Taking action

Chelsea Del Rio

Photo By Larry Dalton

When Sandra Day O’Connor announced her resignation from the Supreme Court, it was a disappointing day for the National Organization for Women (NOW). Still, the blow wasn’t unexpected, and the members of NOW were quick to react, using their Web site to post background information on potential nominees. Then, John Roberts’ nomination was announced, and the members of NOW moved into action. On a local level, Chelsea Del Rio, president of the Sacramento chapter of NOW, and other like-minded folks took to the streets, educating the public about what was at stake. As president, Del Rio oversees any actions taken on a local level. It’s her job to look to the future and to determine what actions need to be taken today. We caught up with Del Rio to find out what it will mean if Roberts is confirmed, what’s on this year’s agenda and what it means to be an activist. For more information about Sacramento NOW, contact sacnowfeminists@yahoo.com.

Is being the president of Sacramento NOW your day job?

No, it’s volunteer. I have a day job. I’m a social worker, a case manager for a nonprofit organization that provides subsidized child care for low-income families.

What issues are on NOW’s agenda for the upcoming year?

We have three key issues that we’re working on this year. We meet at the beginning of each year to decide what we should focus on. This year, we decided, based on the current political climate, that we’d be working on reproductive rights. Right now we’re focusing on Proposition 73, which is the parental-notification initiative. Marriage equality is another one of our key issues. Our third is conscientious consumerism—that’s what we titled it. The main focus is to put together a liberal shopping guide for Sacramento. We want to be able to support the businesses that support us. We want to figure out what the local businesses support, what their hiring practices are and their environmental concerns—things like that.

Can you tell us more about Proposition 73?

It’s a state initiative that will be on the special election in November. It would actually amend the constitution to prohibit abortion for minors until 48 hours after their parents are notified. It’s something that California NOW has taken a stand against, and chapters, at the local level, are working against it as well. Across the state, California NOW has partnered with Planned Parenthood and other statewide and national organizations to oppose it. As it is now, in California, minors have the right to access an abortion without parental notification. And, in states where it has been passed, it’s led to incidents of teens putting themselves in dangerous situations to access abortion. There also have been a couple of instances of boyfriends beating on a girlfriend to try to get her to miscarry. So, there definitely are examples of it leading to unsafe situations for teens.

If John Roberts is confirmed, what will that mean for Roe v. Wade?

Well, we’ve been having this discussion about the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, and the majority of the country supports a woman’s right to access an abortion. I believe it’s 65 percent. So, I don’t know that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe. I think what’s much more likely, and this is a trend that we’re seeing, is that they’re just hacking away at it so much that it’s going to be almost impossible to access it. So, Roe won’t really mean anything. What we’re seeing are issues like the so-called partial-birth-abortion ban, parental notification and things like this. … As it is, 87 percent of counties don’t have abortion providers. Add on top of that a waiting period for teens, and states being allowed to place other restrictions on abortion, and it doesn’t really help women at all. … Roberts has said that he believes Roe was wrongly decided and should be overturned. So, he’s already voiced opposition to it.

Is the word “feminism” still viewed as a dirty word?

I think it depends on the situation you’re in, the crowd that you’re in. Obviously, in the community of activists that I’m in, it’s something to be proud of. I think it definitely carries negative connotations depending on who you talk to. I actually just met with some delegates from Indonesia, and we had a conversation about feminism and women in politics and in the workplace. At the end of the interview, a man asked if I was a feminist, and I said, “Absolutely.” He looked at me and said, “Isn’t that discrimination? Aren’t you doing the same thing against men?” And I said, “As a feminist, you basically want equality for all people.” And then I said, “Men can be feminists.” He looked at me like I was crazy. I think there are still negative connotations left over from the backlash against feminism in the ‘80s. As long as you support equality, I don’t think it matters what you call yourself.

What do you get out of volunteering for NOW?

It’s something that I’m passionate about. … For me, I don’t understand how you could not be doing something if you feel strongly about something. We have this conversation about how there is something innate in an activist that makes them be an activist. You have no option. It’s been difficult with President Bush being re-elected and Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected. It feels like there’ve been a lot of defeats. But there’ve been victories here and there, and you can’t stop fighting, because then they win.