Two National Organization for Women board members say the group is retaliating against them and seven others for speaking up about racism within the iconic organization.
The nine board members—including all four women of color on the board—previously called for President Toni Van Pelt’s resignation after a Daily Beast investigation revealed widespread allegations of racism in the group’s chapters and national headquarters.
Now, according to board members Nina Ahmad and Victoria Steele, the whistleblowers are being subjected to an internal grievance process meant to keep them from speaking out.
“We refuse to be silent on this matter because to be silent is to be complicit and allow the cancer of racism to destroy our organization,” Ahmad said in a statement.
“We love this organization and are determined to save it and help it thrive,” she added. “With that, we are demanding the immediate removal of President Van Pelt so that NOW can begin to heal and tackle the systemic racism plaguing the organization.”
According to NOW’s bylaws, grievances can result in a permanent removal from the organization.
Steele, who is also an Arizona state senator, told The Daily Beast that the grievance filed last week accuses her and eight other board members of leaking confidential information to the press. But the real impetus behind the filing, she said, was “to shut us up.”
“There is a real strong push to keep us from speaking up, and we cannot be silent anymore,” she said.
“Where there’s this much smoke, there’s got to be a fire,” she added. “If we allow this to be silent then we’re complicit in racism.”
In addition to the nine board members, 24 of the organization's 36 state chapter presidents have signed onto a letter demanding Van Pelt’s resignation. Several chapters have also issued public statements on their own.
On Monday, the entire NOW Washington, D.C. board resigned their positions, saying Van Pelt and the executive board have “demonstrated a lack of leadership and accountability regarding a number of accusations of racist behavior.”
“As feminists, it is our responsibility to take action, hold others accountable, and fight for justice,” they wrote. “Instead, we see that the movement and our organization are being put on the back burner for one individual’s pride.”
The group’s head of college students, Grace Weber, also resigned her position in the wake of The Daily Beast's reporting.