Four Democratic candidates for president made their pitches to a room packed with feminist activists on Friday night at the annual conference of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, US Representative Dennis Kucinich (OH), and Reverend Al Sharpton gave brief prepared remarks at the beginning and end of the forum, facing questions about politics and policy from veteran journalists Helen Thomas, Eleanor Clift of Newsweek, and Kathy Gambrell of UPI in between. Comedian and longtime progressive Elayne Boosler and NOW President Kim Gandy moderated the forum, and presented questions submitted by conference attendees.
The candidates focused on issues important to women. Kucinich argued for universal day care, health care, and higher education. Dean urged men to take responsibility for talking about domestic violence. Sharpton called for constitutional amendments guaranteeing the rights to voting, health care, and education. Braun emphasized that the time has come for a woman president, noting that New Zealand, the country to which she was US Ambassador, is on its second woman prime minister. “It’s time to take the ‘Men Only’ sign off the White House,” said Braun.
Senator John Kerry (MA) and Senator John Edwards (NC) were unable to attend, but both sent their apologies. Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, was available for questions after the forum. Boosler noted the absence of candidates Senator Joe Lieberman (CT) and US Representative Richard Gephardt (MO). Fellow candidate Senator Bob Graham of Florida was also absent. Lieberman and Gephardt, along with Kucinich, also failed to attend the candidates’ forum at the NAACP’s annual conference, happening this week in Miami.
In addition to presidential candidates, NOW’s conference featured feminist leaders from all over the country, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who, along with activists like Third Wave co-founder Rebecca Walker and NOW Vice President Olga Vives, participated in a plenary session on leadership in the 21st century. The three-day conference, titled “The Drive for Equality,” provided attendees the opportunity to meet women leaders from all levels of government, develop their political skills, and connect with other feminists from around the nation.