Chicago ERA rally sends politicians, states a warning

Don't be fooled by the very feminine picture of more than 50,000 women in summery white outfits parading through Chicago's lakefront Grant Park. At their mass rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), speaker after speaker -- from Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to Bella Abzug and Jean Stapleton -- drove home the message that women together are a powerful fist today, packing a very solid economic and political punch.

As mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne, even more colorful than usual in her lacy white dress set off by an extravagantly broadbrimmed purple garden hat, was in a good position to deliver the one-two punch "for Mother's Day." She said she is telling fellow politicians that women today are a massive voting block which has stopped begging and now is demanding equal rights.

Mayor Byrne and other speakers warned that politicians who oppose ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution will find themselves thrown out of office by women voters.

Then came the economic message. Mayor Byrne said that Chicago "loses much from its backward thinking -- we couldn't even get the Democratic convention to come here because we are an unratified state."

Other speakers echoed Mayor Byrne, pointing out that Florida, Louisiana, and Nevada recently lost major conventions because they remain among the 15 states that have not ratified ERA -- which needs ratification in three more states to secure the necessary 38 state approval before the June 19, 1982, deadline.

Mary Grefe, the president of the American Association of University women, who described herself as a mother, grandmother, and traditional republican, said unratified states will feel increasing pressure from the women's economic boycott.

Speaking for members "from California to Massachusetts, from Minnesota to Louisiana," she told the cheering crowd that "we brought peanut butter sandwiches to Chicago because we are not going to spend any money in Illinois until Illinois ratifies ERA."

Women at the sun-drenched rally made it clear that they traveled thousands of miles to Chicago largely because of economics -- because, according to US Department of Labor statistics, women earn 59 cents for every dollar men earn.

Closing on an upheat note, Feminist leader Gloria Steinem noted that women now have the leverage to force politicians to grant full citizenship to women.

But the Illinois Republican state convention, meeting May 10 in Peoria, voted against continuing national GOP support for ERA -- and approved sending arch ERA opponent Phyllis schlafly as as alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention.

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