The first time the National Organization for Women came here, it had 15,000 members and a $50,000 budget. That was in 1971. This year there are 110,000 members who will have $3.5 million to spend next year in an effort to make American politicians aware of woman-power as never before.
"In 1971 we were so happy just to be among people who thought the way we did, to realize we weren't nuts," said NOW President Eleanor Smeal, "we let anybody vote who walked in. Now we have real conventions. We're used to being feminists."
The nation's politicians, never sure whether to listen to the feminists or to Phyllis Schlafly and the antifeminists, will have no trouble making up their minds next year, Smeal promised. "The necessary ingredient for political clout is the ability to deliver," she said in her reelection platform statement this week, "We deliver."
Now united behind Smeal, 40, the feminists have a priority list on which to rate politicians, starting with support for the Equal Rights Amendment and for the right to abortion and birth control.
Polls, even of Roman Catholics, show the majority of American women favor those things. NOW plans to mobilize 4,000 "action groups," including college students in large numbers for the first time, next spring to press for ERA in the final three states needed for ratification.
Smeal said NOW can field a quarter of its membership in commando-style "red alerts" to lobby for ERA votes as they come up next year. "Only about 12 men stand in the way" of making ERA a part of the Constitution, she said.
Men elected with NOW's aid on platforms favoring ERA turned around and voted against it in Florida and Illinois, she says, and ratification failed by two votes in both those states. "One thing we know, it wasn't ideological," she said. "We're going to give women too much political weight to be politically trade-able any more."
The National Women's Political Caucus, feminism's political arm, went after one North Carolina legislator, Jim McDuffie, who betrayed ERA in 1976, according to caucus assistant Ellen Malcolm. "He lost in the  primary and again on a write-in drive in the general," she said. "It got the message across that we are there and this is serious."
The caucus claims to have backed 143 candidates in seven states in which ERA has not been ratified and to have elected 74 percent of them. It is now running training sessions for its 40,000 members on how to become delegates to the 1980 Republican and Democratic national conventions. Under new Democratic Party guidelines, half the delegates must be women.
"We will demand action and not just words," Smeal told her 3,000 cheering delegates. At the moment, she said later, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has the strongest support among feminists of any possible presidential candidate, but even he will have to provide some unspecified guarantees.
President Carter won points for boosting ERA but "has problems" because of his lukewarm defense of abortion rights, Smeal continued. "It will depend on the opposition."
Once the candidates are checked out on their ERA and abortion rights positions, however, the feminists' priority list rapidly becomes even more controversial.
Right behind boosting minority NOW membership, on Smeal's list is a nationwide campaign to promote the rights of male and female homosexuals to protection from job discrimination.
Lesbians are a strong voice within NOW, trying continually to make the organization even more the cutting edge of feminism that it is. "I don't want NOW to be another broad civil rights organization," said Arlie Scott, an avowed lesbian whom Smeal ousted as vice president for action programs, but for other reasons. "I want it to be purely feminist," Scott added.
Smeal said at the convention, "We are the mainstream." Later, she said she meant "mainstream of those who believe in progressive policies" but she and other feminists remain elusive on what that means for the future.
"We align along a spectrum of issues that never were on the old left-right dimension," Smeal said, "even though our opponents are on the far right wing." Militant opponents of homosexuals, she said, are "fascists -- everybody's afraid of that word, but in its true sense, that's what they are."
Women's groups that remain determinedly mainstream avoid such talk. The Women's Campaign Fund, based in Washington and run by Sharon Percy Rockefeller, provides consultants and money to "progressive" women candidates it thinks have a fighting chance.
Feminists also proudly point to a doubling in the number of female officeholders since 1975, from about 5 percent nationwide to about 10 percent. They cite a $1.4 billion per year pregnancy disability measure enacted last year, a reduction from 20 years to 10 years in Social Security eligibility marriage requirement.
"These didn't just happen. It involved years of work," Smeal said. 'People who say we are losing ground just aren't paying attention."