President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass,) have a "no talk" policy toward opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly charged today.
The two Democratic leaders have, as a result, underestimated the strength of the movement to block the ERA, said Schlafly, who heads the national "Stop ERA" organization. About 300 leaders of Schlafly's "Eagle Forum," a family-oriented network from which "Stop ERA" arose, are holding their eighth annual strategy sessions here this weekend.
Like the feminist National Organization for Women, which met last week in Los Angeles, the Stop Era women make it plain they will work hard to become delegates to upcoming national political conventions and to elect their candidates nationwide in the fall.
"We want to pray as though it's all up to God, but we want to work as though it's all up to us," Schlafly told the elegantly dressed gathering at a formal dinner last night. A banner floating above her proclaimed: "With God's help, the end of an ERA,"
Sclafly and her followers will make politicians' plans for the future of the American family their political litmus test next year. They believe the ERA would take away benefits American women now enjoy, including wife support and exemption from the draft and combat duty. Schlafly added that existing laws do all that is needed to prevent sex discrimination and to guarantee equal pay for equal work.
"If there is one word that best describes us, it is that we are the believers," Schlafly said. "We believe that God is in His heaven, that eternal life awaits us . . . in eternal principles that do not change." Her movement, she said, must persevere in "the battle for God, family and country."
Such beliefs, she said earlier, make the movement "the most powerful positive political force in the country today." ERA supporters, she said, "want to drive women out of the home. I am convinced they hate homemakers."
She told a news conference that Kennedy "does not believe those against ERA have a right to exist." She said he had made "personal, deragatory remarks" about her, which she did not repeat. "I just don't think that's gentlemanly. Nor do I think it's smart," she said.
Kennedy and Carter have ignored the anti-ERA movement because they wrongly believe its inadequate media coverage reflects its strength, Schlafly said. "They have a no-talk policy . . . All the information [Carter] gets is pro-ERA."
The amendment, she said, "doesn't have any positive side" and is supported mainly by federal bureaucrats interested in widening government controls over family life and in raising more tax money.
In an interview, Schlafly noted that ERA enforcement would be handled at the federal level. "This delivers a tremendous amount of power over education, marriage, divorce, child custody and insurance rates that are all handled now at the state level," she said. "It is a blank check to the Supreme Court."
She later denied the charge by pro-ERA forces that her organization is part of the radical right wing. ERA supporters are "very conspiracy minded," she said, "We have a wide variety of views. . .they think it's a plot. They just won't face up to the fact that voters don't want it [the ERA]."
Workshops at the three-day conference are focusing on ways of translating concern for family issues into political power.
A workshop strategy session on the upcoming White House Conference on Families drew an overflow crowd last night and was closed to the press. When one workshop leader suggested that Eagle Forum chapters find it hard to keep members interested in states where the ERA is not an issue, chapter leaders disagreed. "We have too much to do. There's a lot of enthusiasm," said one.
Heads were bent and notes were taken as conservative political strategist Morton Blackwell outlined the pitfalls of the convention delegate selection process this morning. "You owe it to your philosophy to become politically proficient," he said.