This afternoon in the basement of a Lutheran Church one block from Capitol Hill, feminist groups hoping to block Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court met to organize their grassroots activists to “storm the Senate.”
Fortunately, that storm seems unlikely to generate enough gust to keep Alito from being confirmed.
The Feminist Majority Foundation, National Organization for Women and National Congress of Black Women have formed a new coalition.
Freedom Winter ’06
As a nod to Freedom Summer 1964, where students traveled to the South to register African-Americans to vote, the coalition is calling this effort Freedom Winter ’06, which, according to a press release, will mobilize students “to save women’s rights and civil rights.”
But judging from the organizational meeting, the entire movement consists of about 35 female college students.
The young women will be walking Senate halls during the next three weeks, but Summer Ferguson and Stephanie Longley, both attending Eastern Michigan University, said they had not met with any senators yet.
“Stabenow is in Michigan now. We’re hoping to get a meeting with her in her home office when we get back,” Ferguson said.
I asked them why they were targeting senators who were already likely to oppose Alito.
“We just want to make sure,” Ferguson said. Longley added, “Carl Levin voted for John Roberts. We want to make sure he is down with a ‘no’ vote on Alito.”
Neither of them knew of any confirmed meetings fellow volunteers had or have planned with senators.
At the basement meeting young women were organized in teams according to the location of the girls’ homes and colleges and “ground presence.” A Feminist Majority representative stood at the head of the room, in front of hand-drawn charts with team assignments.
Trying to ramp up their activists, who were busy checking their watches waiting for lunch to begin, she yelled: “Are you ready to storm the Senate?” She was answered with anxious laughter. She explained they were to go to lunch soon, walk Senate buildings at 3 p.m. and do phone-banking from 6 to 8 in the evening. One volunteer asked during a question-and-answer session why it was necessary to make calls during those times and if it was possible to rearrange schedules.
Feminist Queen Misleads Press
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal told reporters at a press conference earlier in the day the women were from “35 states who gave up their winter vacation to help block Alito’s confirmation because they don’t want to lose rights necessary for modern life.”
Students stood behind Smeal, filling camera space nodding as she spoke and serving as a photogenic background in college sweatshirts and hot pink liberal tees that said, “This is what a feminist looks like.”
But claiming the students were from 35 states seemed a little misleading. Ferguson and Longley told me although they both attended school in Michigan, their families were from Virginia and they were staying at home with them while they worked with Freedom Winter.
“We just drove in,” Ferguson said when I asked if plane tickets were provided for them. She said those who did not have lodging could get free housing if they needed. The girls also said the Feminist Majority Foundation would vouch that their winter volunteer work was considered an “internship.”
Smeal also assured reporters at her press conference the young volunteers working to defeat Alito over their winter vacations, were also highly active on their college campuses. But none of the girls I spoke with were linked with any national or state-based feminist chapters at their schools. “We’re trying to get a chapter together, but we don’t have any formal affiliation yet,” Longley said. She found out about the campaign through a mass e-mail she had signed up for, as had Ferguson.
Who Are You? Why Are You Here?
As I sat down in a church pew at the side of the room at the briefing session, which had just started as I walked in, I was quickly approached by Feminist Majority Foundation Deputy Director for Policy and Programs Norma Gattsek.
Curious that someone she did not recognize was present, she introduced herself and asked where I was from. I told her I was a reporter from Human Events and Gattsek said, “Oh– Tell me why I am drawing a blank. What is that?” I said that it was a conservative weekly based in Washington, D.C. She looked alarmed.
“How did you find out about this?” she asked.
I explained that I signed up for emails from her organization and asked if this was a non-public event. She said she thought it was and walked briskly to a group of organizers that included National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy and Smeal.
Immediately after the briefing session, the vice president of action at the National Organization for Women came to me as I was browsing feminist buttons and Ms. magazine.
She wanted to know who I worked for (again, I responded Human Events) and what that publication was (again, a conservative weekly publication based in D.C.). She wanted to know what I was working on and I said I was interested in the grassroots movement opposing Alito’s confirmation. Unhappy, but satisfied with that answer she wished me a good day and returned to her circle of officials.