A woman running for president. A renewed debate over abortion rights. A U.S. Supreme Court case over equal pay. East Valley feminists say these events indicate a political climate ripe for activism.
Now, they’re joining hands to address the issues by revitalizing the East Valley chapter of the National Organization for Women. While some of the organizers have been feminists since the 1960s, others say they are just now discovering a relationship with feminism.
Pam Kazmaier of Mesa was a housewife for 25 years, during which she was “asleep” to feminist causes, she said.
“I had stopped asking myself what my favorite color was and what my favorite food was. I was cooking all meat and potatoes for (the family). I was going along and always being the peacemaker,” she said. “I decided to find out what would make me happy? What did I need to do? What have I given up too much of?”
She began to change. She found outside employment and started reading feminist books by authors like Gloria Steinem. She decorated her office with feminist bumper stickers that she bought at a NOW conference with sayings like, “Behind every successful woman is herself.”
“I’m 53. I’m an older woman, joining a new chapter,” Kazmaier said. “I want young women to have the choices I had in the ’70s, and I worry about them losing them. We’ve got to talk about abortion rights. I want to make sure this right wing that has gotten into our Supreme Court doesn’t take those rights away.”
Preserving the rights of women for the future generation is a sentiment shared by many women.
Formally, the East Valley NOW chapter has existed for years. It used to be strong, but dwindling participation left it completely inactive during the past three years, said Tempe resident Andrea Giunta, the chapter’s recently elected president.
That’s when a few women decided to step in and rekindle it.
There are a few changes — like location, said Karen Van Hooft of Scottsdale.
Before, the chapter was based around Arizona State University’s campus in Tempe, she said. Now, it’s moved further east to Mesa to be more convenient for people living in the sprawling eastern stretches of the Valley.
The leadership also wants to work on attracting a more diverse group, including younger women.
“We need to build a group of people to carry on the movement,” said Van Hooft, who also sits on NOW’s national board. “If we’re going to keep moving forward on women’s issues, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve got to bring in younger folks. They bring energy and different perspective of things.”
Giunta said she hopes the upcoming presidential election will inspire more people to get involved.
“I want to take a political focus,” she said. “Since 2008 is a major election year, hopefully, we could make some impact to improve things for women here in Arizona, and especially in the East Valley.”
She thinks the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., — who was endorsed by the national organization — will lead more women to get involved.
“Women who aren’t in those leadership positions see that and lend their support,” she said. “Women tend to, as a rule, get more politically active when they see a woman in a leadership position who is advocating for them.”
There are some 75 registered NOW members living in the East Valley, and Giunta wants them to be involved. Just a dozen women came to last month’s meeting at the Mesa Public Library, where they discussed becoming “e-activists,” as well as how to recruit more members.
Giunta said she knows it will take awhile to grow the chapter, but she’s aiming to accomplish that by next spring, when the group will host the state NOW conference.
“It took 72 years to get the right to vote in this country — a lifetime. Historically, that’s what it has taken us to make gains to improve the quality of life for women,” Giunta said. “So, you know, luckily for us, we don’t give up.”