“Evolve or Die!” The 2009 NOW Election

Nicolette Marie Guillou

Abstract


This case explores the 2009 National Organization for Women’s (NOW) presidential election between Terry O’Neill and Latifa Lyles. The candidates positioned themselves as the solution for NOW’s flagging membership and relevance within the women’s movement. O’Neill appealed to second-wave feminists with her “in-the-streets,” outsider strategies. Conversely, Lyles drew support from young feminists who sought to integrate feminism into mainstream domains. This polarization intensified when rumors of NOW’s organizational mismanagement and fiscal instability circulated among members, exacerbating existing antagonisms regarding inter-generational feminism and NOW’s decision to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Such pressures molded this election into a highly personal battle to claim the future of NOW. The 2009 contest between Lyles and O’Neill illuminated the traditional orientations and dichotomies that public discourse uses to classify and divide women, and illustrated the difficulties of leadership transition within an organization. This election presented a crossroads for NOW and posed the challenge of synchronizing organizational needs with those of the larger movement it serves.

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