Energized by Friday's Senate vote extending the life of the Equal Rights Amendment, the National Organization for Women yesterday presented itself and the women's movement as a powerful political force and jubilantly received such suitors as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-Mass.) and D.C. mayoral nominee Marion Barry.
"The Equal Rights Amendment is going to be ratified." Kennedy told an audience of about 1,800 cheering NOW activists gathered in Washington for its annual convention. "It is going to be ratified because the army of women in white who won yesterday's battle are going to win tomorrow's war.
"It is going to be ratified because this country cannot preach human rights abroad while over half of our own population are still denied equal rights." Kennedy, who received several standing ovations during his speech, pledged to use his position in the Senate to improve the status of women in science, the judiciary, and the health care of women and their children.
"The area of women's health care is one in which Congress must be more sensitive," Kennedy said. "National health insurance will guarantee that every woman, no matter what her economic status, will be able to receive adequate health care for herself and her family. How many women in the District of Columbia last night had to listen to a sick child cry and wonder if it was $50 sick because that's what it would cost to go to the emergency room of a hospital.
"Your group must be concerned with every facet of life, not only in government, but in the private sector as well. You must keep a watchful eye on every corner of our society to make sure that the progress we have made is not lost and that the momentum we have achieved is not halted.
"I came here today to say how proud I was to cast that vote (extending the ERA time limit) and to say that as long as I'm in the Senate you're going to have a voice and a vote to carry these issues forward."
Barry, a longtime ERA supporter, welcomed the NOW activists who are here from across the country, and asked them to work on behalf of the constitutional amendment that would grant D.C. ful voting representation in Congress. "I ask you to commit yourself to liberating us when you go back home. Some of the states who won't do it for women won't do it for the District of Columbia, so we need to join hands." He also asked the organization to lobby on behalf of the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill.
Joan Mondale, wife of the vice president and an ERA supporter who prevailed upon some Senate wives to get their husbands to support the extension, emphasized the Carter administration's continued commitment to the ERA. "We've bought some time but now that time has to be converted into votes," she said. At least three more state legislatures have to ratify the amendment within the next three years. "Count Fritz and me and Rosalynn and the president in on this effort," she said.
NOW President Eleanor Smeal, walking to the podium amidst a cheering, whistling, standing ovation, declared: "We have just begun. We are a political power and the message is we are going to make this nation safe for equality. We are moving daily, not only for passage of the ERA but for true equality for men and women. We have delivered to the right wing a major defeat," she said.
"We are part of a new and great alliance, an alliance between the civil rights, labor and women's movements. Each one of us has confronted the radical right. We are peers. We are second to no other movement in this country."
She also reasserted NOW's commitment to women's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion and its commitment to gay rights.
At a press conference later in the day, Smeal said NOW no longer would target specific states for intensive lobbying on behalf of the ERA, the tactic used previously. Instead, the women's movement will use its newly forged connections with the labor and civil rights movements to mount a nationwide campaign for ratification.
She also said that NOW would concentrate its political energies less on removing unfavorable politicians and more on changing their positions and on activly helping politicans supportive of the women's movement.