A Call to Action from Becky Simon, AAUW Naperville Area 2024 Woman of the Year

Woman in yellow sweater speaking from a podium

Becky Simon at AAUW Naperville Area Awards Brunch and Annual Meeting, May 4, 2024

Following is the text of the message Becky Simon shared with AAUW Naperville Area members at the 2024 Awards Brunch and Annual Meeting:

“Thank you to AAUW for this award. As volunteers, sometimes we get so wrapped up in our work we forget the need to pause and look back at what we have actually accomplished, and this helps me do just that.

I am Becky Simon, a 2nd generation AAUW member and also: President of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Member of DuPage NAACP executive committee, Member National Council of Jewish Women, Member DuPage NOW.

I am 61, so I grew up during the 1970s women’s rights movement. My mother taught me to be passionate about women’s rights, just like she was. Looking back I can see Mom did not always fit in with the other ladies in the neighborhood. It was still an era of conformity, and Mom’s idea of a good time was going to listen to Stokely Carmichael speak, or protesting the Vietnam war on Michigan Avenue. Mom clearly identified with the AAUW mission of gender equity.

In between social activism work, Mom took me to the Waukegan AAUW pre-school, which is still operating today. The pre-school was established in part because then, as now, AAUW strives to advance gender equity for women and girls. This mission is even more important today. We are what the country needs now: an established, nonpartisan, fact-based organization.  

The AAUW strategic plan is key to AAUW’s continued success.  I am asking you to embrace organizational change for the sake of advancing the organizational mission. When you are 143 years old, you need to make some updates. Adopting organizational change in AAUW is essential to advancing gender equity in our communities.

Additionally, having a set of priorities is essential to focusing AAUW’s work and achieving meaningful results. That last part is key; there is no point in endlessly studying an issue. Sooner or later, action is required!  With that in mind, I reviewed AAUW’s Biennial Action Priorities.

These four action priorities are not called the “biennial sit at home and scroll on your phone” priorities.  

Strong public education:
ublic education continues to be under threat in Illinois: threats from public school voucher legislation labeled with euphemistic names like, ‘The Invest in Kids Act,’ and inadequate public school funding models. Public dollars belong in public schools. Strong public education also includes sound funding for our Illinois community college system — community colleges are an essential tool for families to lift themselves up, and the funding for Illinois community colleges is an area which needs substantial improvement.

Economic security for women:
In Illinois the minimum wage increase will help, but we also need to champion legislation such as child tax credits. Vision 1948 and SB 2682 are essential to increasing women in STEM fields to increase the number of women in tech fields. It looks like SB 2682 will make it through this session — don’t stop there! Make sure you push to have AAUW members on the Task Force!

Individual rights & social justice including voting rights:
If you believe in defending individual rights and social justice in Naperville, pay attention to the DEI issues bubbling up in Naperville, which will be back up for a vote at City Council on May 21.

If DEI is important to you, then it is your responsibility — not your right, it is your responsibility — to contact your mayor and all your city council members and encourage them to support DEI initiatives in Naperville

The nine people on the dais are not mind readers. They do not know how you want them to vote unless you tell them!  So give them a phone call, send them an email and speak in person at the city council. Be loud! Do all three!

Abolish the Electoral College. Voting rights is part of AAUW Action Priority #4 and abolishing the Electoral College is essential to voting rights in America. Abolishing the Electoral College is the new national priority for the League of Women Voters U.S.  

Until the Electoral College is abolished, we will never have one person one vote in our American democracy; we will continue to be a country subject to minority rule.  

Equal Rights Amendment:
As a young girl, because of my own naivete, I grew up thinking that passage of the ERA was a sure thing — it just made so much sense.  But remember ERA was not approved in Illinois until 2018, and then only by a slim margin.

As recently as four years ago, I remember watching a Congressional forum where one of the candidates for the U.S. Congress did not know what the letters ERA stood for — the candidate had to ask the moderator for help.

It is quite possible that we will have a female president in our lifetime — but she will not have equal rights under the U.S. Constitution. Just reflect on that — we could have a sitting U.S. president who would not be allowed equal rights under our constitution.

Today it has been 143 years since AAUW’s founding, and the challenge remains the same: to advance gender equity for women and girls. I am not sure how we will know when we reach our goal, but I do know we are not there yet.

I also know that the fight for gender equity will not end on November 6. We must plan to keep fighting for the foreseeable future. Studying issues and holding informational meetings is no longer enough. Action is required to effect change.

You are all here today because you are ‘doers.’  You want to take action and do something to make our community better. 

What will you do?  What do you want your legacy to be?

Thank you, and keep up the struggle because we are not there yet!

For more information about Becky and the Woman of the Year Award, see https://naperville-il.aauw.net/2024/04/29/2024-woman-of-the-year/ .