She understands that the movement can sometimes be difficult, but encourages young women to “just keep putting one foot forward at a time.”
For nearly fifty years Joanie Parks has championed women’s rights with the National Organization for Women of New Jersey, working tirelessly to enact Title IX, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and advance feminist goals. In the 1970s she began working as a typist for Jean Ambrose, then chair of the New Jersey NOW Education Task Force. She initially took on this role to keep up her typing skills while she was out of work and home with her children, but quickly became very interested and involved in the feminist movement. In 1975, she founded the Westfield Area NOW to provide a chapter for local feminists in her community. Joanie is proud that both women and men joined her initiative! This chapter later merged with Union County NOW, which is still active today. Over her decades of involvement in NOW, Joanie has held numerous leadership positions at both the local chapter and state levels. She served as the State Secretary for five administrations, with her last term ending in 2017.
To Joanie, being a NOW member is “the same as eating and breathing.” She has regularly attended meetings, marches, and rallies both locally and in Washington, DC. She recounts it is exhilarating to witness a sea of women and men uniting for equality. Additionally, Joanie considers NOW to be the one constant in her life. When asked what her children and grandchildren think of her involvement in the organization, she said that it’s probably not something that they think about; they know that being active in NOW is just part of who she is.
One of Joanie’s proudest accomplishments is helping to enact Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions. This was the first NOW initiative that she worked on. Working closely with Jean Ambrose, Joanie had a front-row seat to the creation of the bill. After Title IX was passed, she thought that NOW was unstoppable and was “just going to keep making strides.” She believes that in a way they did, although it was not as fast as she would have liked. Joanie is also proud of her work for the ERA and its extension. She was very involved in this fight as she traveled with fellow New Jersey citizens to Vermont to help pass ratification of the ERA there in 1973. She recounts, “It felt good to help another state achieve something.”
When asked to compare the major focus areas of NOW today to when she joined the movement, Joanie said that sometimes it feels like she is back where she was 30 years ago. She once was confident that abortion rights were secure, but now feels that their safety is questionable. However, her discussion of the fight for the ERA in the 1970s and today was more uplifting. She is excited that the push for the ERA has resumed and that the amendment is gaining momentum after a number of years of laying dormant.
Today, Parks holds memberships in both Union County NOW and Ocean County NOW, where she serves as the Delegate to the State Board and votes on business on behalf of Ocean County. She explained that the main goal of Ocean County NOW is to encourage women to run for office. She insists that women must “take things into our own hands” to ensure that women’s needs are attended to in government. Joanie is very dedicated to electing more women and since 2016 has dedicated more time to working on local congressional races with the Democratic Club of Waretown.
Joanie’s advice for the next generation of feminists is that they demand rights instead of asking for them. She understands that the movement can sometimes be difficult, but encourages young women to “just keep putting one foot forward at a time.” The young people currently fighting for equality inspire her. She is confident that they will pick up the mantle and attain what she and her fellow feminists have been trying to achieve for so long.
Read the full transcript of the interview here.
Katie is a junior at Elon University. Katie initially became involved in gun sense advocacy after a childhood friend who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survived the shooting there. Katie is passionate about social justice policy and she worked on the Iowa campaign for Senator Warren.
Watch Win or Win – a story based on this project.
Joanie Parks started her activism doing clerical work for the National Organization for Women. She then co-founded the Westfield Area Chapter of NOW in 1975 serving as President and Secretary. After moving to Ocean County, in 2008, she helped get the Ocean County NOW chapter restarted where she currently serves as Membership Chair and State Board delegate. Joanie also served as secretary of the State Chapter for five terms. Joanie is active in Democratic politics through her local Democratic club and is Treasurer for Indivisible NJ 3rd District. For her work, Joanie was recognized in Barbara J. Love’s Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975, a comprehensive directory that documents many of the founders and leaders (both well-known and grassroots organizers) of the second wave women’s movement.