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LaDonna Harris' Citizens Party wants just 5%

(Page 2 of 2)

What does she think about the Republican Party's rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment?

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"I'm going to call my friends in the Ripon Society, who consider themselves liberal Republicans, and see what they are doing. I just can't imagine . . . [ they could now vote Republican]. If I were them, I couldn't accept that behavior."

Ms. Harris believes the united States is not as conservative as it appears at the moment.

"The conservative element that the media talks about is in the Congress because that is where the conservative money is being put. Congressional election reforms should be looked at very closely. [The religious fundamentalists] are well-financed, well-organized. They are a small percentage of the population who are doing a lot of damage to people like [Senators George] McGovern and [Frank] Church. Those two are constantly under attack in the crudest forms. This very vociferous minority of people are snapping headlines -- things like exposing a fetus, obnoxious forms of behavior. To me, it seems so unchristian."

Ms. Harris was raised by her grandparents in fundamentalist country.

"Some of the missionaries down there were notoriously bad," she claims. "If I have any scars of experience, it is going through what I call the 'missionary syndrome.'

"The missionaries were saying that something was wrong with grandfather, who stayed traditional, while grandmother took Christianity. That experience made me question people in authority and institutions more rapidly than Fred did."

Although Fred, her husband, who is teachiung at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, encourages her and was planning a fund raiser for the Citizens Party the next week, he has decided to stay in the Democratic Party. He supported Kennedy for president.

Switching parties was no great crisis for Ms. Harris.

"I think it's easier for women to adjust to change. It sounds sexist in some way, but I don't mean it to be. In our little organization [Americans for Indian Opportunity], we find that men of a certain age find it difficult to be flexible in an organization.

"The same with Fred and me in the kitchen. When he cooks, he stands right by the stove and watches it cook. I'll load a washinbg in, turn on the water outside, any number of things, while i cook. We think it's part of our socialization of men."

The Harrises have three children: one daughter who is a lawyer, another studying political science, and a son who is a filmmaker. "We all voted that he doesn't have to be political."

Ms. Harris says her youngest daughter is a strong feminist and a strong Indian. But the feminist movement did not affect herm until about 10 years ago, in Washington, when she noticed her women friends in government were paid less than men and, because of their sex, were not allowed to travel in their jobs.

What would she feel if the Equal Rights Amendment fails to pass?

"I don't know. Like the Supreme Court decision [barring the use of federal money for abortions] -- that was such a hurtful thing to me. I've seen them make decisions that I was against, but something about this was very personal. I resent it destroying my faith in the American system and istitutions."

Clearly, before Washington, Ms. Harris was already different from most senators' wives. "I turned out to be the only Senate wife to testify before Congress, on appropriations for the Office of Economic Opportunity. There was no fighting my participation in those things."

In that context, her switch to a different party from her husband is not surprising. "I had become so tired of struggling for the programs of the '50s, '60s and '70s, programs maintaining human services, raising the consciousness of people so it would be acceptable to have women's programs.

"When the presidential campaign started and I was watching it on television, I became very angry. I was literally screaming at the television, feeling frustrated and helpless. It didn't take me long to decide to support the citizens Party because it was something positive and would help my mental health.I had been becoming so negative that I felt I could easily drop out of the system, out of participation."

When Ms. Harris was asked to run as the party's vice-president, her participation began in earnest. All over the country, she was working to keep alive her hope and the voices of the Democratic left.

Just 5 percent of the November vote, only 5 percent -- but it looks like a tall order for the Citizens Party.