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Women Return to Stake Claim in Constitution

July 16, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — When Susan B. Anthony came here to make her appeal for women's suffrage during the centennial celebration for the Constitution, she was denied access to the podium and had to stand outside and read her declaration.

When a congressional delegation arrives today to take part in the opening hoopla for the Constitution's bicentennial, greeters will include an army of feminists wearing T-shirts demanding, "Put Women in the Constitution."

Philadelphia is the final stop on their "Torch Run for Equality," a relay-style event that began Monday at the Capitol in support of the Civil Rights Restoration Act. Here, they will turn over the lighted torch to Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), who chairs the bicentennial congressional delegation.

Then, as the first official act of the celebration, Boggs will present the torch to the 55 congressmen and congresswomen who will hold a symbolic meeting in a pavilion constructed on Independence Mall.

It's progress, but "we're not yet in the Constitution," there is no equal rights amendment, observed Molly Yard, one of two declared candidates for president of the National Organization for Women, which has chosen Philadelphia for its national conference opening Friday.

It is not by coincidence that NOW has come to Philadelphia--which it has renamed "The City of Sisterly Love." "We're going to have 'We the Women' buttons and 'We the Women' banners and T-shirts," promises Eleanor Smeal, who is stepping down as president of NOW. "The celebration will definitely take note of the fact that women have been left out. . . ."

But NOW's top priority, Smeal said in a pre-conference interview, will be mobilization of its "Save the Court" campaign, an all-out effort to block confirmation of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. Bork, who sits on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is President Reagan's nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

"Judge Bork," Yard said, "would deny us the right to birth control and to the choice of abortion. I can tell you there will not be enough jails to hold the women who will defy any turning back on those two issues."

"We see eye to eye on this one," said Noreen Connell, the other candidate for NOW president. "Bork as an individual is not the problem. They'd find someone just like Bork. What we've got to do is make sure the Democrats have enough guts to block that nomination and make it an issue in the presidential elections of 1988."

Delegates may also pass a resolution urging Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), the senior woman in Congress, to run for President. Schroeder has been testing the political waters and has said she will make a decision in late summer.

But the prevailing theme here will be "feminization of power," the cause for which Smeal, 47, is relinquishing leadership of the 150,000-member "cutting edge" organization of the women's movement.

Convinced that the Iran- contra scandal presents an opportunity to change the makeup of the next Congress, Smeal said she wants "at least half" of the new members to be feminist women, which would triple the number of women in Congress.

To that end, Smeal said she will head up a campaign by the new Fund for the Feminist Majority, kicking off a nationwide speaking tour from Los Angeles in early September. Decorated "power vans" will travel region to region in a massive effort to flood local, state and national tickets with women candidates in 1988.

NOW will elect a new national president on Saturday, a choice expected to involve only declared candidates, Molly Yard, who has been NOW's political director in Washington since 1985, and Noreen Connell, president of New York State NOW.

Yard and her slate have the backing of Smeal. Connell is backed by Judy Goldsmith, from whom Smeal wrested the presidency in 1985, and by Betty Friedan, one of the movement's matriarchs.

Connell, a former assistant commissioner of labor for New York State, acknowledges being the "underdog" representing "about one third of the delegates" but hopes there is an uncommitted element that will come over to her side.

Methods and Tactics

Most observers agree Yard and Connell are essentially agreeing on goals, but differ on methods and tactics.

By "consistently focusing on (opposition to) the right wing," Connell said, "we're really letting a lot of other institutions off the hook on their treatment of women--the courts, corporations, the media. Our problem isn't only Jerry Falwell."

For example, Connell said, national NOW has "sort of lulled us into writing letters to keep 'Cagney and Lacy' on the airwaves. But much more is at stake. When you have the Brinkley show as sort of an all-male preserve and Ted Koppel has maybe one woman on his show after 30 men troop through, you've got to know something is going on. They don't feel any pressure from us."

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