Furious that the National Organization for Women has yet to remove President Toni Van Pelt over allegations of racism, a group of state chapter leaders have started a social media campaign to push her out of office.
Over the month of July, the California NOW chapter is hosting Facebook live streams with 20 other state chapter leaders who will demand Van Pelt’s resignation and discuss their experiences with racism in the organization more broadly. The point of the campaign, California NOW president Kolieka Seigel said in a recent broadcast, is to “address systemic racism within our own ranks, to uplift the experiences of women of color and to collectively tell our story.”
“This is about state and grassroots leadership beginning to hold ourselves and our organization accountable and charting a path forward, ” she said, adding that the chapters are also calling for an oversight committee to monitor the leadership and for a revision of NOW’s bylaws.
Six chapters, including Washington state, Florida, Minnesota and Nevada, have already posted videos, and Seigel told The Daily Beast that the remaining 15 chapters will post theirs before the month’s end. Twenty-five of the organization’s 36 chapter presidents have also signed onto a letter to the NOW board demanding Van Pelt step down or be removed.
The campaign comes after a Daily Beast investigation revealed dozens of allegations of racism within the iconic feminist group, from the state chapters all the way to the national organization. Among other things, former employees accused Van Pelt of sidelining and disparaging women of color, including by telling them, “I don’t care about your opinion.” Both her previous vice president, a Native American woman, and her current vice president, a Black woman, have accused her of discrimination.
In a statement last month, Van Pelt told The Daily Beast that she understood it was “critical to acknowledge my own privilege and strive to be a better ally.”
“As the leader of NOW, and a leader within the intersectional feminist movement, I must hold myself and our organization accountable to do more,” she said. (NOW did not respond to a request for comment on the latest campaign.)
Many of the organization’s leaders were not satisfied by the response. In addition to the state chapter presidents, nine national board members signed into a letter asking Van Pelt to resign. After a vote to remove her failed to go forward, the entire D.C. NOW board resigned their positions. On Friday, the executive board of the NOW Twin Cities chapter also resigned en masse.
“Instead of acting swiftly to condemn and weed out racism and transphobia within NOW, much of the organization has worked to protect and defend this leadership,” the executive board wrote in a letter announcing their departure. “It is now clear that the problems within NOW are systemic and that the institution as a whole is unwilling to do the work to change.”
In the livestreamed videos, chapter leaders described why they signed onto the letter demanding Van Pelt’s resignation. Jerri Burton, the Nevada state chapter president and a national board member, said her chapter signed on after hearing complaints from members and from political candidates they had endorsed. Marquita Anderson of Minnesota NOW said her board decided Van Pelt’s behavior was “unacceptable” after reading a 22-page complaint signed by 15 former NOW staffers.
“Here in Minnesota we believe that feminism is intersectional, and if one of those pieces is falling off, you’re really not qualified to lead a feminist organization,” she said.
Van Pelt has shown no signs of stepping aside, and the national board would need at least two more votes to forcibly remove her. But Victoria Steele, an Arizona state senator and one of the nine board members calling on the president to resign, told The Daily Beast they would not stop fighting until she was gone.
“For God's sake, we’re a women’s group,” she said. “We’re a feminist organization. Why should we have to scream this loud?”