Social Media and Issues Survey


Since we’re gathering this weekend, we thought we’d use this moment to ask you:

How do you want to engage with us? What issues are most important to you? What do you think about our social media strategies?

This survey takes about 5 minutes to fill out. Please, let us know what you’re thinking!

#VaYFCon2015 on a buget? Read on and join us!!

The Details :: Come for Free

First Come First Served 

For College/Graduate attendees on tight budgets:
3 rooms are available for free Friday andSaturday night to young feminists who need them. Rooms accommodate up to 4 guests.
10 conference registrations are available for free.
To register, please email Simone at to get your name on the sponsorship list. I will get your request recorded. Then, register at the link on the left, and mark Pay At The Door for payment. When the 10 registrations are taken, I will send another email with that announcement.
For the hotel rooms, email Simone at with your request. I will get your message to our president forthwith. Same here. When then hotel rooms are all taken, I let you know.
Announcements will also be made on our blog and other social media.
Again, you may register for one day, or two, or the whole conference. But register. We need Saturday lunch orders and a chair count!
Other fees can be found at the registration page, here. Full details at the webpage, here.
VA NOW is thankful for the members who donated these sponsorships. Your support for new generations of dedicated feminists is a great inspiration!!!
Come on over — or down, or up — to Richmond. Come for the whole meeting, or just the day that most interests you.
 Young Feminist Conference Logo
For women!
Simone Roberts
VA NOW Web Editor / Historian / ERA Coordinator

Training and Management Resources for Our Chapters

Every nonprofit and advocacy organization needs training. We have staff who need to refresh their tech skills or messaging approach. We have new staff who need to their way around, and fast. At live long last, the progressive community has its very own nonprofit training and management organization: The New Organizing Institute (
I attended a two day training in graphic design with them. The training was great. Instructors always moved from objectives to instruction and through to hands-on practice. They offered loads of one-on-one as needed. It was an intense two days, and as a total novice with Photoshop and Illustrator I had to learn fast, but all trainees are given access to the presentation slides, so it’s easy to go in and refresh or practice more later. Totally a +1 in my book.

The trainors they invite are at the top of their game. At least, they were for this graphic design module. Jessica Teal of a was the head of design for the Obama ‘08 campaing. She did nearly the whole first day on design basics. Revolution Messaging went into the deeper mysteries of the software. They’ve worked for Ultraviolet, Senator Cory Booker,, Run Warren Run, Emily’s List, and Lady Parts Justice. So, you’re learning from people of that caliber.
They two registration levels for those who are gainfully employed, depending on the size of your organization: big $800, and small $550. Since VA NOW is all volunteer, I got a scholarship. and we paid a much smaller fee. Worth it. The staff there have to make to a living, and the presenters are serious pros. Also, they feed you breakfast and snacks, and are very into building community and networking — they want to get to know you and for you to get to know others.

They offer free online training modules in the Toolbox on a range of essential topics:

⦁ Organizing And Leadership
⦁ Online Organizing
⦁ Data Management
⦁ Van
⦁ Campaign Management
⦁ Voter Registration
⦁ Voter Contact
⦁ For Trainers
⦁ Organizing Your Career
⦁ Election Administration

So, if you want to expand your skill set, or that of your group or chapter, here’s a good place to look.

Also, more.

Here’s a great article from Social Anarchism on dealing with interpersonal friction in your organizations. It will happen, and we all need bright-new-world strategies for dealing with it.

Lots of tips and advice from Grant Space on managing your organization’s board (executives or officers) and membership.

Blue Avocado is a blog and newsletter full of useful topics for people who run or work for nonprofits.

This Pintrest board is full of fun and non-food fundraising and fun-raising ideas. Money does make a difference.

Idealware is just one of many companies that offer lots of useful softward to help your officers and staff do the work.

Frankly, there is a ton of free advice out there on the ‘net. Go find more of what you need.

The 1st Woman President Needs Equal Rights!!!

Dear Virginia,

Happy ERA Monday, and Happy Presidents Day!! It’s a double day, and I have a double request of you.

First: Del. Mark Cole holds an open house at his office tomorrow, Feb. 17. Activists will be present as the weather allows,
but snow can’t stop email, or phone calls!!!

Click here for a post with a great email for Chair Cole and his contact information. Tell him the ERA MUST BE PUT ON THE DOCKET and moved into the full Privileges and Elections Committee.

Please, send the same email to Speaker Howell.

This committee is heavily resistant. We must push hard this week! On the same post, you can contact the whole committee.

When pressed, their objections tend to crumble down to traditional and fundamentalist forms of sexism. Show them that’s the only reason they could refuse us our rights.

Feel some tweetage coming on? Yeah, me too.

To tweet the House: @VaHouse.
To tweet the House GOP: @vahousegop.
To tweet the Hosue Dems: @VAHouseDems.

1st Woman #POTUS deserves full #civilrights, #RatifyERA, SJ 216 on the P&E docket!!

(*)   (*)   (*)

Second, in honor of Presidents Day, I ask you for one more action.

The fundamental political difference between the first woman president and all the men before her is that she might not enjoy fully protected civil rights under the Constitution she will swear to defend and protect.

Clinton? Warren? … Clinton/Warren?
Warren/Clinton? President Seal
Who knows.

This week, let’s focus on the Senate.

Send them this email:
Email Page for Senator Warner
Email Page for Senator Kaine
Subject: Please Support Women’s Civil Rights, Lift the Deadline on Ratification

Dear Honorable Senator _______,

You serve with women who swear to protect and defend the Constitution, but are not fully protected by it. Our nation’s daughters have long risked their lives in our wars, but are not yet fully protected by that Constitution.

On this Presidents Day, consider: our next president could well be a woman — who still may not be fully invested with the civil rights enshrined in our laws.

This is an inconsistency that should not stand for one more year. This March when Senator Cardin offers a new resolution, please sign on to support it and then encourage your colleagues to do so — especially friendlier Republicans. Cardin aims for vigorous bi-partisan support.

Ratification of Equal Rights Amendment would accomplish one civil goal: it would mend the patchwork of laws that currently tack together the rag doll of women’s citizenship.

I urge you to join which would remove the historically aberrant and wholly arbitrary deadline on ratification.

Justices Scalia and Ginsberg agree on one thing: the 14th Amendment clearly applies only to “male citizens” and “male inhabitants” of the Republic. What “rights” women do have are only supported by laws and statutes — all of which can change given a hostile political wind.

Our nation’s women are caught in a stalemate. States wait for a signal from Congress, Congress for a signal from the states. Be first, lead, honor the nation’s women with fully established civil rights. Assure us that a future female president will not be so civilly vulneralby as women are today. Send the signal — it’s time for ratification. Lift the deadline.

Let the Constitution protect and defend our women as our women do the Constitution.

With my lasting gratitude for your service to our state and the nation,
Your Name
City, State

ERA Vote is Monday — Sample Email, 5 to Call NOW

Click here for the sample emails and contact info.

The Vote is Noon on Monday. We have very strong opposition, and we need this vote in order to move on to the House of Delegates — where we will need to double down.

Call today and Monday. Email and Tweet your hearts out over the weekend!

Thank you, Virginia!! For all the energy you have given, and all you will give. You are the ones we have been waiting for!

For women!

Simone Roberts, your friendly Web Editor, etc., etc., etc.

Legislative Update — Why and How to Make Virginia a Safer Place to Live

Consider the facts:

  • Murdered UVA student Hannah Graham might be alive if Virginia had stricter laws about reporting campus sexual assaults. The man charged with her abduction previously was accused of rape while a student at Liberty University and again later at Christopher Newport University. Authorities investigated the charges by authorities, but no charges were filed.
  • Gun and domestic violence are a lethal combination. Nationally, there are nearly 500 domestic gun violence deaths each year – more than twice the number of servicewomen killed since the Korean War.

What can we do to make Virginia safer for women? Two bills are before the General Assembly that could help prevent domestic violence gun murders and reduce campus sexual assaults. They are a bill on removing guns from convicted abusers and a bill on reporting campus sexual assault. It’s too soon to say if real progress will be made on either but some Republicans and most Democrats are showing interest–perhaps recognizing the importance of the women’s vote.

Want to do something about domestic violence and campus sexual assault? Meet with legislators during the Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance advocacy day Wednesday, January 28. Let high school and college students know about this opportunity to make a difference! Sign up here. 

Read on and let’s get to work! Thank you for all you do every day for equality, 

Marj Signer, VA NOW Legislative V-P

Guns and Domestic Violence: Legislation to prevent gun violence is difficult to pass (in fact, the trend is the reverse – the sensible law limiting handgun purchases to one a month was overturned by then-Gov. McDonnell) but there is a possibility of getting Republican support for a bill that would remove guns from those convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors – only for a limited period of time but that’s better than nothing.
Senator Barbara Favola’s bill – SB943 – would prohibit a person who has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking, assault and battery of a family or household member, or sexual battery from possessing or transporting a firearm. To placate those fearful of a criminal losing unfettered access to his guns, her bill includes a process for reinstating his right to possess or transport a firearm. Most Virginia Republicans (and a few Democrats) either want to make guns more accessible or oppose restrictions but limiting convicted abusers’ access to guns may be one thing that they will support.

Campus Sexual Assault: Mostly in response to the shock over the murder of Hannah Graham, legislators are considering steps to improve how campus assaults are handled. They held a two-hour committee hearing Friday afternoon to try to sort out the complex issues involved in reporting campus sexual assault.

Virginia NOW is backing HB1343, Democratic Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s bill, which would require that campus police forces and law-enforcement agencies notify the local Commonwealth’s attorney of any investigation involving felony criminal sexual assault on campus within 48 hours of beginning the investigation. This is a reasonable bill that would protect victims’ options about reporting while providing information to non-campus authorities. For full information, read Legislators discuss reporting requirements on sexual violence on campuses (The News and Advance), which is also excerpted below.

In other news, the Senate Republicans killed off this year’s minimum wage increase request (to increase the floor to $10.10 an hour over the next two-and-a-half years). This bill was a priority for VA NOW and for the new Women’s Equality Coalition because women make up a majority of low-wage workers in Virginia and it’s essential to close the pay gap and promote economic security. More states are moving to increase the minimum wage, though: 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimums above the federal floor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maybe Virginia will also decide to enter the 21st Century but not this year.

Legislators discuss reporting requirements on sexual violence on campuses 

By Alicia Petska | Friday, January 16, 2015, The News and Advance)

Legislators tried to untangle a complex web of federal laws governing colleges and reports of sexual violence Friday as they prepare to consider a stack of bills on the issue.College representatives were critical of proposals to create a mandatory reporting requirement that would compel them to report assaults to local prosecutors.

Not all victims want to file a criminal complaint and that should be respected, officials said.

“Survivors need to have voices, choices and control over what happens in their case,” said Christine Dennis Smith, who oversees counseling at the Virginia Tech Women’s Center.

Mandatory reporting may further traumatize a victim and deter others from seeking help, said representatives ranging from campus police to Title IX coordinators. Title IX is a federal law that, in part, requires colleges to conduct an administrative investigation of sexual assault reports.

Multiple bills dealing with sexual violence on campuses have been filed in the wake of growing public concern and last year’s killing of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. The man charged with her abduction, 32-year-old Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., also faces charges on a 2005 assault in Northern Virginia. He previously was accused of rape while a student at Liberty University and again later at Christopher Newport University. Those cases were investigated by authorities, but no charges were filed….

On Friday, state delegates convened a joint session of the House Courts of Justice and House Education committees and asked to hear from those who could help them better understand the current reporting process and legal standards under Title IX and the federal Clery Act. Several lawmakers acknowledged the importance of honoring a victim’s wishes, but said they felt an obligation to protect others from serial predators. That leaves them grappling with the question of how to address those sometimes opposing interests.

“The issue is about balancing individual autonomy and control versus a community’s interest in putting bad guys in jail,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville.

“When we start talking about autonomy and a person’s ability to maintain control over whether or not something gets reported, you’re potentially putting other people, other women, at risk by not reporting somebody who might do it again.”

…Cynthia Micklem, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond, said mandatory reporting doesn’t have to mean pushing a reluctant victim into a criminal case. “A well-informed and trained office is going to talk to the victim and allow the victim to still make decisions,” she said. “What mandatory reporting can do is notify law enforcement, someone outside the university, of what is occurring. Because right now, we have no way of knowing who these perpetrators are” even in cases of repeat offenders…..

Several lawmakers expressed interest in drafting a standardized script for college officials to ensure all victims are provided the same information and are adequately informed of their rights. … When some suggested it’d be difficult to write a script in time for the current General Assembly session, which ends in February, Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, said flatly, “We are going to write a script. The script will be written in two weeks. We would love to have your guidance, but something is going to happen.”

Come to Richmond for an up-close look at the legislative process. The League of Women Voters (LWV) Legislative Roundtable is held at 8:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning at the General Assembly Building and is an opportunity to hear legislators and advocacy organizations. Lobby days are held by individual organizations and coalitions and include:
  • The ERA coalition, 9:30 am Wednesday, January 21, directly after the LWV roundtable. Contact VA NOWPresident Diana Egozcue.
  • The Pro-Choice Coalition Day of Action, in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond, January 22, the Roe v. Wade anniversary. RSVP here.
  • The Health Care for All Virginians Coalition, January 28.This coalition advocates for expanding Medicaid for low-income Virginians.
  • The Sexual and Domestic Violence Action  Alliance advocacy day is Wednesday, January 28. Sign up here. 
  • VA NOW and League of Women Voters Women’s Lobby Day , Wednesday, February 4. Contact Marj at NOW for more information.

VA NOW’s Legislative Agenda for 2015

The 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly gets under way this afternoon and this is a quick preview of what’s in store for us.

Many great bills have been filed (see below) but both the Senate and the House of Delegates are controlled by Republicans who rarely support NOW priorities. So… even though the outlook for bills on women’s rights and equality isn’t the best its ever been, we can educate, dialogue and build bridges. Join us online or in Richmond. Contact legislative v-p Marj Signer.

Virginia NOW will follow bills relating to our women’s rights agenda throughout the session, report to you each Tuesday, and also let you know when to contact your delegate, senator or members of specific committees. You can read bills at the General Assembly site and at VPAP – the non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project. Please take a moment to be sure you have your delegate’s and senator’s contact information, which is here (type your address in the right corner). Want to know what your elected officials are up to? Click on his/her name under House listings and Senate listings.

While VA NOW is a founding member of the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition, we are pursuing support for these bills alongside our work with this distinguished group.

Come to Richmond for an up-close look at the legislative process. The League of Women Voters (LWV) Legislative Roundtable is held at 8:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning at the General Assembly Building and is an opportunity to hear legislators and advocacy organizations. Lobby days are held by individual organizations and coalitions and include:

  • The gun violence prevention coalition, Monday, January 19. Sign up here.
  • The ERA coalition, 9:30 am Wednesday, January 21, directly after the LWV roundtable. Contact VA NOW President Diana Egozcue.
  • The Pro-Choice Coalition Day of Action, in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond, January 22, the Roe v. Wade anniversary. RSVP here.
  • The Health Care for All Virginians CoalitionJanuary 28.This coalition advocates for expanding Medicaid for low-income Virginians.
  • VA NOW and League of Women Voters Women’s Lobby Day , Wednesday, February 4. Contact Marj at NOW for more information.

Important bills we’re supporting this session include:

Economic Equality

Minimum Wage –  Women make up a majority of low-wage workers in Virginia, and it’s essential to close the pay gap and promote economic security. Bills include HB 1512, introduced by Delegate Marcus Simon, HB 1654, Delegate Ken Plum, and SB 681, Senator David Marsden.

Equal Pay – Virginia women are still paid only 78 cents for every dollar paid to men and African American women and Latinas are paid even less. Several bills would increase the amount an employee can recover as damages for a violation of the existing requirement that employees receive equal pay for equal work irrespective of sex from double to triple the amount of wages withheld in violation of the requirement. Bills include SB 772, Senator Donald McEachin, and HB 1823, Delegate and NOW member Charniele Herring.

Health and Safety

Sexual Assault on Campus – Five Virginia universities (UVA, William & Mary, U of Richmond, JMU, VMI) are being investigated for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Several bills would establish reporting requirements for sexual assault on campuses and expand services for victims of assault. They are SB 734, Senators Richard Saslaw and Janet Howell; SB 712, Senator Richard Black; and HB 1343, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn.

Leave for Domestic Violence Victims – One in four women will experience domestic violence. HB 1945, introduced by Delegate Jennifer McClellan, would require employers to allow an employee to take domestic violence leave, with or without pay, if the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Advisory Committee on Sexual and Domestic Violence -HB 1954, introduced by Delegate McClellan, would establish a committee to advise and assist government entities on the prevention and reduction of domestic violence in Virginia and administration of grant funds.

Repeal of Mandatory Ultrasound Prior to an Abortion – SB 733, introduced by Senator Mamie Locke, and HB1524, introduced by Delegate Jeion Ward, would remove the medically unnecessary requirement that a woman undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion. SB920, introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton, would remove the specific mandated time frame of 24 hours prior to an abortion for the ultrasound (unless the woman lives at least 100 miles from the facility where the abortion is to be performed). There is no medical reason for the 24-hour delay and it constitutes harassment.

Breast-feeding – Delegate Dave Albo’s bill, HB1499, would allow a mother to breast-feed any place where she is lawfully present. Current law allows breast-feeding only on property owned, leased, or controlled by the Commonwealth.

Removing Firearms From A Person Convicted of Stalking, Domestic Sexual Assault –  Senator and NOW member Barbara Favola’s bill, SB 943, would prohibit a person who has been convicted of stalking, assault and battery of a family or household member, or sexual battery from possessing or transporting a firearm. The bill provides for a process for a reinstatement of his rights to possess or transport a firearm.

Stalking – HB1453, introduced by Delegate Jackson Miller, provides that a person who on more than one occasion engages in conduct directed at another person to coerce, intimidate, or harass, or when he knows or reasonably should know that the conduct coerces, intimidates, or harasses, the other person or the other person’s family or household member is guilty of stalking, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Civil and Human Rights

The Equal Rights Amendment – A top priority for NOW and our allies. HJ495, introduced by Delegate Scott Surovell, and SJ216, introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin, would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that was proposed by Congress in 1972. Learn more.

Human Trafficking, 21st Century Slavery

Virginia sadly ranks #6 among states in reported human trafficking cases. Northern Virginia is a hub of human trafficking due to Dulles International Airport and Route I-95 – but much trafficking is local, involving gangs and high school students. This is a bipartisan issue! Democratic Senator John Edwards’ bill, SB710, and Republican Delegate Timothy Hugo’s bill, HB 1964, would expand penalties for trafficking. Delegate Hugo and Republican Senator Mark Obenshain are also introducing a bill to create a stand-alone statute to address key gaps in Virginia law.Adoption – SB 679, introduced by Senator Janet Howell, would enable a person other than the spouse of a birth or adoptive parent to adopt a child if the child has only one parent. This is important to same-sex couples with a child.

Pregnancy Discrimination – HB 1449, introduced by Delegate Delores McQuinn, would prohibit an employer from discharging any employee on the basis of childbirth or related medical conditions, including lactation. Currently, this protection applies only to employers of more than 5 but fewer than 15 persons.

Nonpartisan Redistricting – Throughout Virginia, election outcomes have been rigged by gerrymandered districts. SB 824, introduced by Senator John C. Miller, would provide a process for a statewide referendum on an independent redistricting commission. The results would be advisory only, and the referendum would be held at the November 2015 general election.

NOW…let’s get to work! Thank you for reading this and for all you do every day for equality, 

Marj Signer 

VA NOW Legislative V-P

Announcing the Women’s Equality Coalition — 2015

Virginia NOW is proud and excited to be a founding member of the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition. This group of some of Virginia’s most active and powerful advocacy organizations will ask our members to raise your voices, and get your fingers moving to support legislation essential to all women and communities in the Commonwealth. Here’s what we’ll be working on:

The Virginia Women’s Equality Agenda

  1. Promoting women’s health and safety by repealing Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law, closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and ensuring that survivors of domestic violence are not driven into poverty.
  2. Advancing women’s economic opportunity by making sure women receive equal pay for equal work, a living wage to support their families, and paid sick days so they can care for themselves and their children.
  3. Protecting democratic participation by ensuring that Virginia women can cast their votes without unequal or undue barriers.

Are you ready to stand with us? Become a citizen co-sponsor of the 2015 Virginia Women’s Equality Agenda now!

Legislation to Achieve this Agenda

Women’s Health and Safety

  • Repeal the mandatory ultrasound statute (SB733 and HB1524)
    Health care decisions should be between a woman, her family, her doctor, her faith — or simply her own conscience — NOT politicians. Politicians
    should not interfere in private medical decisions.
  • Close the coverage gap (Included in Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments)
    For millions of women, Medicaid makes the difference between access to cancer screenings and birth control or going
    without. If Virginia fails to expand Medicaid, 112,642 women of reproductive age will fall into the coverage gap.
  • Protect birth control access (Not yet filed)
    The vast majority of women use birth control during their lifetime but more than a third has struggled to afford it. No
    one’s boss should be able to dictate her health care decisions.
  • Provide unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave their job (HB1430)
    Victims of domestic violence should have to suffer again from losing economic security.

Economic Opportunity

  • Ensure equal pay (SB772)
    Women deserve to be paid fairly. It’s that simple. Ensuring women are compensated fairly is a vital step in building a
    Virginia that works for everyone.
  • Expand access to paid sick days (Not yet filed)
    Everybody gets sick, but not everybody can afford to take time off to get better or care for a sick kid. Over one million
    Virginia workers don’t have a paid sick day. That means when they or a family member get sick, they have to choose
    between jeopardizing public health or risking their family’s economic security.
  • Raise the minimum wage (SB681)
    Women who work hard and play by the rules should be able to afford to live with dignity and raise a family. Six in 10 low
    wage workers are women and 300,000 kids live in a household that would see a income increase from raising the wage.
  • Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HJ495 and SJ216)
    Sex discrimination should get the highest level of strict judicial scrutiny, just as race discrimination does, but it currently
    receives only a heightened level of intermediate scrutiny. Only a federal ERA can provide the highest and broadest level of legal protection against sex discrimination. (See also Virginia ERA Network for our ratification focus.)
  • Democratic Participation
  • Establish no-fault in-person absentee voting (SB677)
    For many women, juggling work, school, and childcare to get to the polls on Election Day is simply too much. Expanding
    the opportunities to vote will expand women’s participation in our democracy and our ability to make our voices heard.
  • Ensure impartial election maps. Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. In too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged.




Your Story Can Keep VA’s Health Centers Open


In an effort to highlight the potential impact of health center closures due to TRAP, we are actively recruiting patients and impacted women to share their stories with us. Thus far, we have collected stories around a first visit to get birth control, cancer screenings that led to early diagnosis, and choosing a women’s health provider because it was a trusted place to go.

Ultimately, we want to make sure our stories are representative of the women across the Commonwealth and that Planned Parenthood/Abortion Rights Coalition have enough stories to pull from for Board of Health meetings, reporters, and the General Assembly.

To do that, we ask you to contribute your story. Or, ask a friend to contribute hers. There are many reasons women and families access these health centers. The Board of Health, the media, and our representatives need to be made unable to deny the quality and trusted care that women in Virginia will be denied if the Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers are allowed to take their full effect.

At this link you may write your story, state your levels of comfort concerning privacy and publication, and/or share a video of you telling your story.

We encourage you to share this post/email with your friends and colleagues who support choice, responsible family planning, healthy families and children, and access to reasonably priced health care. The Coalition is particularly interested in stories about sexual and reproductive health care.

Please, contribute and share.

For women,
Simone Roberts, Historian / ERA Coordinator
Virginia NOW

NSA Update: “Collect it all.”  

Some restrictions do apply.

About six months ago, I posted a long, long piece on the NSA and asked VA NOW members to contact their state and federal representatives to let them know that life in a surveillance state is not an American life. Since then, a few, little things, have changed for the better. However, that surveillance state is still intact.NSA Yes We Scan

 All oppressive authorities— political, religious, societal, parental— rely on this vital truth, using it as a principal tool to enforce orthodoxies, compel adherence, and quash dissent. It is in their interest to convey that nothing their subjects do will escape the knowledge of the authorities. Far more effectively than a police force, the deprivation of privacy will crush any temptation to deviate from rules and norms.*

Feminist activists do a great deal of dissenting and deviating. We dissent from the religious and culturally conservative agenda that is the current loudest defense of the age-old patriarchy and its values. We dissent from its enforcer, the rape culture. We dissent from those elements of capitalism that exhaust workers and families. We dissent from the classist assumption that basic good health is the province of the wealthy, and that the rest of us can just keep eating our corn-syrup infused everything, or just soda and chips. And many, many of us dissent vigorously from our government’s neo-conservative foreign policy, our sly expansion of empire, our
adventurous wars, and our combination of universal surveillance and extra-judicial killing of (anyone) American citizens. We dissent from a government that can, effectively, revoke our citizenship and maroon us in a no-woman’s land called Enemy Combatant from which country there is no known return.

Which means that, as feminists, we have a problem with the National Security Agency (and its partner agencies of HLS and cooperating internet companies) having the ability and the permission to observe us in ways that make our political associations and intentions manifestly clear before we even manifest them. This is what the collection of your meta-data means. With your meta-data, the NSA can tell who you called, when, and from all that figure out a lot about you.

 Listening in on a woman calling an abortion clinic might reveal nothing more than someone confirming an appointment with a generic-sounding establishment (“East Side Clinic” or “Dr. Jones’s office”). But the metadata would show far more than that: it would reveal the identity of those who were called. The same is true of calls to a dating service, a gay and lesbian center, a drug addiction clinic, an HIV specialist, or a suicide hotline. Metadata would likewise unmask a conversation between a human rights activist and an informant in a repressive regime, or a confidential source calling a journalist to reveal high-level wrongdoing.+

History has demonstrated again and again that just knowing that you live in a state that can record your life in this way, and threaten you with loss of citizen protections, cows most of the population into stupefied obedience and silences the most imaginative contributions to progress and human dignity. This kind of surveillance works, and works well, even if they never look at you. You begin to live and write and think as if they are looking at you, and you don’t want to be in that depth of trouble. Chapter 4 of No Place to Hide, from which I have been quoting, deals with this history, the methods of surveillance, and the normal psychological and behavioral responses humans have to them. They are dramatic.

 A prime justification for surveillance— that it’s for the benefit of the population— relies on projecting a view of the world that divides citizens into categories of good people and bad people. In that view, the authorities use their surveillance powers only against bad people, those who are “doing something wrong,” and only they have anything to fear from the invasion of their privacy. This is an old tactic. In a 1969 Time magazine article about Americans’ growing concerns over the US government’s surveillance powers, Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell , assured readers that “any citizen of the United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever.” **

Given the intense surveillance of civil rights and anti-war activists, we know that to have been a dead lie.

So, hurray!, the NSA has been ordered by Congress to stop collecting meta-data of phone calls made by and to US citizens. It’s the law.  This is a worthy revision to the powers granted by the PARIOT Act.

So it’s something, but it’s really nothing.

The UK newspaper, The Guardian (which has been challenging over-bearing governments for over 200 years), publishes most of the best work on the NSA because Glen Greenwald was a reporter with them when Edward Snowden contacted him. Two recent articles clarify the state of the surveillance state.

 By a substantial and bipartisan margin, 293 to 121, representatives moved to ban the NSA from searching warrantlessly through its troves of ostensibly foreign communications content for Americans’ data, the so-called “backdoor search” provision revealed in August by the Guardian thanks to leaks from Edward Snowden. ++nsa_inside

So, the NSA can’t look right at your meta-data, nor can it look at you just because you know someone who lives in Libiya.

But, it can still do even worse than that.

 But exactly one year on, the NSA’s greatest wound so far has been its PR difficulties. The agency, under public pressure, has divested itself of exactly one activity, the bulk collection of US phone data. Yet while the NSA will not itself continue to gather the data directly, the major post-Snowden legislative fix grants the agency wide berth in accessing and searching large volumes of phone records, and even wider latitude in collecting other kinds of data.

There are no other mandated reforms. President Obama in January added restrictions on the dissemination of non-Americans’ “personal information“, but that has not been codified in law. The coalition of large internet firms demanding greater safeguards around their customers’ email, browsing and search histories have received nothing from the government for their effort. A recent move to block the NSA from undermining commercial encryption and amassing a library of software vulnerabilities never received a legislative hearing. (Obama, in defiance of a government privacy board, permits the NSA to exploit some software flaws for national security purposes.) ***

The provisions that force software and internet companies to insert backdoors in their encryption and security systems (this includes your banking and health records), that even infiltrates anonymizers like Tor, yeah that’s still totally intact. NSA can still sneak around back that way, and with much less restriction than has recently been applied to your cell phone. These backdoors make your computer, and your bank, and our whole national security apparatus MORE VULNERABLE to malicious hackers because weakened encryption is weakened encryption. More deliberately, the NSA was aware of the Heartbleed bug, and used it to assist its own hacking operations for a couple of years.

You really do have to wonder about the ethical code driving this organization: collect it all, by any means necessary.

It’s change without change.

The NSA is still doing all manner of bulk surveillance of whole national populations. More the rule for over-riding this new restriction is as low as “reasonable suspicion” which is nothing near as strong as the “probable cause” that comes to mind when we think of “search and seizure.” As Greenwald puts it in No Place to Hide, let’s say your pizza deliverer is new immigrant to the US from a nation that harbors, or just can’t kick out, known terrorist groups or radical clerics. Say his mosque in the US is giving money to Boko Haram, but he doesn’t know that, and you don’t know that, and the NSA does. But, he gets lost on the way to your house and calls you from his cell phone for directions. Boom. You are now, and possibly forever, captured in the two-degrees net, the collection system just automatically logging your call activity for the foreseeable future. There is almost no way for you, innocent citizen, to know which of your business or social interactions might get you swept up in the data dragnet.

And, if any of that pattern is interpreted by an algorithm or a human to constitute “reasonable suspicion” that you are up to some kind of dissent/no-good, a warrant can be gained that allows the NSA to put a “tap” on your phones, your computer, and your computer’s or phone’s camera and microphones and use all that to observe you whether you are using the machines or not, and whether you turn the machines on or not. The NSA can – I am not making this up – turn your cameras on and watch and listen to you whenever they like once they have that warrant. The PowerPoint slides in Greenwald’s chapter 3 are fascinating.

But, you know, not to worry really. BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EVEN WORK (as a method of terror prevention, as advertised). CBS DC reported in January 2014 on a study by the New America Foundation that found:

 … the bulk collection methods used by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act appear to have played an identifiable role in, at most, 1.8 percent of the terrorism investigations.

 “Surveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group,” reads the report.


NROL-39 is a surveillance satellite.

The only result toward which this kind of surveillance is effective is to coerce as many people (on Earth) as possible to leave the status quo and the agendas of the elite and power    roll along without our pesky interference. So, Virginia NOW is asking you to keep these issues in mind. Check in with The Guardian from time to time. Their US edition has  devoted a whole department to the NSA. The Atlantic and Salon have also done some excellent original reporting on issues of security and surveillance.

We also ask that you consider, again, writing to your representatives. You can find their contact information on our Represent page (click here, scroll down). Writing your own letter, in your own words, is the most effective way to get the staff’s attention and get your opinion counted.

Only imagine this: a future in which a conservative as tenacious and aggressive and paranoid as Representative Issa or J. Edgar Hoover is the POTUS, and she or he decides that,  say, pro-choice organizations need to be observed more closely because liberals are notoriously tolerant of Muslims. Sadly, that is the level of reasoning many conservatives display lately. The level of reasoning that had the FBI watching Ernest Hemingway, a surveillance program that is now seen as helping to drive the Nobel Prize winner to suicide in 1969. Now imagine that a largely conservative Intelligence Committee agrees with that POTUS. Is that impossible? No, not at all. Is it the most American thing in the world to assure ourselves and future generations that it does not happen? Yes, yes it is.

Just this week, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the local police need a real, written, signed warrant to search your cell phone in the event of your arrest or suspicion. This decision, now this might eventually have some meaningful impact on surveillance. But, that is yet to be seen.

Feminism and feminists do mean to change the world in deep and permanent ways. The State is not fond of that idea, and will use both surveillance and force (as we saw with Occupy) to prevent it. Act up. Speak out.

Carry on, people!

Dr. Simone Roberts

Web Editor / Historian

Virginia NOW



*Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Kindle Locations 2346-2349). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

+Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Kindle Locations 2039-2043). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

**Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Kindle Locations 2492-2498). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

++ Ackerman, Spencer. House of Representatives moves to ban NSA’s ‘backdoor search’ provision, Friday 20 June 2014.

*** Ackerman, Spencer. Edward Snowden, a year on: reformers frustrated as NSA preserves its, Thursday 5 June 2014.

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