The Nation: What Next for US. Women

Houston produces new alliances and a drive for grass-roots power

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About 20% of the convention delegates, mostly from the South and the West, were "profamily" conservatives who opposed some of the more controversial proposals. There were three "hot button" resolutions—those covering the ERA, abortion and lesbian rights—on which the delegates were sharply divided. With other resolutions, even the conservatives were more inclined to agree. On few issues was that unity more convincingly displayed than the minority rights resolution that was drafted by conference organizers but later rewritten and toughened by the one-third of delegates who were black, Hispanic, Indian or Oriental. The revised version was carried with virtual unanimity by delegates who had split bitterly on other issues. Exulted Liz Carpenter, leader of ERAmerica, the group spearheading the amendment ratification drive: "We can no longer be accused of being a middle-class white women's cause." New Yorker Letty Cottin Pogrebin recalled seeing a black delegate wearing an orange armband in support of lesbian rights, a button favoring abortion and a pro-ERA button. Originally, the delegate had worn only one insignia, that backing the ERA. Said Pogrebin: "She was the best example of the progress of those three days in Houston."

Now the women's movement faces the much more complex, challenging and drawn-out task of turning at least some of its propositions into reality. Said Bella Abzug, presiding officer of the conference: "We are in the second stage, of action and political power." As delegates streamed home from the conference, they seemed to reinforce Abzug's message. Confirmed in their confidence, women vowed to place their interests on the political stage as never before. So, of course, did their more conservative opponents, who also returned home determined to speak out further.

For the feminists, California Delegate Liz Snyder declared: "We've arrived at the place where we have the right to expect and demand much more expertise, more honesty and more follow-through on women's issues from our legislators." Said Janet Gray Hayes, mayor of San Jose, Calif: "The days of licking stamps and stuffing envelopes are over."

One reason for the confidence is that many new leaders, previously well known only locally, emerged at Houston. Among those who rose to the occasion were California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, 39, a black delegate from Los Angeles who led the minority women on their common resolution, and New York City Council President-elect Carol Bellamy, 35, and Seattle Lawyer Judith Lonnquist, 39, both of whom acted as floor leaders during the conference. Another was Ann Saunier, 31, human resources director of the papermaking Mead Corp. in Dayton, who won applause from all sides for her cool, impartial chairing of the conference's fourth session. In her private life, Saunier, who began using Robert's Rules of Order when she was in sixth grade, also offers a new image of the modern woman: when she agreed to move from Columbus to Dayton for the Mead job, her husband Fred decided to transfer as well.

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