A Feminist Life

Wichita NOW She Makes a Difference

Wichita NOW She Makes a DifferenceOn occasion I am beyond flattered by circumstances, Most recently it was being recognized at the Wichita NOW Chapter’s Annual Colleen Kelly Johnston’s “She Makes a Difference” Dinner, along with Julie Burkhart and Marge Zakoura Vaughn.

More about the event later, but first I want to clear up something often misunderstood. NOW is an acronym for National Organization FOR Women, not National Organization OF Women. And looking around the room at the dinner, it seemed to me that my table reflected the organization well: David Carter, Jack Regehr, and Charles Merrifield (and NOW Treasurer Corey Swertfager at the next table). Naming these Unitarian Universalist men takes nothing away from the others at my table (Judy Naillon, Bonnie Till, Marcia Ellsworth, Annie Welsbacher, Jennifer Musaji), but illustrates that feminism is not defined by gender.

(NOW was founded in 1966 and the first elected officers included Betty Fridan as President and Richard Graham, Vice President. The long march from Susan B. Anthony’s days to the founding is a story worth reading. http://now.org/about/history/founding-2)

Being recognized with Julie and Marge, both well known activists , surprised me, but I rationalized that perhaps I could represent the majority of the 500,000 members who work in the trenches to help move forward NOW’s six priority issues: reproductive rights, ending sex discrimination/constitutional equality, promoting diversity and ending racism, economic justice, stopping violence against women, and lesbian rights including marriage equality.

I got to know them both on the front lines of “making a difference.” I met Marge in 1972 when Ruth Luzzati won a contested primary and went on to win the general election in what had been a traditionally safe Republican seat in the Kansas Legislature. (Some reading this will remember that Ruth was the office manager at First UU in the 60s and early 70s.) No political victory since has equaled the thrill of the last call I took from the Courthouse. Ruth won the primary – by 41 votes – over a very well-known male attorney who was active in the party.

I lived in California during the infamous “Summer of Mercy” and told my friends , rolling my eyes of course, that if I ever moved back to Wichita I would get involved in protecting Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Eye rolling aside, I did move back to Wichita in 1999 and soon connected with Julie Burkhart, who is a national treasure when it comes to protecting reproductive justice.

Corey introduced me by sharing, with my full approval, my background as a survivor of domestic violence. He referred to Myrne Roe’s Radiating Like a Stone, which includes my story, anonymously told as “Rachel.” I decided to go public because the current political climate is such that disrespectful – and worse – treatment of women is not only tolerated but in some ways encouraged. If my story can help someone else break free of the circle of violence, then I will indeed have helped make a difference.

PS: Shameless Plug – Radiating Like a Stone can be purchased at Watermark Books.