Banner-waving supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) rallied on the day of their defeat last week in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Despite the expected gloom of having fought and lost a 10year struggle to win ratification of the constitutional amendment, there was a mood of cautious jubilation. Chanting the slogan “Never give up, never give in” and wearing buttons that read WE’VE BEEN TOO NICE FOR TOO LONG, the assembled women gave notice that although they had lost the battle, the war was still far from over. Said Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which spearheaded the ERA drive: “We have just begun to fight.”
Smeal’s warning came on June 30, the deadline day for passage of the contentious amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Adopted by Congress in 1972, it needed ratification by 38 (three-quarters) of the 50 state legislatures. When the day of reckoning came, it was still three states short. However, ERA proponents, who will reintroduce the measure in Congress on July 14, are confident that
history will not repeat itself.
Following a decade of disparate and often radical acts—chaining themselves to state capitals, hunger strikes and throwing bags of blood at legislators—NOW supporters have coalesced into a powerful political juggernaut. Boasting a membership of more than
200,000, NOW has raised -
$1.3 million per month since January in a skilful series of direct mail, telephone and television appeals.
An estimated $3 to $4 million more will fill NOW coffers in November, when congressional elections roll around. By comparison, the Democratic National Committee expects that it will raise only $2.7 million this year. “This political giving will be nothing short of astronomical,” says Roger Craver, president of a leading directmail firm. “The ERA has gotten women involved in the political process in a way they’ve never been
involved before. They’ve learned how to raise money, use polls and run campaigns.”
A measure of that fact was a major poll released last week just as the ERA was expiring. According to the survey, sponsored by The New York Times and CBS, American women are beginning to show a distinctly anti-Republican bias on a broad range of issues; but even more worrisome for the administration is the fact that, for the first time in history, women are turning out to vote in larger numbers than men.
This has not gone unnoticed at NOW, and last week, at a crowded news conference in the organization’s storefront headquarters on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue, Smeal threatened to unseat legislators who stonewalled on the ERA passage. She also pledged to recruit and elect those who supported the constitutional amendment. Zeroing in on the Republicans (who dropped ERA from their 1980 party platform), Smeal called it the party that “actually led the attack” against ERA in 1982. She was also critical of the Democrats: “Women’s rights were not high on their agenda, and there was a significant defection in their ranks.”
Legislators are not the only villains that NOW will focus on. It will also hit the bank balances of major discriminatory corporations. Economic boycotts and legal suits are two ways in which NOW plans to harass businesses that either fund anti-ERA candidates or practise sex discrimination. Said feminist lawyer Phyllis Segal: “We plan to take the profit and habit out of sexual discrimination case by case and law by law. It’s expensive and not very glamorous, but by choosing cases carefully we’ll have a great impact.”
While NOW organizers planned their next ERA blitz, Washington’s Phyllis Schlafly, the main architect of the stop-ERA campaign, hosted an “Over the Rainbow” party in celebration of the amendment’s defeat. After hiring two bodyguards to protect herself from hostile ERAers, Schlafly settled into a party mood as 1,000 people, including Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, gathered round to sing God Bless America. But while Schlafly declared that ERA is “dead now and forever in the century,” pro-ERA factions across town had already begun the resurrection.
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