NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The president of the National Organization for Women declared a "state of emergency" for women's rights and planned a march on the state Capitol as news of Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement reverberated through the group's annual convention.
NOW president Kim Gandy told about 800 NOW members Friday that women need to send a message that they won't tolerate "extremist" judges who set back women's rights.
"This is our time. This is our challenge," Gandy said as the crowd replied by clapping and chanting, "Hell no, we won't go" and "We won't go back."
The group shifted the agenda for their three-day convention to include a march to the Tennessee Capitol on Saturday to "make sure Senator Frist and all senators are going to hear our voices. We're going to march on every Capitol in this country," Gandy said.
The first woman on the Supreme Court, O'Connor was often the swing vote on 5-4 decisions supporting abortion, affirmative action and other contentious social issues. Her retirement leaves Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only woman on the court.
Gandy and former NOW president Eleanor Smeal, now president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, praised O'Connor as a moderate.
"Twenty-four years ago, as president of the National Organization for Women, I testified for Sandra Day O'Connor before the Senate Judiciary Committee," Smeal said. "I knew then that O'Connor, although a conservative voice, would be one who would not permit the elimination of women's fundamental rights, including the right to privacy."
Gandy said the group fears "a nominee along the lines of some of the extremist judges that have been put on the appellate court by George Bush."
NOW members are set to elect their president Saturday night. Gandy, elected in 2001, is being challenged by Rosemary J. Dempsey, a Connecticut lawyer who's held several national and state leadership roles since joining NOW in 1970.
Dempsey wants to focus on attracting younger members and opposing President Bush's economic agenda, which she says inflicts disproportionate harm on women.
"We were effective in the 70s, and we're effective now," Dempsey said. "But there has been a backlash. Most young women don't know about NOW these days. If NOW is visible and relevant where they (young members) live, that's what makes NOW powerful."
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