In Part 1 – Accentuating the negative, we pointed out that our experience has been that Amy Siskind, far from encouraging a grassroots organization, is running The New Agenda in a hierarchical and elitist “top-down” manner. Rather than appealing to the intelligence of American women, she expects people to accept her agenda without doing any thinking for themselves. We also introduced a NOW 50 state membership drive for March.
In Part 2 – Lack of focus, we note The New Agenda seems to get some CNN interviews and quotes in local papers, but question the actual national membership and get-out-the-vote ability. We also pointed out inconsistency regarding sexism and misogyny which may not be attributed to partisan favoritism but to the same media pressure which Amy Siskind enjoys the light of so long as she obeys their rules.
In Part 3- Failure to make the most of members’ expertise and capabilities, we noted that the New Agenda’s failure to educate its members about issues on which it asks them to take action leaves TNA’s eligibility for a 501(c)(3) foundation — which must be educational (http://www.nowfoundation.org/) and non-political — in question. We also pointed out the lack of disclosure extends to a shortage of information about The New Agenda’s goals.
In Part 4– Lack of diversity in the faces and voices representing The New Agenda, a pattern of dictatorial elitism emerges. Without divulging the names of the innocent, we have uncovered the scope of Amy Siskind’s true agenda, which, like the Wizard of OZ, is drastically smaller than the thundering illusion of a grassroots feminist movement that she purports to want. Instead, her goal appears to be to rule and reign over a few. Betty Jean also has demonstrated firsthand knowledge of Siskind’s willingness to attack and defame anyone who dares to disagree with her.
In Part 5 we provided documentation and additional first hand testimony to substantiate our concerns about Amy Siskind and her behavior at The New Agenda. Sandbagging other women, censoring and deleting comments, and banning people who dare to disagree is certainly an unacceptable approach and we feel an honest and open confrontation is the better way to solve this problem than to continue with the censorship or having to endure the back biting techniques utilized to handle women she doesn’t respect.
Be assured that this series is NOT merely tearing down The New Agenda. On the contrary, the goal throughout has been to provide constructive criticism. This final post offers suggestions to deal with each of the five criticisms; we know how to fix problems as well as identify them. If TNA followed our suggestions, Amy Siskind no longer could have such a dictatorial control of it — the suggestions are simply incompatible with the style of leadership that she has demonstrated thus far. If TNA survives because the organization becomes more transparent, accountable and democratic, we will be happier than if it fails because of Siskind’s personal failings.
We wish TNA well, but given its current structure, we would advise women to devote their energies to NOW at the national and local levels. As Marcia Pappas has shown in her comments here, local NOW chapters have the capacity to be more responsive about matters of particular concern, and as was shown in NY NOW’s criticism of Sen. Kennedy’s Obama endorsement (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/01/29/womens-group-slams-kennedy-for-betrayal/), national NOW gives the local chapters leeway to dissent. Can you imagine Amy Siskind, who doesn’t even permit criticism in TNA’s blog comments, allowing a local chapter of TNA to take a position independent of her national agenda?
6) So how can The New Agenda get back to its roots?
1) Minimize the negativity. Instead of making vague insults about how a potential candidate only cares about her own self-interest, TNA should put a positive spotlight on those whom it believes merit consideration. Don’t take every pitfall of the Obama Administration as an opportunity to call for a man to resign and be replaced by a woman. Instead, put forward a slate of female candidates for each Cabinet position, so that the Cabinet Watch will serve a useful purpose in keeping the names of women with expertise in particular areas before the eyes of America. It could become a resource for corporations looking for directors on their boards, nonprofits seeking trustees, and political parties recruiting new faces for candidacies.
2) Keep asking for that list of “asks.” Which of The New Agenda’s goals have the most overlapping consensus support from its membership (not just from its leadership)? Those should be prominently featured and pushed in every available forum. If a Congressperson or aspiring politician has agreed to an online chat, ask what s/he is going to do about those top priorities for TNA.
3) Create a better library of information. While TNA lists a set of goals, it provides very little information about how it wants to achieve those goals, or even a detailed explanation of what the goals are. Relatedly…
4) Diversify who blogs and speaks for TNA. Recruit more people to do the CNN interviews and to post on the blog. In particular, putting in place resident mistresses of certain fields of knowledge – educational, legal, medical, scientific, financial, etc. – would make The New Agenda an extraordinary resource both for its members and for journalists looking for a well-informed quote. Have those experts back up TNA’s criticisms and recommendations with solid analysis. For example, Siskind herself has tremendous experience in finance, yet she hasn’t posted a substantive critique of Tim Geithner’s work as Secretary of the Treasury, even as many center-left media outlets have begun describing Geithner as not being up to the job. (Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, “Vote of No Confidence” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/11/AR2009021100922.html; John Judis in The New Republic, “End the Honeymoon” http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=5bff5e94-6fa6-4a69-9ff2-8f08cb437ccc ) Instead, The New Agenda suggested that Geithner’s tax problems — already canvassed in his Senate confirmation hearings — were a good reason for Obama to ask for his resignation (http://thenewagenda.net/media/press-releases/obama-gets-do-over-and-a-new-chance-for-women/). TNA should be looking at whether politicians and appointees are doing their jobs right, instead of playing gotcha; “gotchas” on taxes always have the possibility of rebounding on the other side, as with the news of Gov. Palin’s needing to pay back taxes on her per diem (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/02/18/palin-told-to-pay-back-taxes/).
5) Loosen the reins. While The New Agenda should not tolerate blog commenters who make rude or insulting remarks – women have to deal with enough of that in the offline world! – it should tolerate critical discussion. In particular, Ms. Siskind cannot continue to treat critiques of The New Agenda as personal attacks on her or on all of womankind. The New Agenda’s rank-and-file supporters deserve better. They deserve, as one put it (http://thenewagenda.net/2009/02/08/no-way-no-how-to-kim-gandy-for-director-of-womens-bureau/), “the kind of exchange that is going on right now on this thread is vital to ensure that an organization continues to take an honest look at itself, hone what needs to be honed, defend what needs to be defended, and in so doing, become ever more clear and credible in the public eye.”
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