Update: Chicago NOW Calls for Swift Reform and Toni Van Pelt’s Immediate Resignation – We Will Not Be Complicit

Today, Chicago NOW joins the state and local chapters of the National Organization for Women calling for President Toni Van Pelt’s immediate resignation. Further, we call for swift reform of NOW’s bylaws to decentralize power at the national level and empower the hundreds of grassroots chapters nationwide to take immediate action during times of crisis.

Last week, we called for transparency and concrete answers from President Van Pelt regarding several recent news articles claiming a disturbing pattern of racist behavior among NOW’s national leadership. As of now, we have not received any official response from the national board about these allegations. Today, we realize our previous demand is not enough. We no longer have confidence in President Van Pelt’s leadership, and we do not believe she can effectively speak for the thousands of women in this organization.

We believe women of color. It is now evident that the allegations of racism at NOW reported in recent news stories were merely the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, we see that this is not a new problem, but that our national leadership has allowed a toxic environment to fester for far too long. We have driven women of color out of our organization by turning a blind eye to their pain. To that end, it is not possible for those who were silent and complicit while the cancer of racism spread throughout our leadership to continue to helm our organization as we take steps to root out this toxicity once and for all.

Our members deserve leaders who will take immediate action to rally behind their sisters. To that end, we reiterate our call for a transparent, comprehensive investigation into all racism allegations at all levels of leadership within NOW, and for the results of this investigation to be provided to local chapters. Should this investigation confirm the widespread pattern of racist behavior suggested by these allegations, we believe that allowing all those currently in power to continue to steer the course would be a conflict of interest that would further erode the faith our members should have in their national leadership. However, we are constrained by NOW’s archaic bylaws from taking further necessary drastic action to root out corruption. We call on our fellow grassroots organizers to join us in demanding we overhaul a system that has allowed racism to thrive for far too long.

We meant it when we said that no form of feminism is legitimate unless it is intersectional, that we trust the experiences of women of color, and that we take all allegations of racism seriously. We fear the current leadership of NOW cannot advocate for our mission in an inclusive way. As such, we call upon our fellow grassroots chapters to join us in demanding legislative reform and calling on our leadership to listen to women of color, drive change, and earn the trust of all of our nation’s women.

Chicago NOW Denounces Racism and Calls for Investigation Within NOW Ranks

Chicago NOW has reviewed several recent news articles claiming a disturbing pattern of racist behavior among NOW’s national leadership.

We call for transparent and concrete answers from President Toni Van Pelt. We also call for a comprehensive investigation into all allegations at the national level, and for the results of this investigation to be provided to local chapters.

As one of hundreds of independent local chapters of the National Organization for Women, we do not have the facts surrounding the allegations made at the national level. Chicago NOW affirms that no form of feminism is legitimate unless it is intersectional. That means trusting the experiences of women of color and taking all allegations of racism seriously. We must denounce racist acts within our own organization before we can effectively advocate for anti-racism in our communities.

As intersectional feminists, we must reckon with some hard truths: the feminist movement has a long, storied history that includes many racist practices, and the city of Chicago has its own racist history. It is on every one of us to recognize these realities and take active steps to improve them. We demand the same from our leaders and look forward to a full and transparent investigation into allegations of racism among our ranks.

CNOW Calls on YOU to be a Co-Conspirator in the Black Liberation Movement

Dear Chicago NOW Community,

The mask of community has been further tattered as nefarious systemic racism reveals itself during our pandemic response. Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home by police. A former police officer and his son cornered and murdered innocent jogger Ahmaud Arbery. And we all watched in horror as the police drained the life from George Floyd as others stood by in silence and inaction.

At Chicago NOW, we are examining how to be better. Not just as non-racists, but as anti-racists. It is important during this time for our white and non-black community members to listen and watch with open hearts. We must take this inquiry further by also examining how our personal inaction supports an inherently unjust system and perpetuates violence against men and women of color.

We must do more. Our collective action must be urgent, intentional and unambiguous. We invite community feedback as to how CNOW can be a stronger community partner in the march for justice as we affirmatively stand in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers.

This is the fight of our lifetimes. We cannot stand idly when justice requires action.

Last Friday, we released a call to action for critical change. You can read that statement on our website.

Please read on for links to local organizations on the frontlines that you can support at this time, as well as some recommended reads for further education.

Local Organizations to Follow & Support:

Recommending Reading & Other Resources

Anti-Racism Resources for White People” | Forbes
Six Simple Ways White Women Can Be Feminist Allies to Black Communities” | Ms. Magazine
Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup” | Pretty Good

What CNOW Board Members Are Currently Reading

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby
How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo
The Death Gap by David Ansell

Consider ordering books from Semicolon Chi (515 N. Halsted St.), the only Black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago!

Again, we welcome community feedback as to how CNOW can be a stronger community partner in the march for justice.

In Solidarity,
Chicago NOW

Action Needed: CNOW Demands Racial Justice​

Racial justice is one of CNOW’s core issues. Grounded in our belief that human rights are indivisible, CNOW is committed to identifying and disabling barriers to equality and justice that are imposed by racism. We aim to combat systemic racism through intersectional feminism. We know racial justice is important to all members of our community, but we also must recognize that we do not all experience that deep-rooted fear that we or our loved ones could be harassed or killed simply while jogging, while in their homes, while bird watching in a public park or while interacting with law enforcement over a non-violent incident. Accordingly, we cannot look away. We must continually repeat the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper and George Floyd.

Your feelings of rage, fear, devastation, despair, and anxiety are justified. Let’s channel our anger into collective action.

It is not enough to stand next to each other advocating for justice when tragedy based in racism goes viral and ripples through our communities. Relentless action must be taken through voting, legislation, policy, funding, education, criminal justice reform, economic equality, and access to justice. CNOW is active in these fights and will join in yours. There is power in numbers. For the sake of our humanity, this is our call to action for critical change.

Chicago NOW Statement on COVID-19’s Impact on Women and Girls

Domestic Violence
Reproductive Rights
Equal Pay
Racial Justice
What can you do?

Dear Chicago NOW Community,

In the last month, COVID-19 has transformed our world as we know it. Here in Chicago, we are lucky to have proactive leaders who are working around the clock to mitigate the havoc the pandemic is wreaking on our society. To those of you who are essential workers on the front line of this battle—our healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery people and everyone else putting their lives on the line—we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Below are just a few examples of how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women in the most vulnerable parts of our community—and a few ways you can take action (even while sheltering in place) to help.

Domestic Violence
Shelter-in-place orders can make women in abusive relationships feel trapped. As Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence explains, “There’s more time for people to be together, creating the opportunity for volatile tempers to fly. But there are also fewer opportunities for victims to reach out for help.” Illinois’s domestic violence shelters are adapting to the pandemic by offering violence prevention services in different forms to comply with required social distancing. Rather than housing those fleeing from abusers in shelters, service providers are housing them in hotels and motels; and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence was able to obtain an order of protection for a client via a telephonic hearing.

Additionally, the Illinois Department of Human Services just announced it will launch a $1.2 million plan to increase the capacity of its statewide network of services for survivors during the pandemic, expanding the role of the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline by creating a one-stop access point for counseling and shelter needs. Survivors can call 1-877-TO END DV (1-877-863-6338 voice or 1-877-863-6339 TTY) and be connected to shelter through existing domestic violence prevention and intervention shelter services or to emergency shelter through available hotels and motels.

Reproductive Rights
A growing number of states are taking advantage of the pandemic by seeking to ban abortion, classifying it as an unnecessary medical procedure. A federal appeals court just ruled that Texas can temporarily prohibit abortions after its governor signed an executive order halting all procedures that were not “immediately medically necessary” to save a life. Lawmakers in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma are also claiming that abortion is not medically necessary and that banning it will help conserve medical resources needed to fight COVID-19.

Abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights are taking every legal option they have to keep clinics open to provide abortion services during this time. Another method of fighting back against anti-choice lawmakers who are trying to restrict abortion access during the pandemic: advocate for greater access to the abortion pill.

Equal Pay
The pandemic has further exposed the brutal economic reality of low-paid women workers who are on the front line of the crisis. Home health aides, grocery store workers, and childcare workers are predominately women at high risk of viral exposure—but so many lack the basic protections of a decent wage, paid sick and family leave, and employer-sponsored healthcare. These women are in fear of losing their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic while also living with the lost earnings of the gender wage gap. If these lost wages were available to women now, they could help put food on the table, pay for medication and other healthcare expenses, and cover rent to avoid eviction.

Women of color are a large percentage of the workers filling these jobs and face the largest wage gap losses of all because they experience both a gender and racial wage gap. As stated by the National Women’s Law Center, “[t]he unfolding impacts of COVID-19 reveal just how many communities of women, and the families that depend on their earnings, are bearing the brunt of the longstanding gaps and underinvestment in our workplace laws, economic and social infrastructure, and policy choices that failed to center the needs of women, people of color, and families with low and moderate incomes.”

Racial Justice
Recently released data from the Illinois Department of Health shows a “pandemic within the pandemic”: African Americans are significantly overrepresented in infection rates in Illinois, making up 14.6% of the state population but 28% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Whites comprise 76.9% of the state population but only 39% of cases; and Latinos comprise 17.4% of the state population and 7% of cases.

Why the disproportionate impact? Lower-wage essential workers are more often women of color who are forced to put their lives on the line during this crisis to keep their families afloat. Furthermore, women of color in underserved areas of the city are already more likely to be battling chronic and undertreated health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and have limited access to healthier and affordable food options in their neighborhoods. To battle these concerns, Chicago could look to cities like Milwaukee, who declared racism a public health issue last summer, in order to address the impact that decades of race-based inequality has had on underserved communities.

Reporting racial breakdown of COVID-19 victims is only the first step in combating the disproportionate impact on Chicagoans of color. This week, Mayor Lightfoot declared a “public health red alarm,” announcing immediate actions her administration is taking to address the high levels of COVID-19 among African Americans—including requiring healthcare providers to collect demographic information for each COVID-19 patient treated, increasing bus service to the south and west sides to enable social distancing, and increasing surveillance of grocery and convenience stores on the south and west sides to enforce social distancing requirements.

So what can you do?
First things first: STAY HOME!

If you want to take concrete action:

Finally, spread the word! Share this information with your friends and family, keep an eye out for further donation and volunteer opportunities from us and other organizations, and write or call your alderman and other local and state government officials—and help us make our city a better place for all women and girls.

We miss you, members. Look for further updates from us soon.

In solidarity,
Chicago NOW