In interviews with The Daily Beast, nearly a dozen members, employees, and visitors recalled women of color being heckled, silenced, or openly disparaged at NOW meetings and offices. The behavior culminated at the 2017 conference where, witnesses say, members dismissed Fortson-Washington, a black woman, as “angry” and entitled, and accused Weeks of being a “hot-headed Latina.” On the last day of the conference, more than a dozen women marched around a conference room to protest racism inside the organization.
But the problem didn’t stop there. Internal emails, documents and interviews obtained by the Daily Beast reveal that allegations of racism reached the highest levels of the organization after Weeks and Fortson-Washington’s loss. More than a dozen employees at the national headquarters signed onto a letter accusing President Toni Van Pelt of sidelining and disparaging women of color, and the previous vice president has filed a federal racial discrimination suit.
“I am a black woman, I have experienced racism,” one former employee told The Daily Beast. “But what happened there… I have never experienced that before.”
Shortly after The Daily Beast reached out for comment, Van Pelt sent an email to all NOW Board members, state presidents, staff and PAC members apologizing for any hurt she had caused and committing to five action items to improve racial justice within the organization.