2 women's groups set agendas at separate conferences here


Two Maryland women's advocacy groups picked the sam day for a convention yesterday -- competing not only with each other, but with a sunny May Day.

The Maryland Commission for Women, meeting at Morgan State University, and Maryland's National Organization for Women (NOW), meeting at the University of Baltimore, drew about 150 to people apiece to their annual conferences.

But that didn't dismay them, said Deborah Davis, a vice president of the Baltimore chapter of NOW.

"Oh, no. It just means, 'Maryland Look Out.' Women are here," Ms. Davis said. "It shows you how much is happening, that there are two major groups."

The state commission set priorities for legislation next year on four areas: women's health; domestic violence; equality in education, and workplace issues such as sexual harassment and equal pay for equal work, said a very hoarse Phyllis B. Trickett, who chairs the commission.

The NOW convention included a variety of workshops, vendors, petitions, a silent auction of about two dozen items from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Tyler, Robin Morgan, Chris Everett and Gloria Steinem, and a speech by Del. Salima Siler Marriott, D-40, Baltimore City.

"There are just soooo many things for women to explore and soooo many challenges confronting us," Ms. Marriott told the group. The Clinton administration is still from the more conservative side of the political spectrum, she said, and there is no reason for complacency.

"We have to get beyond [the thinking that] we are lesser because we are women, because we are African-American, because we live in poverty, because we are gay or lesbian," she said. "We must have coalition-building."

Members of coalitions have to put aside race, class and gender to fight urban abandonment, the shift of jobs to exploited foreign workers, and a whole range of social and economic inequalities in society, she said.

Although the speech drew warm applause, the black delegate's warning about "social polarization" by race or class raised questions from some white women in the audience, who denied ever feeling superior because of race, and two Hispanics who said Ms. Marriott had left them out in speaking of African-Americans.

Sighing patiently, Ms. Marriott reminded these questioners that she was talking about all people of color, and of a subconscious need to feel superior to someone, which might make a woman who has been demeaned seek solace in being white.

In a workshop on lobbying, Kathy Nieberding Ryan, NOW's legislative lobbyist, urged everyone to write once -- or at least to telephone -- their representatives in Annapolis.

"I challenge you to do at least that," she told the group. "Then write a letter to the editor. You see very few dealing with issues of concern to women of Maryland.

"Remember, there are more of us out there," she said. "I know everyone's busy, but take the time. And do remember to thank the ones who do vote for an issue, because they get a lot of grief for being 'feminist' legislators."

Above all she said to remember, "You hire them; you fire them."

Similarly, at a workshop on the media, Baltimore disc jockey Lisa Simeone urged the men and women in the group to call talk shows and to object to offensive treatment of women, because "their only concern is to sell advertising space."

PTC NOW also nominated officers, said Morgan Allyn, media coordinator for the conference, and set legislative priorities for 1994.

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