief in Student Cyberbullying Case, Masterpiece Cake Shop
  • Award-Winning CFS Film goes to the Oscars, PBS Independent Lens and Ms. Magazine -NOW Chapter Screenings Suggested

Still Time to Oppose Harmful GOP Tax Bill – Call NOW

A vote is set for Tuesday (12/19) on the Republican tax bill that radically reduces taxes – permanently – for the wealthy and big corporations, while giving miniscule, temporary cuts to the middle- and lower-income taxpayers that end with higher taxes in 2027. The legislation also contains a repeal of the individual mandate for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act that spells higher premiums and the eventual collapse of the program. For more information on many other harmful provisions, click here.

There is a chance now that the bill can be defeated as more Republican senators are expressing misgivings. So, please make that call ASAP; you can use the toll free number (888) 516-5820 provided by an organizational ally, Americans for Tax Fairness Action Fund. Here’s a suggested message for your senators:

My name is____ and I live in TOWN, STATE and I’m a constituent of the Senator. I want Senator_____ to oppose the tax plan that will be voted on soon that delivers huge tax cuts to the richest 1% and wealthy corporations paid for by increasing taxes on millions of middle- and lower-income taxpayers and by slashing Medicare, Medicaid and education funding. It’s bad economic policy and morally wrong to give special tax breaks to the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else. I will be watching how you vote on this critical issue.

Happy Holidays to All!

Everyone is looking forward to a holiday season when we can enjoy a break from the crazy Trump world and just focus on wonderful times with friends and family. NOW activists enjoyed a boost of hope and energy with that fantastic win on Tuesday by Doug Jones (D) in the Alabama U.S. Senate race. Jones, a former federal prosecutor who helped send to prison the remaining two KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four African-American girls, defeated the accused pedophile and disgraced judge, Roy Moore (R). The dramatic win was achieved with near unanimous support of African-American voters, a 20-point margin among young voters (ages 18-44), and an impressive 56 percent of women, including important gains among white college-educated women.

Thanks should go to all those activists in Alabama. who went door-to-door and helped out at campaign offices, and those activists in other states who called NOW members in Alabama. It was reported that overall more than a million calls to voters and 300,000 door-to-door visits were made for Doug Jones – which undoubtedly put Jones over the top. Having one less Republican in the closely divided Senate gives Democrats a crucial advantage in stalling or even turning back the tidal wave of harmful legislation we are seeing under Republican leadership.

NOW President Toni Van Pelt, with Ellie Smeal, Co-Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and former NOW president, and Dr. E. Fay Williams, President and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women issued a statement about the Alabama election results. Van Pelt noted, “Jones’ victory…will reverberate into the coming battles over tax cuts, abortion, birth control, health care, budget policy and entitlement spending – as well as the 2018 elections and women’s equality.”

Smeal, who first identified the power of the women’s vote, pointed to the “huge gender gap with 17 percent more women voted for Jones than men.”

Smeal concluded, “The people of Alabama have spoken loud and clear: a grown man who preys on teen-age girls is not a leader, he is a predator.”

Reclaiming Our Power and Our Vote in 2018 - Facebook Live Panel

National NOW hosted a Facebook Live panel discussion on voting rights on December 14. The panel was moderated by NOW president Toni Van Pelt, and featured panelists Barbara Arnwine, founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition and the Voting Rights Alliance, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, founder and president of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Elissa Balsley, co-president of Montgomery County NOW (MD). If you missed the livestream of the panel, you may watch it on National NOW’s Facebook page.

Reminder for Chapters – Annual Reports and Rebate Eligibility

Annual Reports – The last day to submit your chapter’s 2016 Annual Report is December 31, 2017. To complete this report, you will need: officer contact information, chapter contact information, and financial/budgetary/IRS information. The 2017 Annual Report will be available early next year. The link will be posted on the NOW Leaders section of the website, and we will also send it via future FYI NOWs.

Rebate Eligibility – Just a reminder, the four requirements chapters must meet in order to be eligible to receive rebates are:

  • Being up-to-date in submitting annual reports
  • Having at least two officers who are current NOW members
  • Cashing the last rebate check you received from National NOW
  • Having a valid address on file with National NOW

Chapter Highlights

Brevard County NOW (FL) has been very busy in their local community. Most recently, they donated money to The Women's Coalition of St. Croix, and Central Florida Mommy's Club Inc. The Women's Coalition of St. Croix is an organization which aims to support and empower those affected by violence, while Central Florida Mommy’s Club Inc. supports mothers of all ages.

Montgomery County NOW (MD) hosted a panel discussion on reproductive rights earlier this month, with National NOW president Toni Van Pelt as a panelist. The audio from the event was recorded and released as an episode of Montgomery County NOW’s podcast, 52 Women. You may listen to the episode on Montgomery County NOW’s website, or by subscribing to 52 Women on iTunes or wherever you like to get your podcasts.

Madison NOW (WI) organized an intersectionality/white privilege training last week. Participants gained tools for identifying systemic racism and privilege, and for taking meaningful action to challenge racism and enhance their allyship to people of color. The event was sold out.

Southwest ID NOW (ID) sent several of their members from Idaho to Washington, DC, recently to protest the tax bill.

Hollywood NOW (CA) president, John Erickson, and vice president, Karen Eyres, were featured guests on Catherine Gray's Live Love Thrive Talk Show. They spoke about the new wave of female empowerment. You can view the interview on YouTube.

NOW Launches ‘Enough is Enough’ Campaign on Press Call

On Thursday, the National Organization for Women, with key allies, launched a major campaign, Enough is Enough, to support victims and to sustain the #MeToo movement, calling attention to the pervasive problems of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has been an astonishing turn of events since the appalling disclosures of media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault; many a powerful man has fallen now that victims feel more empowered to come forward with their stories. Concerned that the issue once again would recede from the headlines, and little progress would have been made, key leaders have come together with a plan. At a morning press conference call, the heads of six national organizations announced the establishment of a joint effort to develop new strategies aimed at bringing about substantive policy changes to prevent, address and remedy sexual harassment in the workplace. A one-day summit in February will be held in Washington, DC, to produce a detailed agenda that, hopefully, will help to bring about fundamental and lasting change.

NOW President Toni Van Pelt set the tone for the press call by stating that “the old ways of dealing with sexual harassment and assault are crumbling in real time. New actions and new solutions are needed.” Van Pelt was followed by Dr. E. Faye Williams, National President, National Congress of Black Women, who noted that the voices of Black women are often left out of the narrative around sexual harassment and sexual assault, even though they face these incidents at a higher frequency. Forty percent of African-American young women encounter a sexually-coercive experience by age 18.

Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice-President, UNITE HERE, cited that, of the 300,000 women in the food, custodial, related services that her union represents, 38 percent are subjected to sexual harassment and assault. Often, women hotel workers come upon businessmen standing naked in their hotel room apparently expecting to have a sexual encounter, and when a hotel worker complains about such incidents, she is frequently fired.

Ellie Smeal, noting FMF’s 47-state campus outreach program, said that we must keep students in mind as sexual assault is rampant on college campuses, with one in five students reporting assaults. The guidance and policy handed down during the Obama/Biden administration was strong and effective. But the current Department of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has rescinded these and adopted new guidelines that, in effect, empower the abusers. Smeal said that students are not “going back” and recommended that we work to have the Obama/Biden guidance and policy be enacted into federal law.

Monica Ramirez, President, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Women Farmworkers), said that there are 700,000 women who are picking, packing and helping to ship the nation’s fresh produce every day. Eighty percent report sexual harassment and sexual assault by bosses, supervisors, co-workers and others. Many are immigrant women, guest workers, and live in poverty. They are reluctant to come forward fearful of losing employment. Special efforts are needed to provide better protection for these women and to stop the abusers.

Carol Robles-Roman, President and CEO, Legal Momentum (formerly NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund), reported that their National Judicial Education Program has provided judicial training on issues related to courtroom bias and violence against women for 20 years. Recently, Legal Momentum has challenged backpage.com ads by sex traffickers that have ensnared hundreds of young women and is also working against the online practice of sextortion which demands sex or sexually-implicit photographs of children. Robles-Roman, a former deputy mayor of New York City, called for a radical change in our institutions which for far too long have turned a blind eye. She said that women do not report these incidents – they are too fearful of reprisal or being black-listed. We need a victim-centered culture of accountability and enforcement, she stressed.

The one-day Enough is Enough national summit will be convened in mid-February, 2018, to bring together partners and experts from all backgrounds and career sectors who can help us shape policy and move the culture to one of respect and promotion of women. The campaign will propose actions that will promote early intervention, improve policies that outline responsibility and accountability and that ultimately remove abusers from their positions of power, and suggest ways to rectify the economic harm many victims experience as a result of sexual harassment and abuse.

To hear the full Enough is Enough NOW press conference call, click here.

NOW Foundation Joins Amici Brief in Cyberbullying & Masterpiece Cakeshop Cases

NOW Foundation joined an amici brief in the case of Feminist Majority Foundation et. al. v. University of Mary Washington et. al. which addresses a hostile environment that the University failed to stop in violation of Title IX, now under appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth District. The case involves the severe and pervasive cyber harassment (including threats of physical and sexual violence) faced by members of a student-run feminist organization at the University of Mary Washington after they spoke out about sexual assault on campus. The harassment occurred primarily through the anonymous messaging app called Yik Yak – now defunct, after the app was used to threaten terrorism against Black students, shootings and bombings at schools across the country – which allowed users to anonymously share messages, or yak, with other users within a 1.5 mile radius. Despite numerous complaints to the University Title IX coordinator and president, the school did little to nothing to address the hostile environment. The university claimed it could not do anything about the harassment via Yik Yak, citing First Amendment concerns, despite the fact that they could have asked Yik Yak to trace the source of the threats or created a virtual fence to disable the app, as other schools have done. Their refusal to do so subjected the hostile environment that interfered with their ability to get an education.

Unfortunately, the district court dismissed the Title IX claim, finding that the school did respond to complaints about Yik Yak since there had been a couple of sharing circles regarding the incidents and the court held that the school had little or no control over the anonymous Yik Yak postings. The court said that if the university had done more, it would have exposed itself to liability under the First Amendment.

The amicus brief, being prepared with counsel by the National Women’s Law Center, details how cyber harassment is a growing problem that disproportionately affects women and people of color, and address ways in which schools can, and do, address cyber harassment. It will argue that the University’s actions here were deliberately indifferent (or clearly unreasonable, under the circumstances) in violation of Title IX. NOW Foundation’s participation in the brief was vetted by Marcia Cohen, our new Legal Analyst.

NOW Foundation also joined an amici brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al, No. 16-111 which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 5. This is the case when a gay couple was denied a custom wedding cake by a Colorado baker, who claimed that making a cake for a same-sex couple violated his First Amendment rights. The specific question to be considered by the Court is: Whether applying Colorado's public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. A ruling is expected next spring.

As has been observed by others, conservative legal advocacy organizations are attempting to apply First Amendment protections to a range of discriminatory actions, otherwise prohibited. These two cases are clear examples of this odious strategy to overturn long-standing anti-discrimination law and policy.

NOW President Toni Van Pelt and Vice President Gilda Yazzie, with NOW activists, attended a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court the day of the arguments, where Van Pelt and others addressed a lively crowd.

Award-Winning CFS Film goes to the Oscars, PBS Independent Lens and Ms. Magazine – NOW Chapter Screenings Suggested

There is good news with several advances in bringing more attention to the mysterious and myth-laden condition of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a debilitating disease which affects between one million and 2.5 million persons in the U.S., and an estimated 17 to 30 million around the world. Between 70 and 85 percent of sufferers are women. This is the condition that, for more than a century, physicians have dismissed as women faking an illness or as a mental health problem. As a result, research funding has been negligible and treatments are mostly palliative; quite a few ME/CFS sufferers tragically turn to suicide.

In May, NOW Foundation reported on the continuing critical need for better funding of research into the cause(s) of and treatment for ME/CFS. We wrote about NOW activists, Bobbi Ausubel, and daughter, Rivka Solomon, who suffers from ME/CFS, noting that NOW presented the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Women’s Health Award in 2011 to Dr. Nancy Klimas, a 36-year NOW member, who is a prominent researcher and clinician for ME/CFS. Earlier this year, NOW sent letters to key members of Congress and federal health agencies urging more research funding for ME/CFS.

Now progress towards better awareness of the disease is being made with the help of a Sundance award-winning film about ME/CFS. Unrest tells the story of twenty-eight year-old Jennifer Brea, who is working on her PhD at Harvard, and months away from marrying the love of her life, when she gets a mysterious fever that leaves her bedridden and looking for answers. Disbelieved by doctors, yet determined to live, she turns her camera on herself and discovers a hidden world of millions confined to their homes and bedrooms by ME/CFS.

Those who have seen the film described it as “mind-blowing” and “very moving.” In mid-November, Massachusetts NOW co-sponsored, with 18 other organizations, a screening of Unrest in the Boston area, which was attended by 358 persons – many from nearby hospitals and research institutions. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren (both Ds) and all of the Massachusetts’ U.S. House delegation sent a “ground-breaking” breaking statement of support. There are about 28,000 people in Massachusetts who have ME/CFS.

Many other screenings have taken place in major U.S. cities this past year, including several in the Washington, D.C., area. Filmmaker Jen Brea reports more outreach, with 531 screenings in over 22 countries, with 229 interviews and reviews in major media outlets and with 15 percent of the British Parliament, nearly 35,000 viewers total.

In Atlanta, Unrest was part of continuing medical education event in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for public health professionals.

But the BIG NEWS is that Unrest has been accepted as one of fifteen best documentaries out of 170 submissions for the 2018 Academy Awards. Nominations for the 90th Oscars will be announced on January 23, and the ceremony is set for March 4 at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

Film Available for Chapter Screenings - In the meantime, advocates are launching a promotional campaign. The Time for Unrest campaign has announced the 10 Days of Unrest House Parties program, January 5th – 14th, at the PBS/Independent Lens Broadcast of the award-winning documentary, Unrest, on January 8th! They are hoping – and we are, too – that NOW chapters can get together for a house party and screening of Unrest during that period. Sign up here to get started!

The other BIG NEWS is the appearance on public television of this amazing documentary. In the US, Unrest will appear on PBS/Independent Lens on January 8th at 7PST/10EST, and will be available to stream for free on the PBS website from January 9th. Plus, there are multiple other ways for you to get a copy of the film to screen, both inside and outside of the US (digital platform and DVD/Blu-ray).

Finally, the new winter edition of Ms. Magazine, owned by our sister organization, Feminist Majority Foundation, just out this week features an article on ME/CFS, “Pain and Prejudice – Women suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome remain undiagnosed and untreated, for a tangle of reasons with sexism at the core,” by Julie Rehmeyer (who suffers from the disease). The article relates the callous disregard of the medical profession of the devastating impact ME has on sufferers. Research funding for years has been stuck at $6 million ($6 per patient), when other illness with similar impacts draw $150 million or more annually. Over the years, federal agencies, prominent medical clinics and otherwise respected medical journals promoted the view that ME/CFS was a psychiatric problem, recommending psychotherapy and exercise for ME/CFS patients, neither of which helped, and the exercise frequently exacerbated the disease’s effects.

The article reports that recent research has revealed, and Dr. Klimas has helped to identify, that “a series of triggers – a particularly bad virus, a toxic exposure, a trauma, or a combination of those and other physiological insults – send the immune system into overdrive. This leads to problems that have been documented in nearly every system of the body, including neuroinflammation, immune burnout, difficulty regulating blood pressure and heart rate when standing, out-whack-hormones and problems with the mitochondria, the tiny power plants inside cells.”

Thanks to these findings some changes have begun to happen, Rehmyeyer writes. “Following a 2015 National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine) reviewed the research and concluded that it is “a serious, chronic, complex, systemic disease that frequently and dramatically limits the activities of affected patients.” A few months later, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would perform an in-depth study of ME/CFS. The NIH recently funded four projects through a pot of $7 million that it set aside for the illness.” But this is just a very modest start to fully identifying the cause(s) of the disease and then developing and testing effective treatments that might lead to a cure, but at least it is a credible step forward. All this probably would not be happening if it were not for an outcry by patients, patient advocates and activist groups like NOW – and a great documentary film!

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