"Look," said Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), with a feisty poke, "if statistics meant anything I'd still be selling sauerkraut."
Mikulski, who makes up in vocal power what she lacks in height, was talking about the statistic relating to the Equal Rights Amendment, for which she and 300 other male and female feminists rallied last night. The occasion was a fund-raiser at The Foundry Gallery to kick off the National ERA Ratification Campaign sponored by the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Three months ago, conservative Phyllis Schlafly headlined an anti-ERA "victory party" which she proclaimed as the celebratory burial for the controversial constitutional amendment. Last night the other side said firmly in a variety of ways that she celebrated too soon; they predicted eventual ratification by the necessary three additional states by June 30, 1982.
The "propaganda" of the anti-ERA forces, said comedienne Fannie Flagg to the crowd, is "it's effective, it's clever and it's written by women . . . The person in Middle America reading this propaganda thinks that we must be drug-crazed atheists, communists and nymphomanaics who are against mothehood but just can't wait to go out and get 10 free abortions and would love to share a fox-hole in the bathroom with a man."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), wearing a NOW button and escorted by several of his women staffers, also called for rebuttal of the "misrepresentations and distortions" popularlized by ERA opponents. Asked later how many women he employed in top-level jobs, Kennedy deferred to Irene Emsellem, a senior staff member of the Judiciary Committee," he said and turned to start shaking hands.
Emsellem said that a story about Kennedy in Sunday's New York Times Magazine that said he employed few women in top jobs "made me furious. It's absolutely not true." She named at least eight women on the Judiciary Committee who are in senior positions, out of about 50 employes.
Mikulski had earlier introduced Kennedy by noting that their backgrounds were similar. "Our fathers were both entrepreneurs," she said. "My father owned a small grocery store and your father owned Boston . . ."
Actress Jane Curtin of "Saturday Night Live" flew down from New York to attend the fund-raiser because "it's getting down to the wire."
"I'm actually very shy," she told the crowd in her News Anchorperson voice. "I like being left alone . . . (but) because I was the only one (on the show) who wasn't out trying to find a date I could come."
"Women for too long have gotten along by being cute," she said. "And by dressing like virgins . . . it's time to realize that women, like men . . . can make change."
Mikulski, who told Curtin she looked like a "bridesmaid" in her white dress, went on to introduce D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Unfortunately, it turned out, he hadn't arrived. "Do you know what an ass I feel like?" she said. "I see Marion Barry's scheduling is like the Democratic Party's this month; well-intentioned but a little behind."
Barry, who is well-known for his multi faceted support of women's issues, did show up, and put in his pitch for the ERA. He noted that he, as a city council member, had proposed the resolution which prohibits council members from traveling to states where the ERA is unratified. That move is not known to have had a major economic impact, but the spirit was appreciated by last night's crowd all the same.
Getting back to the statistics, NOW President Eleanor Smeal said that "only 12 legislators" are preventing ratification in the unratified states. While states such as Utah and Mississippi are not viewed as likely to pass the ERA, among the 13 other unratified states, Illinois, Florida, South Dakota, North Carolina and Virginia are viewed as possibilities, and the $25,000 raised last night will go toward a national campaign to spur efforts all over the country. Officially, ERA supporters do not discount any state.
Smeal said that attempts to rescind the ERA were successfully fought in 10 states this year, and cited several favorable court rulings to support the case that ERA is not washed up.
Florida rejected the ERA in May and North Carolina defeated it in February, but in each case the margins were only a few votes.
Mikulski attributed part of the problem to "a lack of national leadership and a lack of definite proposals."
Was she talking about President Carter?
"I'm talking about national leadership . . . it's got to be more than just a president, it has to be all of us who hold public office . . Sure I like Ted Kennedy, and I like Mo Udall, but if Carter's the nominee against Ronald Reagan I'll be out there working for him."
Meanwhile, scores of guests mingled around the bars and the buffet tables dislaying tuna fish sandwiches and steak tartare. At one point a man unintentionally butted in front of a woman waiting to get a drink from the bartender.
"I was first," she said.
"I'm sorry," said Charley Angel (his real name) of the Communications Workers of America. "With all these pushy women here you have to be aggressive." CAPTION: Picture, At the ERA rally, left to right, Jane Curtin, Eleanor Smeal, Lynda Johnson Robb, Fannie Flagg and Rep. Barbara Mikulski; by Harry Naltchayan