Contrary to a report in yesterday's Post, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment was voted on by the Virginia Senate last year and it was defeated.
A coalition of more than 3,000 supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment came here from around the state and beyond its borders yesterday to urge the General Assembly to approve the amendment during its current session.
Nearly all the state legislators were out of town this weekend and thus well beyond earshot of the demonstrator's chants and slogans. Rally organizers said, however, that they were pleased with the number of people who came in march a mile to the state Capitol and stand shivering in the cold while listening to nearly two hours' worth of speeches.
The rally was the result of months of planning and organizing by labor union locals, feminist organizations and church groups, and was sponsored by a coalition of labor organizations called Labor for Equal Rights Now (LERN). Many observers said it marked the first time that state labor unions had given more than lukewarm support to ERA passage in Virginia.
Although 35 states have ratified the ERA since it was approved by Congress in 1972, the constitutional amendment has not even made it to the floor of the Virginia General Assembly. Three more states must ratify the amendment before March 29, 1979, if it is to take effect.
An effort to get the ERA voted on during last year's Assembly session was blocked when then state Sen. A. Joe Canada, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor last November, switched his vote at the last minute.
At a press conference before the rally yesterday, demonstration organizers emphasized the grassroots nature of the event and the homegrown aspect of most of the rally's participants. Some ERA, opponents had questioned the validity of the rally and charged that the unions would pack the Capitol with out-of-state ERA supporters.
Rally organizers yesterday called outside participants merely "the icing on the cake."
"If you want to know who's supporting this rally, go out and see for yourself," said IERN spokeswoman Sara Nelson. "We're going to send an unmistakable message to the state legislature that the citizens of Virginia want ERA passed now."
Out there "sending the message" was an assortment of experienced veterans of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, greeting old comrates-in-chants and lending the march the atmosphere of affectionate reunion. There were also the ever-present college students, two exuberant to be bothered by the cold, and a number of those to whom not only participating in public demonstrations but supporting the ERA itself was a relatively new idea.
Virginia Acker and Charlotte Kyle, for instance, came from Waynesboro after an ERA advocate spoke to Local 124 of the United Electrical and Radio Machine Workers there. "Now, I don't support women's liberation," said Acker, "I want to be treated like a lady, not a man. But ERA is different. When I found out we didn't have equal rights if our husbands died, I decided we needed this thing."
"Some of our men don't understand this," Kyle said. "They say women only have equal privileges in the kitchen and the bedroom."
"But you don't hear 'em saying stuff like that when we're on our way to work in the morning," Acker said.
There were those who came specifically to make sure that the rally looked respectable, to prevent detractors, they said, from characterizing all ERA supporters as leaning to only one side of the political spectrum.
"I support this issue, but I'm a conservative on most others," said one such person, Phyllis Bailey of Fairfax City. "I didn't want this to look like it was just a liberal cause."
Junior Bridge, an Alexandria woman who has worked for the last five years to secure passage of the ERA in Virginia, looked around the grassy slopes of the Capitol grounds and said there were "a lot more men, more blacks and more Virginians" than at any other Virginia ERA rally she had attended. "We've been after labor to come out for ERA for years," she said. "It's nice to be going to one of their rallies, instead of trying to get them to come to ours."
There were Catholics for ERA, Women Artists for ERA, Mormons for ERA, Southwest Virginians for ERA, and, if you can believe the placard on one woman's back, Bingo Players for ERA."I was late" to the rally, said the alleged bingo player, a student at George Mason University in Fairfax. "It was the only sign my group had left" for her to wear.
There were not, however, great numbers of state legislators among those doing the jig that was being performed by people with very cold feet. Dels. Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax) and Elise Heinz, a former ERA lobbyist and now a freshman Democratic delegate from the Arlington-Alexandria floater seat were there. So was former Fairfax County Supervisor Rufus Phillips, a recently announced candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
"It's not a small crowd by Virginia standards," said Vickery, as the participants listened to speeches by Richmond Mayor Henry Marsh and television actress Barbara Feldon, among many others. "It may help to instill renewed heart in those who might otherwise have waffled."
The ERA is scheduled to be reintroduced in the House of Delegates on Tuesday, the same day that the amendment's opponents have scheduled a demonstration of their own.