The Equal Rights Amendment was once again defeated by a Virginia House committee yesterday, prompting predictions that the issue is dead for another year and provoking a noisy demonstration by disappointed ERA supporters, two of whom were later arrested.
"These dried up, withered old men voting on my future! It's unacceptable. As long as I'm alive we'll be fighting," said ERA lobbyist Marianne Fowler. She and a group of supporters had been escorted out of the Capitol by two police officers after she had spat in the face of one of them.
Later, after holding a sidewalk press conference, Flower and Virginia National Organization for Women cordinator Jean Marshall Clarke were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. Fowler was also charged with assaulting a police officer.
"The pigs beat me up and carried me out of the Capitol," Fowler told reporters. "I spit in his face when he was pushing me out of the door. I did it because the only thing I could move was my tongue."
The demonstration and subsequent arrests were part of the generally chaotic scene that followed the House Privileges and Election Committee's 12-to-8 vote against sending the ERA to the full House.As Key Peaselee, ERA lobbyist for Common Cause, sobbed in a corner, other women shouted, "We will be back," sang "I Am Woman," and chanted "Remember Jim Thomson" in the main hall of the Capitol. ERA supporters have claimed much of the credit for the defeat of Thomson, the former House majority leader from alexandria and a staunch ERA opponent.
Meanwhile pro-ERA delegates said what hope remains this year for Virginia to ratify the proposed constitutional amendment, which would guarantee women equal right under the law, is for the House to vote to discharge the amendment from the committee or to approve a rules change that would force a vote next year.
However, in the chaos and hight emotion of yesterday afternoon, it was uncertain when or by whom either strategy would be attempted. Del. Richard R.G. Hobson (D-Alexandria), and ERA supporter and member of the Privileges and Elections Committee, said there were not enough votes in the House to discharge the amendment from the committee yet. But he said he favors the move, as do most other Northern Virginia legislators.
But ERA's chief sponsor, Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), said she was "disheartened" and "furious" at the demonstration after the committee vote, which she said court hurt ERA's cause. "These women have been raised on the image of Alice Paul chained to the White house fence," she said. "That doesn't work in Virginia." She said she was unsure if she would support the move for discharge from the committee, she said.
The vote came in a small committee room packed with people, most of them wearing pro-ERA signs. "This is the most controversial measure I can recall in my 16 years as a delegate," said committee chairman Del. J. Warren White (D-Norfolk) before the vote. An ERA supporter, White urged the committee to allow the full House to vote on the amendment, although everyone knew before hand the request was futile. Although there were seven new members on the committee as a result of last November's election, there was only one unexpected vote for the ERA - that of Del. Ford Quillen (D-gate City), who said he had been undecided.
A spokeswoman for ERA-America, a coalition of more than 160 pro-ERA groups, said the Virgina defeat was not unexpected. "Most of us considered Virginia not a terribly good shot," she said. The group's cochairpersons, Liz Carpenter and Elly Peterson, issued statements denouncing the legislators who voted against the ERA in Virginia.
Thirty-fice states have ratified the ERA; three more are needed by March 1979 for it to become a part of the constitution. It was defeated Tuesday in the South Caroline Senate on a 23-to-18 to table it. In that state, according to ERA-America, six senators who were publicily committed to support it failed to do so. There currently is an effort in Congress to extend the March 1979 deadline for nationwide ratification.
The ERA was introducted in Virginia in 1973, and yesterday's vote followed its pattern here: It has never been voted out of the House Privileges and Elections Committee: Thomson, the former committee chairman, was defeated at the polls last November in what ERA lobbyists claim was a victory for their forces.
They say they will systematically defeat all ERA opponents until the measure succeeds, a threat many delegates say has alienated them from support. Thomson has become a symbol for the pro-ERA movement, which is why the women were chanting "Remember Jim Thomson."
The incidents surrounding the arrests of Clarke and Fowler yesterday were unclear. Immediately after the committee vote, Fowler was in the hall talking to a reporter. Others began to chant "Remember Jim Thomson." and she joined in. At the point, according to one eyewitness, a police officer asked her to leave, putting his hand on her arm.
"Take your hand off me!" she shouted several times. Then, according to Patricia Goodman, a spokeswoman for the ERA group, two officers took her by the arms and dragged her out the Capitol. "TV! TV!" Fowler shouted, calling for cameras to record the scene, as police grabbed her.
Once outside, the group talked to reporters and then decided to re-enter the Capitol to talk to delegates and retrieve belongings they had left in the committee room, Goodman said. As Flower and Clarke neared the Capitol they were arrested and taken to the Richmond police station.
The women were released on their personal recognitance and are scheduled for a hearing on Feb 15, which ERA supporters at the police station gleefully noted was Susan B. Anthony's birthday. (she was born in 1820).
Del. Elise Heinz(D-Arlington) a former ERA lobbyist who is now a legislator, said, "I'm not prepared to condemn them . . .
There's been much conversation this whole session that those ERA girls are getting too pushy, too aggressive or whatever. It strikes me that's convenient crutch for people who are already against it."
A companion ERA resolution was introduced in the Senate this year by Sen Clive L. Duval (D-Fairfax), but he said after the House committee's vote that he would move to postpone action in his bill until next year.