Perhaps 30,000 were drawn together here over the weekend in a joining of issues and movements seeking to chart a course for women in the world. But the rhetoric and the motion shouldn't be allowed to obscure the people who raised the issues and formed the massive followings.
Much time was spent in line. On Thursday, when delegates began arriving for the National Women's Conference, the Hyatt Regency had to inform hundreds of women that more than 200 rooms had been overbooked because a group of conventioning businessmen decided to stay longer.
The hotel farmed them out to other accomodations overnight, but next day, with the newly arrived bulk of the conference delegates the crush was so massive that some had to wait as long as five hours just to talk to a desk clerk.
There were also lines to eat, to drink, to go to bathroom, to get credentials, to get an elevator - in fact there was a line for just about every human activity. While most remained remarkably cheerful, a grumble was grumbled that a men's conference would never be treated like this.
At an opening news conference a reporter asked about allegations that women's conference is a "lesbian, abortionists gathering." Before Bella Abzug could answer, a voice from somewhere said: "It can't be both."
Conference leaders uniformly say that women who had never participated in a feminist event before were attracted to this conference. It was difficult to find many women here who had never been active in the movement before, but it was not impossible:
A Gloria Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine, whose long blonde hair and aviator glasses have become a national trademark, was being interviewed by a radio reporter, a delegate inquired, "Isn't that Betty Friedan?"
The Illinois delegation of 58 was split between avid supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment and equally determined opponents. The anti-ERA group produced a large banner stating "Democrats Against ERA."
Late Saturday afternoon one group, without apparent provocation, rose and started waving brassieres and signs saying, "We didn't burn 'em!"
The new corps here is largely female, and it is certain that many got their jobs because of the women's movement. That has put female reporters in a position that some have not handled well. One finished a radio interview with Abzug, clicked off her tape recorder and said, "Bella, you're fabulous."
Not that male reporters have been flawless. trying to ask a challenging question of Jill Ruckleshaus, one male reporter felt compelled to apologize by starting, "I'm sympathetic, but - "
It was clear that efforts had been made to include in this conference people normally forgotten or unable to participate.
There are Hispanics, blacks, welfare mothers, people in wheelchairs, American Indians, and Americans of Oriental ancestry. Interpreters translate the proceedings into sign language for the deaf. Braille labels are affixed next to elevator floor buttons. A blind woman carrying a cane grasped the back of a disabled woman's wheelchair to be guided off the conference floor.
By today, several protest groups had gravitated to the entrance area of the Coliseum.
One group complained through posters and chants that the conference, part of International Women's Year, was a waste of time because what was really needed was a general revolution.
Three women held a Confederate flag and a banner that read, on one side, "L.A. White Women Oppose IWY Reds, Feds, Dikes, and Kikes." On the other side it said, "Abzug, Friedan, Steinem Are All Anti-Christian jews."
Sita Miller of Anderson, Ind., was alone in that 32-member delegation in supporting the ERA - and was one of the few delegates not sharing a room. "Would you want to sleep next to somebody whose philosophy is totally opposed to yours?" she said. "You'd have to keep worrying about whether they were going through your papers and stealing your resolutions."
A little-noticed "Prostitution Caucus" announced a meeting with "activist prostitutes and other feminists" working to decriminalized prostitution. "Are you a prostitute?" a reporter asked a woman handing out a notices of the meeting.
"Er, no," she said, "I'm a secretary."