As ERA deadline approaches; NOW pins efforts on new strategies
Boston — The National Organization for Women (NOW) has unveiled parts of a multimillion dollar ad campaign and a truckload of other strategies they say will help carry the Equal Rights Amendment campaign on the road to passage.
The ERA ratification process ground to a halt in 1977, three states shy of the required number. The legal deadline for state legislatures to approve the measure is June 30.
''The smart political money is against us,'' NOW president Eleanor Smeal said at the organization's national convention in Washington earlier this month. ''The reason I know it's possible,'' she continued, ''is because I can't imagine - I literally can't imagine - our nation turning its back on progress for people and for women.''
The new strategies include a campus campaign, with an expanded door-to-door canvassing project; a letter-writing appeal, several television spots, and a just-completed movie.
The three leaders of the campus campaign, Jennifer Jackman and Deborah Davis-Anthonyson of Smith College, and Deborah DeBare of Brown University, have postponed completing college to coordinate the campaign.
The three plan to touch down in 25 Northeast campuses within six weeks. Their goal is to convince other students to take off a semester from school or devote their winter breaks to work for the ERA.
The campaign, with all the new recruits in tow, will then move into states which have not ratified the ERA, where the students will canvass door-to-door and rally campus support. ''We want to prove that students are not apathetic,'' said Deborah Davis-Anthonyson taking a break from the first day of handing out leaflets in Harvard Square. The three will also be speaking in classes, setting up information tables, and holding rallies in nine cities.
These students have ''changed their lives'' for the ERA, as Ms. Smeal put it. The phrase is borrowed from the title of NOW founder Betty Friedan's 1976 book, ''It Changed My Life,'' which chronicles how her life changed following publication of ''The Feminine Mystique'' in 1963. At the national convention, Ms. Smeal exhorted members to dedicate anywhere from two weeks to a year to work for NOW.
Many of these people will work as ERA missionaries, a program modeled on the Mormon church door-to-door canvassing. The approach has been used in Utah, ''the heartland of our opposition,'' Smeal says. The state is the home of the anti-ERA Mormon church.
According to NOW statistics, 78 percent of the non-Mormons and 30 percent of the Mormons contacted by the NOW missionaries signed a pro-ERA petition that was sent to President Reagan. Seventeen percent of the Mormons also sent a letter to Spencer Kimball, president of the Mormon church, asking him to reconsider the church's opposition to the amendment. In all, about 15,000 signatures were collected, coordinator Becky Fenstermaker estimates. She says that most came from people who were already sympathetic to the ERA.
''We're here to find support that already exists,'' she explained. She says the 100 NOW missionaries contacted about 30,000 people in Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden.
The program will continue until the June ratification deadline. It will also be expanded to Florida, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, states that haven't yet ratified the ERA.
For the first time, NOW is moving into nationwide advertising. It has started to distribute a movie and to air the first two of its 30-second TV spots.
The movie opens with the reminisences of 91-year-old suffragist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. It then races through history with glances at women's roles during the depression, World War II, the civil rights movement and Vietnam war-era peace marches, the founding of NOW, and ends with president Smeal's keynote at the recent NOW convention. The campus campaign and a number or other organizations will be using the film.
One of the TV ads shows the gravestones of a husband and wife, and says that she did not become his equal until she died several years after he did, and suffered economic hardships after he died because of unjust laws. The other shows the smoky room of wheeling and dealing politicians, with the voiceover claiming that ''a handful of politicians in a handful of states'' are blocking the ERA. Both end with Smeal asking for contributions to help pass the ERA.
NOW hopes to raise $15 million - money to finance what many see as a hopeless cause.
''It's a great big lever to lift a little rock,'' said Ruth Hinerfeld, president of the League of Women Voters, referring to that ''handful of politicians'' many ERA advocates claim are blocking ratification.
''What we've been saying all along is that ERA's chances are difficult but possible,'' she says. ''Every additional effort can only improve that prospect.''