WE HAVE BEFORE us the example of the Equal Rights Amendment, which ran into heavy weather in the last few state legislatures needed for ratification. When you talk to some of those who have been working hardest for the ERA, you will occasionally hear it conceded that the amendment's trouble in part has been due to a failure to promote it as a transcendent national issue -- as a matter of fundamental fairness that is neither the special preserve nor the special interest of any particular race, class, region, group or -- yes -- sex. One of the things the ERA's supporters intend to do, if a time extension for ratifying the amendment is granted, is to make plainer that the amendment embodies a constitutional judgment, not a constituency concern, and that it counts among its prospective beneficiaries and most interested supporters men, as well as women, and both men and women who live in the mainstream, conventional modes of American life. The ERA, in other words, is not a "women's issue," let alone an exotic political militant's issue; and making this elementary truth known is now recognized as fundamental to ratification.

By the same token, another clarification already seems in order. The D.C. voting representation amendment is not a race issue. And to promote its ratification as if it were is at once to falsify its meaning and endanger its chances of approval. Ratification of the D.C. amendment is not and should not be seen as some stage in a black-versus-white struggle for political power. It is not even a quest for racial justice, in any normal meaning of that term. Rather, it is a quest to provide fundamental constitutional rights to citizens of all races who happen to live in the District. That a majority of us in this city are black is not the issue. The issue is that all of us -- a black majority and a white minority, men and women, rich and poor, old and young -- have been denied voting representation in Congress. We pay our taxes. We serve in wars. But we have no voting representatives.

We stress this because at this very early phase of the lobbying proceedings a tone and technique may be set that will have large consequences in state legislatures around the country. It is important that now, at the outset, the people who are needed to support the amendment perceive the D.C. representation issue for what it is. We think it is and should be an issue of universal appeal -- on grounds of equity and fairness at least as familiar as the no-taxation-without-representation rallying cry. And in this connection, we would add one further cautionary note. It is that we think the case for the D.C. amendment is strong enough that it can be made -- and made to prevail -- without political and legislative gimmickry, gimmickry that can only be hazardous to the cause in the long run.

Let us be clear about it: We think it would be simply fine if the California legislature were to ratify the amendment bang! -- like that. But we do not think it will prove ultimately productive at all if a controversy arises over its seeming to have been railroaded into doing so or to have taken too many short-cuts or to have acted without deliberation or thought. That kind of show in any state right now will only generate long-term opposition and discontent bound to spread. The District's case is solid, persuasive, strong. Our lobbying efforts should reflect those same attributes. Politicians being politicians, it is probably too much to hope that ours will decline to exploit the amendment-ratification process for their own personal political advantage. But it should not be too much to hope that they will engage in a politics designed to help the amendment, not hurt it.