An angry group of women today called on the Democratic Party to "clean house" and rid itself of officeholders who don't support the Equal Rights Amendment.
The group, led by Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, accused the party of not giving strong enough support to the failed drive to ratify the amendment, and warned it will work to defeat ERA opponents in the party.
While Republicans removed the ERA from their platform in 1980, Democrats have continued to support it, and party leaders from former president Carter on down have lobbied for its passage.
"We are here in Philadelphia to tell the Democrats they have to clean house, to rid themselves of those who are jealously guarding the past," Smeal told a rally of her supporters."If the Democrats will not discipline their party membership, we will."
"It's true the Democrats have ERA in their platform, but it's also true that eight unratified states are totally dominated by Democrats," said Molly Yard, another ERA activist.
Smeal released a list of 121 Democratic legislators who voted against the ERA this year in four states, and said her organization will put together a $3 million war chest to help defeat them and other ERA foes in November.
"The women's movement is an independent political force," Smeal told about 200 supporters, almost all dressed in green and white. "Whether they like it or not, male politicians have seen the end of business as usual."
Waving placards that said "No Support for Anti-ERA Democrats" and "Democrats Earn Our Support or We'll Get a New Party," the women later set up a picket line outside the Philadelphia Civic Center, where Democrats are holding their mini-convention.
The demonstration cast a cloud over the unity show that Democrats are trying to conduct here. And it came only a day after the party wrapped itself around the ERA in a carefully staged floor demonstration.
In part, the demonstration illustrated the tensions between NOW, which has developed into the most successful money-raising organization in the women's movement, and other feminists.
Acutely aware of widespread dissatisfaction with President Reagan and the Republican Party, Democrats are pointedly trying to woo women. At the same time, the party is trying to subtly shift the agenda of the women's movement to a series of practical concerns, such as equal pay for women and pension protection.
As part of this effort, the signs given party members on the convention floor Friday were printed in red, white and blue, instead of the green and white NOW uses. In a further attempt to make ERA appear a mainstream issue, the band played "God Bless America" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" while the demonstration took place.
The NOW demonstration was the first of a series of assaults the organization plans to make on the political establishment in coming months. It drew both raised eyebrows and expressions of support from convention delegates.
"I think Ellie should direct her attention to individuals who voted against the ERA, not the Democratic Party," said Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a leader in the women's movement. "Our party has kept the ERA in its platform, and half of the delegates here are women."
"Today we have women on the street saying we ought to have done more for the ERA," Rep. Peter A. Peyser (D-N.Y.) told one afternoon workshop. "Well, they're right. We should have done more."
A strong undercurrent of unrest over the party's "boll weevils" continued to run deep as the party leaders met in a series of workshops. At one, Carrie Meek, a state representative from Florida, drew loud applause when she declared, "I'm sick and tired of the boll weevils. I'm not going to stand here and defend any Democrat who doesn't act like a Democrat."
Another workshop, on citizen rights and personal safety, adopted a formal statement, sponsored by Gary, Ind., Mayor Richard Hatcher that warned that "those who run and are elected as Democrats ought to vote like Democrats."
The same workshop also adopted resolutions deploring attempts by the Reagan administration to promote prayer in public schools, halt busing for school integration and deprive poor women of money for abortions.
In a workshop titled "Investment in Our People," delegates rejected a staff-written draft in favor of a tougher version sponsored by party Treasurer Charles Curry, and adopted a series of amendments drawn up by women members of Congress.
These amendments called for more equitable treatment for women in the pension systems, Social Security, Medicare and education. The adopted statement accused the Reagan administration of "sounding the trumpet of counter-revolution" in the struggle for "equal rights and equal opportunity."