Wisconsin NOW Calls for the Resignation of National NOW President Toni Van Pelt

For immediate release
July 4, 2020

Media contact:

Mara Jarvis
President, Madison chapter of the National Organization for Women
Board member, Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women

Recently, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has come under scrutiny for racist behavior by the current sitting president, Toni Van Pelt, and others within the national branch of the organization, including the following:

  • There is a current lawsuit against Van Pelt by the former NOW Vice President, Gilda Yazzie, a Native American woman, who spoke of Van Pelt’s harassment and racist actions against Yazzie during her time as VP, a position she ultimately left due to the experience.
  • A recent article in The Daily Beast detailed the continuous tokenizing and racism by Van Pelt and others against current Vice President Christian Nunes, a Black woman. (This article also provides details about Yazzie’s experience.)
  • Van Pelt has allowed Kim Sontag, NOW’s Communications Manager, to remain in her position after she posted racist accusations against a Black man on social media, endangering him. Sontag has faced no repercussions, despite calls to do so from NOW state presidents.

Van Pelt’s actions, in particular, follow a history of erratic and inappropriate behavior during her time as NOW President. 

These actions do not align with the values that Wisconsin NOW believes in or strives to practice – anti-racism must be at the core of our advocacy and activism. We believe Gilda Yazzie, Christian Nunes, and the other NOW national employees who have come forward with reports of racist and inappropriate behavior by Toni Van Pelt. 

As such, the Wisconsin NOW board has signed onto a letter with other state chapter presidents requesting the following:

  1. NOW President Toni Van Pelt must accept responsibility for her actions, apologize to the women she has harmed, and step down.
  2. The creation of an Oversight Committee to provide leadership in the transition process and up through the national NOW elections in 2021. This leadership would be accountable to the National Board of NOW. This plan would include the hiring of consultants to strategically analyze the structural racism and other inequities within the organization to make recommendations for full, inclusive participation and leadership development. This includes hiring practices, policies and procedures, training, and anything else the Oversight Committee deems necessary.
  3. The revision of the NOW bylaws to limit board terms to two year terms in a NOW member’s lifetime. The current structure allows board members to stay in the organization for a long time, impeding opportunities and encouragement for new members to join and move up into leadership.

Madison and Wisconsin NOW will be participating in a coordinated campaign with other state NOW chapters to hold conversations about these demands and the future of NOW. Watch Wisconsin NOW’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram starting Saturday, July 4 for more information.


About the National Organization for Women (NOW)

The Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women (www.wisconsinnow.org) is a multi-issue, multi-generational organization working to bring about increased rights and increased involvement for Wisconsin women. The National Organization for Women (www.now.org) is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. NOW has 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.