Feminist leaders and activists rallied in Tennessee over the weekend declaring a state of emergency for women’s rights with the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In the midst of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) national conference, the announcement of O’Connor’s resignation changed the agenda dramatically.
Activists marched on the Tennessee state capitol, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-TN) home territory, chanting, “We Won’t Go Back” and “Keep Abortion and Birth Control Legal.” Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said, “We have to raise such a loud voice that Senator Bill Frist hears it. We have to make sure that this majority leader knows he cannot turn back the clock on women’s rights.” NOW President Kim Gandy, who was reelected by a 2-1 margin on Saturday, said that “Sandra Day O’Connor broke down barriers for women as the first female Supreme Court justice—and George W. Bush will try to replace her with a hard-right extremist justice who will put those barriers up again.”
At the rally, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, a former US Senator and 2004 presidential candidate, told the crowd that “Ronald Reagan gave us Sandra Day O’Connor and she became a moderate that kept balance in the courts. George Bush can do no less. We demand no less. Never underestimate the power of a woman.” O’Connor was the critical fifth vote in support of affirmative action and abortion rights.
Rally speakers included Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers and a Feminist Majority board member, who rallied the crowd chanting, “Si se Puede, Yes We Can” demand that President Bush nominate a judge who will uphold women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights. Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, joined with the other national leaders in calling for a woman nominee. Alicia Daly, associate publisher of Ms. magazine, and Allendra Letsome, a member of NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force, spoke about what younger women have at stake in the fight over the Supreme Court. “This is our generation’s fight,” said Daly. “We grew up with Roe v. Wade. We are not going to stand back and let these rights be taken away from us.”