The Nation: What Next for US. Women

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

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The organizers were determined that the convention should not collapse in the kind of controversy that broke out in the first International Women's Year conference at Mexico City two years ago and in some of the state conventions that chose delegates for Houston. Strategy to ensure the passage of the entire National Plan of Action was mapped out ahead of time. The night before the voting began, some 500 delegates were instructed on debating and voting procedures. They were told not to leave the floor without permission. Kentucky Delegate Allie Hixson, a cattle breeder, exhorted her state's representatives: "We want to be disciplined, cooperative, supportive. Arrive early, allow for the overload in elevators and let nothing delay you, pro-plan people." Said Bonnie Lesley, a Texas delegate: "We're calling on you to be more disciplined, perhaps, than you have ever been."

By running the convention so tightly, however, the organizers left themselves open to charges of rigging. Some of the 400 antiabortion, anti-ERA delegates complained, with a degree of justice, that they had not been given enough chance to challenge or debate the many resolutions that came speeding by. Debate could be shut off by a simple majority vote, and since the pro-plan forces had a clear majority, they could stop debate any time they wanted—and many times they did.

Even when debate was permitted, opponents of the resolutions often had a hard time getting heard. They had to line up behind one of eight mikes on the floor, and no matter how fast they moved, pro-plan delegates often managed to get there ahead of them. Eleanor Lampe, an Iowa cattle rancher, never could get to the mike to talk about the abortion plank. "I grew up in a rural area," she said, "and I've never seen anything like this. I guess you just have to zoom out like a bulldog and leave no room for kindness."

Even some feminist sympathizers were uneasy about how firmly the majority ruled. "I learned all about parliamentary procedure," said Sharon Talbot, "but I never got to hear the pro-family side. It's only fair that they should get to speak too." Linda Downs, editor of Woman Time, a bimonthly dealing with working women, said that businesswomen she knew thought the convention was a "ripoff because it was so onesided. The T-shirt brigade predominated, and that was unfortunate. The emotional issues predominated, and that too was unfortunate."

After the vote favoring abortion, angry pro-family delegates staged a demonstration and held aloft giant color photographs of aborted fetuses. Shaking and weeping, one anti-abortion woman cried: "I never thought they would come to this. It's murder!" Said another: "It will be old people next."

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