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January 31, 2005

Initial Reactions to the Younger Women's Task Force Meeting

The National Coalition of Women's Organizations is sponsoring a task force to "provide a collective voice for the younger generation..." to "ensure that NCWO's policy work is intergenerational in focus, that there is continuous dialogue between generations, and that a new generation of NCWO leadership is developed."

What is NCWO? It's a DC bureaucracy created to be a political voice for women's groups across the country. The US Section of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom is a member organization and I am a member of WILPF. I found out about their YWTF conference through a fellow WILPF member and WILPFers provide the money necessary for me to register and travel to the conference. (YWTF also gave me a partial travel stipend.)

I fear that many of the DC organizers of YWTF dislike me or think I dislike them. I say this because one of the things I was told to do at the conference was to always speak my mind (it was a prerequisite for some of my funding). So, I kept asking process questions and refused to back down on my policy positions. I think people took my criticism personally and I have to admit that at times I got frustrated and may have made a personal attack or two. (In particular, I regret telling a group of individuals that clearly none of them were transgender, so how do they think they can speak for the transgender community.)

Personally, I was offended by some of the things that happened this weekend. First, the address of the event wasn't clearly stated on the materials we received prior to the conference. I stayed with friends b/c we were asked to do that to cut back on hotel costs. I showed up at George Washington University and spent 45 minutes in the snow and cold searching for the meeting location. When my phone calls to the organizers were finally returned and I got to the meeting location, I was immediately asked to fill out forms instead of being allowed to take off my coat and get a cup of coffee.

Next I was offended by being asked to state what I do for a living. Perhaps this just sounds like normal introductory material to you. The majority of the people in the room were either students or worked for nonprofits. I felt like there was a bias against people who work in for-profit environments. I also think my job title has nothing to do with my activism. Finally, the introductions upset me because it appeared all of the conference participants were either working towards a college degree or already had one. That doesn't create a very diverse younger women's movement. Furthermore, when I attended an inter-generational dinner I was told by an older woman that I would never be taken seriously as a glorified secretary. (I explained that I am currently working in a position basically as a glorified secretary because I spent about a year trying to get a paid position at a nonprofit and was unsuccessful in my job search. I also told her that I do my activism in a volunteer capacity as a member of the national board of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. All of my experience was devalued by this women who thinks I will never get anywhere being myself.)

I realized something this weekend. I have been an activist for 15 years. I have been a leader of activist organizations and planning conferences for 15 years. I am not an individual who can simply be grateful for the opportunity to meet other people. My understanding of the issues - both structurally and philosophically - is too deep for me to simply sit and be a good follower in any organization.

I don't think I like the bureaucracy they're creating with YWTF. Nevertheless, I'm excited about the opportunity to meet other younger activists. I've already made some great connections and I'm sure I'll continue to communicate with particular participants in the YWTF Conference whether or not I continue with YWTF.

Posted by cj at January 31, 2005 10:36 AM

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oh, stick it out. I'm sure they'll get over it. They embarrassment over being a totally academic organization will eventually seep out of them.

Posted by: indy at February 1, 2005 6:58 PM

Do you ever wonder when you're at gatherings like that one, how it is that we ever thought we could beat Bush? And how many banquet halls are full of people just like them, thinking that they are furthering the movement? You showed up ready to fulfill your end of the bargain, but it seems like their saying they wanted to hear what you had to say was only lip service. They'll go back to their board and their big donors and glow about what a great success the event was, and absolutely nothing changes. They'll keep doing exactly what they've been doing all along. But look at what a great set of insights you've come away with.

Posted by: john gibbs at February 1, 2005 10:17 PM

Hey Cynthia, it's me... good post regarding all the frustration. I've been thinking more and more about that final day... the blantent refusal to hear any critique, and the "conversations" after being pulled aside. It makes me wonder if I have to go back to being a butch in order to be able to "legitimately" discuss gender identity issues.
But, in any case, I think I may start lying about my degrees. I am proud of them, but I also don't want to align myself with "academia." By announcing I'm in school, I think I did just that.

Posted by: Lacey at February 4, 2005 12:01 PM

You and I walked from the conference on Sunday afternoon.... I did disagree with you on some things you said, but didn't take them too personally (maybe 'cause they weren't directed at me?? i don't know).

Anyway, I was one of two people who thought that education and opportuntities were useful to talk about in that group of women. That was strange, let me tell you. I think we did an okay job, but it was skewed, and we recognized that, because we were both highly educated women. I work, on the other hand, with all types of prospective students from around Maine and the world and know the frustrations some face when I tell them that education may be out of their reach at 20K a year!

Keep pushing the YWTF. I think it will always be an overly educated group, but I, for one, am inviting everyone I know to join us in the fight to equalize the power.

Perhaps you'll stay in touch.

Posted by: Kate at February 4, 2005 7:09 PM

It sounds as if the conference went the way they usually do. Lots of committed, interested students with no clue about the real world. On one hand, we need their idealism. On the other hand, they need to know what it's like to work too hard for too little money, to wonder how you're going to feed another child, or what it's like to be young and idealistic with no hope of going to college.

I am really disappointed to hear that the woman criticized your position. I'm disabled. Does that mean my activism doesn't count? Does my opinion mean less because my biology prevents me from working? Did she suggest what career would make them take you more seriously? Activist Actress, maybe, or head of a counter-productive, single issue non-profit that spends more time raising funds than raising consciousness?

This goes directly to the "Liberal Elite" tag the the Left gets saddled with. The people with the money and education to travel and have access to meetings of this sort often are an "elite" group and they're the ones that make the news. I looked at the crowd that showed up in NYC to protest the Republican National Convention, and I didn't see many "elites" in that group. I saw workers and women, people of color, poor people who had to take to the street to be heard because big money controls both parties, Christians, Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Muslims and Buddhists. There were students there, of course, but the median age of that crowd was way past the average university students. We need to really start talking about the Conservative Elite - the ones that will cheat little old ladies by manipulating their energy bills, or raise the cost of a college education to the point that it is only accessible to the very rich.

Don't give up. Keep speaking your mind. Start your own group. Keep rattling cages. The only alternative is to let the powers that be win without a fight, and we know that isn't an option.

Posted by: Morgaine Swann at February 6, 2005 7:51 PM

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