Carrie Stiers joins the chants in support of women’s reproductive health rights in front of U.S. Rep. Bill Young’s local office in Seminole Feb. 25.
PINELLAS PARK – The Pinellas National Organization for Women opened their monthly meeting with a firm stance on abortion.
“If they ban abortion, we’re going on strike. No sex,” said Peggy Goodale, of Pinellas Park.
“And we don’t wear bras anymore, so there’s nothing to burn,” added fellow member Sandra Jelricky, clarifying the feminist point a bit further, if only in jest: “We’re here for the complete take over of the world,” the Palm Harbor resident said, a defiant smile spreading across her face.
Later in the week, some of the group took their protests public, joining with Planned Parenthood supporters for a rally in front of U.S. Rep. Bill Young’s local office in Seminole Feb. 25. They hoisted pink signs, calling for the protection of women’s health.
“No going back!” they chanted. “No going back!”
The protest was prompted by the congressmen’s vote in favor of the so-called Pence Amendment, designed to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the national health organization that provides, among other reproductive health services, abortion. Currently, none of the federal dollars the organization receives go toward abortions. But many pro-life supporters argue that taxpayer funds shouldn’t support an organization that performs any abortions.
In Seminole, Pinellas NOW members mixed their voices with protesters allied with Planned Parenthood. They circled within an oblong space, marked out with orange cones.
“Women need family planning!” they repeated. “America needs family planning.”
One protester held a handmade sign that read, “ I can’t believe we still have to protest this.”
The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States, according to its website. Definitively, the group advocates for female equality and has been known to actively participate in politics on issues that directly relate to women.
Locally, members of the national organization meet in several potential groups: the West Pinellas chapter as well as chapters for Tampa and Pasco County. Pinellas NOW meets in Pinellas Park, on the fourth Wednesday of every month, 7 p.m., at the Girls Inc. building, 7700 61st St. N., after the much younger girl empowerment group has gone home for the day.
The group draws members from St. Petersburg to Palm Harbor. And, despite their later protests, the majority of their February meeting was spent discussing less politicized issues.
President Linda Darin has some good news to share: the group has been offered $5,000, no strings attached, to be spent on something related to women’s issues.
“But I don’t want to take money just to take money,” she prefaced, before opening the issue up to debate. “I want to have a purpose for the money.”
The group considers paper fans, bookmarks and water bottles sporting the organization’s logo
“We really need NOW rounds,” said Maderia Beach resident Marilyn Hafling, referring to the circle-shaped posters that fit the organization’s logo. “Some of ours go back to the ’70s. They’re vintage.”
They talked about setting up scholarships for those who can’t afford membership dues or to attend the upcoming national conference, held this June in Tampa. The group is excited to have the conference so close to home this year.
“It really is an opportunity to hear top feminists,” Ruth Whitney of St. Petersburg explained.
The group considered whether to invest the money into education, with a scholarship for those majoring in women’s studies or with microloans to help students buy books in time for the first day of class.
“I’d like to really do some studies and think how to make some real concrete change,” Whitney said.
Darin emphasized the need for a committee of three or four to follow through with whatever end purpose to which the group decides.
“Everybody’s got good ideas, but then it comes time to implement them and everybody’s busy,” she cautioned.
The meeting has attracted members of varying ages, from retirees to college students. One older meeting attendee, who called herself a moderate feminist, said she merely wanted to check and see how the group might have changed since her day.
Later in the meeting, members from the younger end of the spectrum announced the group’s new media outreach tool: a Twitter account in the PinellasNOW name. Passing her phone around the room, Carrie Stiers of Dunedin gave an impromptu tutorial of the tool, explaining that she’s introduced the new account to other NOW chapters.
“It’s interesting. We have a small presence on Twitter,” she said. “Lord knows there’s a lot of anti-feminists; they have a huge presence on Twitter.”
“We applaud you for doing this,” Jelricky said, to the nods of several other members, intrigued by a new way to reach the next generation of feminists.
“We’re trying to attract younger people,” Darin said later. “It’s the young women that need to step up or they’re going to need to fight for their rights all over again.”
Prompted by their setting, the conversation turns to a video Girls Inc. completed over the summer, questioning the appropriateness of an adult-theme billboard on 66th Street, now replaced by a new business. The meeting diverged into debates on the concept of appropriate dress for women, whether defining “appropriate” is restrictive in and of itself and if the reason why a woman chooses her outfit plays into whether she defies the male stereotype for her, or rejects it.
Somewhere, a member brought up the League of Women Voters, another national, woman-based organization, seemingly close in purpose, but very different in stance and execution. For one, the league makes a point to only educate citizens on good government practices and political issues they consider important. They specifically avoid aligning themselves with a political party or candidate.
NOW is very political, the group agreed, even going so far as to remind members that they can donate to the state-based NOW political action committee, and support specific candidates as a group.
“We’re very much an advocate for women,” Whitney said. “We’re more than some organization for women. We are an organization for change, so the world is more equal to women.”