Activist Leaving Town, Keeping Up the Fight

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, October 13, 2005

Feminist activist Martha Burk is stepping down as head of the National Council of Women's Organizations -- but don't expect her or the council to be quiet about the all-male membership of the Augusta National Golf Club or the corporations that pay women less then men.

Burk will be moving to New Mexico with her husband, and from there will direct the National Council's Corporate Accountability Project, which grew out of the group's aggressive effort to open the membership of Augusta, the site of the prestigious Masters tournament, to female golfers.

"I believe five years is a good kind of tenure as head. . . . After that you lose your edge," she said in an interview. But Burk said she's "going to have more time, not less" for keeping after corporations that treat women unfairly or work hand-in-golf glove with others that are male chauvinists.

Will she take to the greens in any spare time she might have? "Absolutely not," she declared.

The National Council, founded in the early '80s, says it is the nation's oldest and largest coalition of women's groups. The group credits Burk with doubling its membership during her tenure. It now has 200 member organizations, including the Girl Scouts, the YWCA, Hadassah and the National Organization for Women.

Susan Scanlan , who will succeed Burk next month, describes the group's members as representing "the far left to the middle right."

While taking over as chair of the National Council, a non-paying job, Scanlan will continue her work as president of the Women's Research and Education Institute. She co-founded WREI in 1977, when it was the research arm of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. The institute went independent 12 years ago, though it still works closely with female members of Congress.

Scanlan earlier served as legislative director to the late House member Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.), who was on the Armed Services Committee. She helped craft legislation that admitted women to military academies.

As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit, the National Council's lobbying is limited, but the group will continue to lobby on issues of importance to women, Scanlan said. In recent months, the National Council has spoken up to support spousal pension protection measures and legislation for paid family and medical leave. Earlier this year, the council urged senators to reject what it called "punitive new requirements for recipients" in welfare reauthorization legislation.

Scanlan said she also wants to help put forward "some of the premier thinkers of the women's movement," to speak out on public policy issues. "We want their voices to be heard," she said.

Civilizing the Web

Leslie Harris , a civil liberties lawyer who leads her own public policy shop, Leslie Harris & Associates, and earlier worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, will be plugging into the Center for Democracy & Technology. She'll start as executive director Jan. 1.

CDT President Jerry Berman said Harris's understanding of Internet policy issues and her experience as a strategist will help keep the group "moving in the right direction" in support of "keeping the Internet open, decentralized, free, respectful of privacy and supportive of both commerce and innovation."

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