Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, spoke to about 130 GW students Wednesday night to rally support for an April feminist rally and address the role of student activism in combating President George W. Bush’s administration.
Ireland encouraged students to organize to protect women’s rights to safe abortions.
“We need to cause movement because the progress we’ve made is not irreversible,” she said. “We can’t assume that because we have rights to birth control now that they can’t be reversed. This is a scary time – we’re holding onto abortion rights by the skin of our teeth.”
Ireland told students not to be discouraged and to realize the power they have to change government and society.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that you’ll be turning history,” she said. “There’s a wonderful sense of being a part of a movement, and you all have a role to play.”
Ireland told students to recognize the progress that has already been made and to gain strength from past movements.
The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, International Socialist Organization, College Democrats and other progressive groups on campus sponsored the event.
Ireland is speaking at other college campuses including Georgetown, Yale, Rutgers and Tufts universities to promote the Emergency March to Save Women’s Lives April 22, NOW Campus Organizer Catherine Bitney said.
Ireland recently began her tour of college campuses and has been greeted with different reactions from student bodies, Bitney said.
“We are aiming a lot of organization at campuses because there is a growing activism there,” Ireland said.
Ireland said she hoped students would come away from the event wanting to get active and join the march, but also come away with an understanding that they have incredible power to affect change.
“Causing change can be doing something that is seemingly simple, but sometimes difficult,” she said. “If somebody tells a joke that is racist, sexist or makes fun of people with disabilities you can keep a straight face and start a discussion.”
Students said they were excited to hear Ireland speak.
“Bush and his administration have declared war on a women’s rights from day one, especially their right to choose,” said Jennifer Heitel, president of GW’s FMLA. “This is the start of a four-year campaign to bring feminism into the Congress and to stop Bush from taking away our rights.”
The FMLA is organizing a GW group to attend April’s march.
“I hope people walk away from this event with a greater understanding of what’s at stake and understanding that they need to take action and not let these atrocities occur,” Heitel said. “One way to do that is to come out and march on April 22nd.”
Ireland said students should march to show elected officials that there are growing numbers of people willing to fight back.
“We have to make Democratic senators find their spines,” Ireland said. “We must show them that this is a time where they better pay attention to us because we’re paying attention to them.”