As I entered the hotel, a reporter was asking a woman how feminism had changed over the years. I attended the National Organization for Women's national convention in Albuquerque last week to answer that question for myself.

The next day's newspaper headlines shot back one answer: DeBaca County may elect the state's first female sheriff since the 1960s. And she's gay, but that hasn't been an issue in her campaign.

More answers: The Supreme Court ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics is unconstitutional. The Supremes themselves have a 100-foot buffer zone. They also decided that the beliefs of a corporation, Hobby Lobby, are more important than a woman's need for contraception.

"There are three things we can do," said President Terry O'Neill, "vote, vote, vote."

I've been a NOW member for decades but never attend events. Many of us think we're doing our bit through career choices, voting, and raising strong daughters and open-minded sons. Still, this was an opportunity to tune back in.

What do a bunch of feminists look like? Well, like women anywhere else. Some used walkers, and some used iPads; some dressed fashionably, some not; faces came in shades from brown to white. In fact, that was the theme: "Faces of Feminism: Strength in Diversity."

NOW itself has been the face of the feminist movement since 1966. Its bedrock issues are unchanged – workplace equality, equal opportunity, reproductive freedom, domestic violence – but it has added a few new causes – infant mortality and transgender equality – and embraces a wealth of related groups.

Here are a few comments:

• "Eight in ten Latinos would support a loved one who needed an abortion," said Kimberly Inez McGuire, of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. "Historically the Choice movement hasn't spoken to Latinos in a way we relate with."

• "Asian Pacific women and girls are the secret weapon in the movement," said Miriam Yeung, of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

• "Gender-based violence is the most widespread violence on the globe," said New Mexican Adelita Medina, of Alianza-National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. "We can't continue to view domestic violence as a women's issue. Men need to do their share to stop the violence. They need to confront their fathers, brothers, and drinking buddies."

• "Over 100 years ago, Mary Church Terrell spoke to the why of the movement: The nation was deprived of the excellent service women might provide," said former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

The beating heart of NOW is still politics.

Former NOW President Patricia Ireland described the failed campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. Analysis afterward showed that in state legislatures, all women and all people of color had voted for the amendment. "There were just not enough of us. We decided to stop begging men in power for our rights and to become the people in power."

She now looks to a "rising electorate" of unmarried women and people of color, who will be the majority by 2018.

That's not just rhetoric. UNM Professor Christine Sierra said women are the majority of voters, Hispanic women have a higher voter turnout than Hispanic men, and African-American voter turnouts have surpassed that of white voters. We've known for some time that whites are becoming a minority and that young people have different values than their elders.

"If the Republican Party wants to stay in existence, it needs to start reaching out," Sierra said.

Braun described a time in the Senate Finance Committee when she stopped an effort to add a 20 percent co-pay on mammograms. The men proposing it hadn't considered, until she pointed it out, that it would be a tax on women's healthcare.

"Women must be in the room," she said.

 

Sherry Robinson is a New Mexico journalist who began her career in 1976 and has served as assistant business editor and columnist with the Albuquerque Journal, editor of New Mexico Business Weekly and business editor of the Albuquerque Tribune.