The feisty, chin-up rhetoric has not changed all that much. The message is still that power is not granted, you have to organize and take it. But there is, among the 1,200 delegates attending the biennial convention of the National Women's Political Caucus here, a decided sense of having achieved meaningful political clout six rocky years after its founding.
"I don't think there is any question the caucus has emerged as the practical political arm of the women's movement," Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the dozens of national-level officeholders attending the three-day event, observed. Nor does there seem to be much question what direction to take now that the critical milestone has been attained.
Toughing out the final three states needed for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, counteracting the anti-abortion sentiment in the Carter administration and increasing the number of women in appointed and elective office are the clear and present battlegrounds.
The ultimate weapon, of course, is the power women wield at the polls and their shared concern over gut-level feminist issues.
But judging from the intense technical workshops and from the sophisticated exchanges between the large numbers of women political pros here, the tactics have changed. Gone are the days when it was considered enough to urge women to pull the lever for women candidates on election day.
"Now we are targeting women into positions we know they can fill," said Michelle Anderson, a California delegate who has worked in the campaigns of several women candidates in San Francisco. "We are sharing the expertise we've gained using public opinion surveys, building the organizations, raising money and taking advantage of the media."
A morning workshop on advanced campaign planning and strategy illustrated her point. It was led by Rosalie Whelan, a longtime Washington, D.C.-based political consultant. Of the more than 50 women attending, a quarter were elected officeholders on the local or state level, about half had run for office at least once and most had prior campaign management experience.
Whelan steered the discussion away from generalities, keeping the focus on specifics such as identifying known voters in races with traditionally low turnouts, and the cost-effectiveness of direct mail versus telephone banks in different geographic and demongraphic settings.
"Two years ago, we would have wasted half an hour debating whether it was OK to have a man for a campaign manager," remarked Sandra Winsberg, a delegate from Chicago, after the workshop. "We are moving away from the Alice in Wonderland awe of politics to knowledgeable emphasis on working with sophistication within the system."
Sophisticated working within the system also includes bipartisanship. The founders of the caucus were predominantly Democratic, but the number of Republican members has grown substantially during the past two years.
A reception for GOP delegates attracted well over 100 persons, including the former head of the White House Office of Woman's Affairs, Jill Ruckelshaus, who was the lone Republican among the founding group.
According to a Los Angeles delegate, one reason for the upsurge in Republican members "is that we have nowhere else to go; the Republican Federated Women is just not concerned with women's issues." And when it comes to partisan political races? "Fortunately, she said, "we haven't had a case of caucus-supported women in the same race."
As with any political gathering there were subtle undercurrents and some behind-the-scenes discord. The Alameda County, California, delegation introduced a bylaws change which would eliminate the requirement that three of the five national vice chairpersons be minority group members, which angered some.
By and large, however, the general mood was one of businesslike optimism. "If the ERA is not ratified," Mikulski said Friday, "We will do what women have always done and start again."
There was also none of the false bravado that sometimes characterized earlier meetings. "We have increased our effectiveness. And we have increased our influence within the major parties. You could easily see the difference between the 1972 and 1976 nominating conventions," said former Texas gubernational candidate and past caucus Chairman Frances (Sissy) Farenthold.
"But as long as the President proposes welfare reform with no provision for full employment or day care, and as long as three states are still needed to ratify the ERA, we still have a long way to go," she said.
The convention ends Sunday afternoon with votes on proposed bylaw changes ans the election of new officials.