The Chicago National Organization for Women (NOW) Board of Directors endorses Christian F. Nunes for President and Bear Atwood for Vice President in the upcoming national NOW officer elections. However, this endorsement is not made without reservation. Despite multiple demands, the Chicago NOW board has not received critical information about recent allegations of racism made at the national level, and the national board’s “confidential” internal investigation that was conducted in response.
In June 2020, disturbing allegations came to light about a pattern of racism pervading the ranks of NOW, including painful anecdotes of racism experienced by staffers working with the national board. As a result of these allegations, the national board announced that they had conducted an internal investigation that had revealed that the allegations were unfounded. No further information was provided to local NOW chapters or NOW members regarding the investigation or its results.
At that time, the Chicago NOW board released a statement demanding transparent and concrete answers from former President Van Pelt, along with a comprehensive and neutral investigation into all allegations of racism at the national level. We called on the national board to stand up and declare that our entire organization is committed to antiracism. We asked the board to confirm that NOW understands that no form of feminism is legitimate unless it is intersectional. We insisted the board affirm that they take allegations of racism from women of color seriously, and that they would not allow any racism to persist in our community.
Having received no direct responses to our demands, the Chicago NOW board recently asked both presidential and vice presidential slates for the upcoming national election—Christian F. Nunes and Bear Atwood, and Gay Bruhn and Beth Corbin—to explain how they would address these outstanding issues. While neither slate provided clarity about the racism allegations or subsequent investigation, both slates acknowledged our frustration and agreed that local chapters deserved more information about the situation. Both slates also stated they were bound by confidentiality from providing such details.
Despite our concerns about transparency, the Chicago NOW board endorses the Forward Together NOW ticket of Christian F. Nunes for President and Bear Atwood for Vice President. We feel this ticket is better suited to make NOW a more intersectional and progressive feminist organization and lead us into the future. This is based in part on past behavior from Gay Bruhn that we believe disqualifies her as a candidate for national NOW office. Last summer, a group of Chicago NOW board members attended an Illinois NOW board meeting to discuss our concerns over the aforementioned racism allegations. Bruhn’s lack of professionalism and aggressive conduct during that meeting raised significant concerns about her leadership. When members of the Chicago NOW board expressed opinions that the national NOW board needs to be inclusive of younger members’ voices, Bruhn became highly defensive and aggressive, and raised her voice multiple times. While muted, Bruhn could be seen yelling and waving her arms and fists while others were speaking. At one point, when one of our board members was talking, Bruhn made an obscene gesture at her. Additionally, Bruhn made several comments condescendingly referring to younger members as having been “children in the swimming pool” while she was hard at work advocating with NOW.
The Chicago NOW board addressed Bruhn’s conduct with the Illinois NOW board president, and the former Chicago NOW president also addressed it with Bruhn personally—yet to this day, Bruhn has not apologized for her behavior. In the past several weeks, the Chicago NOW board asked Bruhn to explain how she would guarantee the same commitment to intersectionalism as the incumbent, especially in light of her behavior last summer. Bruhn stated that she would not apologize for being passionate, and she continued to insist that no institutional racism had been found at NOW. The Chicago NOW board feels these responses are both unprofessional and unacceptable.
We are grateful for the tremendous amount of hard work that both Gay Bruhn and Beth Corbin have devoted to NOW over the years. Regardless of the election outcome, we hope we can work with them in the future to make NOW a more intersectional and progressive feminist organization.
Admittedly, the Chicago NOW board has several concerns with Nunes and Atwood’s candidacy. For example, under their leadership, many states and chapters are not receiving their rebates, creating financial chaos. To help solve this, the Chicago NOW board fully endorses the bylaw amendment proposed by Illinois NOW that allows new members to pay dues to either national, state, or local chapters, which would be responsible for forwarding national, state, and chapter portions (rebates) to the appropriate units.
However, we are encouraged by the steps Nunes and Atwood have taken to make NOW an antiracist organization, including the programming they implemented through their 100 Days of a Feminist Agenda listening series, which centered and uplifted the voices of women of color and indigenous women on NOW’s core issues. We also approve of their future plans to analyze NOW’s bylaws, policies, and employee handbook to identify structural barriers to diversity and inclusion. However, if Nunes and Atwood are elected, we plan to be good citizens and hold them accountable to our grassroots membership, and ask that they take all possible action to modernize our infrastructure and keep the organization running smoothly. We reiterate our call for updated bylaws that let local chapters have a say in the event national leadership falls short, and we remain concerned that too much of our organization’s power is centered upon hierarchical systems that allow for the concentration of decision-making power at the national and state levels.
No matter which candidate slate is elected this year, Chicago NOW calls on our national leadership to hold themselves accountable for the wrongs of the past, and affirmatively explain how they will work to build a better future—one that fights for antiracism, intersectional feminism, and the equal rights of all women and girls.
Chicago NOW Board of Directors