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Our Part in Standing Against Racism

As you may be aware, the Daily Beast published an article that exposed the lived experiences of women of color with two of our FL Chapters in 2017. These experiences, evidenced in video and emails, are hard to see and read for all of us. They describe NOW activists being dismissive of intersectionality, dismissive of younger feminists, insulting to women of color, insulting to the transgender community and NOW Core issues. Significantly, the women who voiced their concern were black or Latinx, and the women who were interrupting or sending toxic emails were all white. Viewing the video and reading the emails make clear that FL NOW failed these women and failed to uphold our Core Issues. I have received several detailed emails to further support these complaints, and requests to hold FL NOW leaders accountable. I have shared these with all the FL NOW Board members. They are painful to read, but I am more concerned with the truth about the pain we caused to feminists who thought they would find support and encouragement from NOW. 

As the current FL NOW President and Board, we are not responsible for the failures that happened in 2017, but we are accountable for how we respond to being confronted with this truth in 2020. I was asked to call a board meeting to address the Daily Beast article. During the meeting on Zoom, with all board members present, activists shared their experiences of Toni Van Pelt's treatment of them or bore witness to the same behaviors that the article exposed. Ultimately, our FL NOW board decided that the best way forward was to ask for Toni Van Pelt to resign. Our vote was split 5 in favor and 3 against.

Sadly, the three members who were in the minority have resigned from the board. This is sad news because of the years of service and friendship they have all given to FL NOW. Their voices have left a lasting impression on our organization. 

We now have the opportunity and responsibility for FL NOW to move forward, to acknowledge that white privilege impacts our organization’s leaders and members, and to discuss how racism and other isms have gotten in the way of the powerful work that NOW is all about. Any news show will tell you that addressing how baked-in racism has impacted black, brown, and indigenous folks, is not a problem that is happening just to NOW; it is happening in police departments, courtrooms, board rooms, across all industries and nonprofits. It is uncomfortable, it makes my voice shake, and it hurts to admit the truth, but I must do the work because I am white woman raised in a society that sent messages to me my whole life that whiteness was preferred—preferred for presidents, preferred for beauty magazines, preferred for leading roles, preferred for management, preferred, generally, for all positions of power in our country. 

There has never been a more critical time for each of us in NOW to question not just all of that, but also to ask ourselves how 'all of that' has impacted my life, the friends I have, the work I do, the leadership role I have. It is messy work, but the lives of black, brown and indigenous folks depend on all of us doing it! 

There is great news, too! Our membership is strong, we have seasoned and new leaders working together to grow their chapter and who have been engaged in Black Lives Matter protest, working on police reform, bail relief, and vote by mail registrations.  Other activists who are making cards and gifts to support the folks in nursing homes without visitors. We have other chapters calling activists to check in with them, others who are working on voter registration, with food distributions. Chapters that are staying connected through virtual meetings and expanding their knowledge through book clubs, film reviews, and attending virtual town halls. We have received emails, Facebook posts, calls and texts from many of our members sharing how grateful they are that we have taken urgent action on an issue that has been impacting women of color in our organization for years. We have members and leaders willing to engage and get involved. Leadership on our Racial Justice, LGBTQIA, and Reproductive Rights task forces have expressed support for the FL NOW Board’s action. Community partners have shared that they are glad to see us being accountable and working in good faith. Intersectional feminists have their eyes on NOW and FL NOW more than they have had in years. We have a lot to be excited about in FL NOW.

I am excited to work with you to lead FL NOW through this time of change. Many NOW activists are busy doing the intersectional work of FL NOW, and we apologize that these issues are getting in your way. Please continue to do our urgent work and reach out about how FL NOW may help you.

For our members who are not familiar with looking at white privilege, white fragility, or the practice of being anti racist, we will be providing learning opportunities about intersectional feminism, white privilege, white fragility, and how white women can be authentic allies to women of color or otherwise marginalized folks. We are excited about the opportunities and how FL NOW can strengthen our membership and our voices in authenticity serving our NOW Core Issues! 

Thank you for your trust and commitment to our Core Issues.

Empowering Feminists,

Kim Porteous

FL NOW President

Florida National Organization for Women

P.O. Box 1281, New Port Richey, FL 34656
FL 32903 United States

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