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Lots of show but little substance
at the 2000 Republican and Democratic conventions
by Jo Freeman (2000)

Women's influence at the 2000 Republican and Democratic conventions was expressed in different ways, reflecting the different styles and strategies of the two dominant parties. None of it was new; women's place in both parties reached stasis in the 1990s and hasn't changed much in the last decade.
The Democratic Party, for all practical purposes, is the feminist party. Women don't have to raise issues in public because the feminist view is not contested; any differences are worked out in back rooms. The Republican party is an anti-feminist party. Only on issues which have no feminist position can there be any flexibility; otherwise the party automatically opposes whatever feminists favor. Women within the party who might once have called themselves feminists must be careful not to do so if they wish to achieve anything at all.

Party Realignment

Key to understanding these changes is the fact that both parties underwent major transformations between 1960 and 1980. Neither party paid much attention to women or women's issues in the 1960s; both did the 1980s. Both responded profoundly to the women's liberation movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the parties that wrote women into their script in 2000 aren't the same parties that ignored them in 1968.
In the 1950s and 1960s both major parties had significant liberal and conservative wings. The Presidential candidates of both sought the center in order to be nominated and elected. Since then, the parties have realigned. Of the delegates to the 2000 conventions, 25 percent of the Republicans and ten percent of the Democrats were once in the other party. For men who switched, 1980 -- when Ronald Reagan was elected President -- was a big year. Women shifted party more gradually, though one-third of the Republican women who switched did so in the 1960s. For Democratic women delegates, 1960 and 1992 were turning points.
While many things contributed to this realignment, the most important was the civil rights movement, which shifted the deep South states from the Democratic to the Republican column. Every time the Democratic party spoke out in favor of minority rights, the South responded by rejecting its candidates. Although this trek began in 1948, the key year was 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress while Sen. Barry Goldwater opposed it. The Republican Party saw an opportunity to gain the South and it pursued it vigorously for decades. That same election shifted the allegiance of African-American voters from heavily to solidly Democratic; 85 percent of black men and 94 percent of black women voted for Gore last November (compared to 36 percent of white men and 48 percent of white women).
"Liberals" are now much more likely to be Democrats and "conservatives" are more likely to be Republicans than was true decades ago. However, liberalism as a label has become stigmatized in both parties. When asked, even Democratic delegates were reluctant to adopt the brand, but men more so than women.
How would you describe your views on most political matters?

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
% Liberal 42 36 1 1
% Moderate 51 59 39 31
% Conservative 3 7 57 65
% DK/NA 4 3 4 2



For as long as surveys have been done, the activists within each party -- the ones who vote in the primaries and attend the conventions -- are further left, or right, than party voters. To get the nomination, each party's candidates have to appeal to the party's wings. To get elected, each party's nominee still has to appeal to the center.
Prior to the 1960s women were active in both major political parties, largely as foot soldiers and support staff. Women were visible in the 1920s and 1930s, but relatively invisible in the decades after that even though their participation did not decline. By the 1950s, Presidential campaign managers recognized that women did 90 percent of the work, but not until party women organized and made demands in the 1970s did women get many rewards.
Although both parties have paid some attention to women and to "women's" issues, traditionally the Republican party did a little better. It seated proportionately more women as delegates, elected more women to public office, appointed more women to Administration posts, paid more attention to women's rights, and provided more encouragement to women party workers.
In turn, women were a bit more likely, in some elections at least, to vote Republican than were men. In the Presidential elections of 1928, 1952 and 1956, Republicans crowed that women more than men voted for their ticket.
In the last thirty years the parties have switched sides and run rapidly in opposite directions. Consequently, party voting has become significantly genderized; women are more likely to favor the Democrats and men to favor the Republicans. The normal Democratic electorate is 60 percent female.
At the three conventions in the 1960s, pitched battles were fought in both major parties over issues, none of which were feminist in nature. Even in 1964, when Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R. ME) became the first woman to actively campaign for a major party nomination, women were not taken seriously. But they were in 1972 when women organized caucuses and task forces to demand greater inclusion.
Feminists were visibly active in the 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions and were about equally successful. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was restored to both party platforms (having been in the Republican's from 1940 to 1960 and the Democrat's from 1944 to 1956). A woman's right to choose abortion was discussed but not put into either party platform (Roe v. Wade was decided in January 1973). Women in both parties demanded more convention delegates; both got a little over 30 percent in 1976.
Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s feminists battled for influence at each quadrennial convention. By and large, they were successful in the Democratic Party, and run underground or thrown out of the Republican Party.

The Platform

Writing the Platform was a pro forma process in 2000. There was a little token opposition just for show, but no fireworks and no uncertainty in the outcome. While the winning campaigns draft the platform, the convention platform committees can alter it. The type and extent of revision reflects the internal struggles going on within each party. Neither platform committee did much in 2000 because the positions of interest groups in both are secure and their priorities are established. There were no new issues or groups bubbling up from the grass roots to disturb the image the campaigns wanted to project.
Platform is just one of four convention committees. The others are Credentials, Rules and Permanent Organization (which the Democrats didn't have this year). Beginning in 1944, both parties allowed each state (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to send one man and one woman to represent it on each committee (Guam, Virgin Islands and America Samoa could send one person).
The Republicans still do this, and only duly selected convention delegates qualify. State delegations choose their committee representatives, making them more likely to represent the views of the state or the head of the state delegation than the party nominee. As recently as 1996 there were some acidic debates and even major concessions in language by the campaigns.
The Democrats wrote a national Charter and completely revised procedures for their 1980 convention. They still require equal numbers of men and women on the committees, but no longer two per state, and committee members do not have to be delegates. Instead the winning Presidential campaign chooses the 186 members of the Democratic Platform Committee, making them much more deferential to campaign views than the Republicans. At best they make polite suggestions of changes, which must be approved by the campaign. Thus the Platform writing process is independent of the convention, which merely ratifies the results.

The Republicans


The Republican Committees meet the week before the convention in the convention city. At prior conventions, committee week began with hearings on Monday, followed by deliberation by subcommittees, and then debate and approval by the full Platform committee. Some press come early and in the past have found the discussion to be good copy. Sometimes contentious issues such as abortion, or credentials fights, have led to embarrassing stories even when the outcome was not in question. This year the Republicans sought to minimize bad press by reducing exposure. The subcommittees met simultaneously on Friday, July 28, and the full Committees deliberated on Saturday.
As usual, it was the Family and Community Subcommittee that was assigned the abortion language. Support for a Human Life Amendment has been a staple since 1984. Pro-choice Republicans have long since given up on pro-choice language. They now ask that all references to abortion be removed from the platform. While 43 percent of Republican delegates agreed with them, that tactic didn't stand a chance.

Should the Republican party platform:

Total W M
% Support keeping abortion legal 5 7 5
% Oppose keeping abortion legal 42 36 45
Take no official stand on abortion 43 48 40
% DK/NA 10 9 10

Although the pro-choicers had not met to plan strategy they divvied up the ritual moves as though they had choreographed the script. Toni Casey (CA) moved to strike the entire paragraph on abortion, which condemned partial birth abortion and supported a human life amendment plus judges who "respect traditional family values." Maureen Barrows (NH) read a letter from eleven Republican Members of Congress opposing the HLA and a litmus test on judicial selection. Candace Straight (NJ) read a poll showing 67 % of Republican voters want to abandon the pro-life language.
That's when they ran out of speakers. Although the Chair asked in vain for other supporters of the motion, there were none. The floor was open for the pro-lifers to pontificate to their heart's content. Rand Larson (VT) announced that "we are the party of the open door" and "we are a pro-life party," apparently unaware that one might contradict the other. Maribelle Bolton (NM) explained that "some of us are under a higher authority," and Cheryl Williams (OK) challenged Straight with the admonition that there was no poll of those who lost their life to abortion.
The motion to strike lost by ten to three.
Straight then moved to add a paragraph respecting those Republicans with different views. The fact that 71 percent of both male and female delegates agree with this position did not sway the subcommittee. After more speeches, it lost by eleven to three. Toni Casey asked Cong. Henry Hyde (IL), the prolific sponsor of numerous anti-choice bills in the U.S. House, if he would consider adding exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest, because George W. Bush supported these. No, he said, and that was the end of that.
Phyllis Schlafly, who became a national figure opposing everything feminists support, showed up in the middle of the abortion debate and started to sit at the first empty seat among the spectators. When she realized it was next to a nest of pro-choicers, she moved. Formerly from Alton, Ill., this year Schlafly was an alternate from Missouri. She had her usual friends with her, but not the well organized operation she has brought to past conventions. There was no reason to come girded for battle; her fights were won long ago.
You wouldn't know that from statements made to the press by pro-choicers, who acted as though they still had a chance to make a difference. Sue Cullman of the Republican Coalition for Choice told a hallway press conference that they would look for 27 Platform Committee members to sign a minority plank. She praised the Chairman, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, for being fair. "No phone calls were made to our people," to pressure them, she said. There haven't been enough signatories for a pro-choice minority report since 1976, and there was no pressure on Committee members because no one doubted the outcome.
The scene was repeated when the full Platform Committee met the next day, only more pro-lifers spoke, giving even more reasons to keep the language in the Platform. The motion to strike lost on a voice vote. Straight later estimated that between 18 and 22 of the 107 members of the Platform Committee favored removal.
In many ways, the 2000 Republican Party Platform is incrementally more conservative on issues that touch on women. It now calls for "replacing" family planning programs with ones promoting abstinence, and eliminating "school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for contraception and abortion."
Sections on women in the miliary and Title IX (equality for women in higher education) have moved slightly toward a more traditional perspective on women and women's roles. There is one major exception: the Republicans advocate federal programs to train "women and the elderly" in the safe usage of firearms.
And "women's health" has not yet taken on the political overtones of other "women's" issues. The platform calls for "far greater focus on the needs of women who have historically been underrepresented in medical research and access to the proper level of medical attention."

The Democrats


Instead of subcommittees, the Democrats have a drafting committee which reviews the draft prepared by the winning campaign. Chaired by North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, its 14 members met in St. Louis on July 6 and 7. The full Platform committee met in Cleveland, Ohio on July 28-29, co-chaired by Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.
Feminist concerns were not discussed by either body, as there was already a consensus on language from past Platforms. The issues on which there were serious differences, such as trade, were resolved by ambiguous language or not mentioned at all. The purpose of the platform was to avoid alienating anyone.
Or at least not mainstream Democrats. The Democratic Platform boldly declared the party's support for the feminist bottom line: the Equal Rights Amendment and a woman's right to choose. It went on to proclaim support for "contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing." It decried the refusal of the Republican Senate to fill vacancies in the federal bench "especially [of] women and minorities."
The final Platform also declared Democrats are "committed to ensuring full equality for women and to vigorously enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act." It demanded that "the United States Congress pass the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women which has been consistently blocked by the Republican Senate."
Among other proposals aimed at women were: fight discrimination against female entrepreneurs, especially in federal procurement; strengthen the unemployment compensation system; treat low-wage workers in part-time positions with dignity and fairness; re-enact the Violence Against Women Act (recently voided by the Supreme Court); stop domestic violence; pass laws providing extra punishment for hate crimes "based on gender, disability or sexual orientation;" provide "tougher penalties against all sex offenders;" and "end discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation."
Women were mentioned in the foreign policy proposals as well, including those addressing "global epidemics" and "societies that are devastated by war, disease and poverty." Foreign investment "must be more targeted toward women" and the "the scourge of child labor" ended.
In short, women's importance to the Democratic Party was amply displayed in its 2000 Platform.

The Delegates

The Republicans sent 2,066 delegates and an equal number of alternates to their convention last summer. The Democrats chose 4402 delegates and 600 alternates. Each Republican delegate casts one vote. Democratic delegates can cast fractional votes so there are a few more delegates than votes.

Who They Were:

Both parties collect delegate demographics, but the Republicans dispense this information cautiously. Usually the GOP gives out the percentage female of delegates and alternates together. Since there are always more women in the latter, this gives the impression of greater female participation than is reflected in actual voting strength. In past years, convention personnel have provided the number of women delegates after a little persistent questioning. This year they just said they did not know and could not find out. All they would do is provide phone numbers, which no one ever answered.
Fortunately both the AP and CBS polled the delegates. Of 1837 Republican delegates interviewed by the AP, men were 61 percent, women were 34 percent, and 5 percent were unknown. The CBS survey of 1055 Republican delegates found that 35 percent were women. This is the same as in 1996, but down from 1992.
The Democrats require equal numbers of men and women, but since they also reserve seats to some public and party officials there are usually a few more men. The official tally said that at the 2000 convention there were 2206 men and 2192 women delegates.
None of the data publicly released provided responses to poll questions by gender. However, Kathleen Frankovic, Director of Surveys for CBS News, arranged for a special run for off our backs which separated the replies of men and women. All responses are from the CBS survey.
Not surprisingly, Democratic delegates were more diverse than Republican delegates. In both parties, women were a little more diverse than men. They were also older.

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
% White 67 71 88 90
% Black 21 18 5 4
% Asian 3 2 3 2
% Other 8 8 2 2
% Hispanic 12 13 4 7
(Hispanic is self-identified and can be of any race)
% Protestant 48 46 64 62
% Catholic 27 33 25 28
% Jewish 7 9 2 2
% Other 5 4 5 4
% None 9 6 2 1
Marital Status        
% Married 53 74 74 83
% Widowed 9 2 8 2
% Divorced 18 7 9 5
% Separated 2 1 1 0
% Never married 17 16 8 9
average age 54 51 57 53


Occupationally, more delegates in both parties told pollsters that they were politicians than anything else, especially the men. Retired was the second largest occupation, especially for women. Lawyers came in third among men of both parties; Democratic women were teachers and Republican women were homemakers. This is reflected in level of education. Men in both parties are more likely than women to have advanced degrees, but Democratic women have more education than Republican women.
Women in both parties were more likely to hold a party office than were men, especially at the local or state level. Men were more likely to have ever held an elected office. Republican women averaged 22 years of party service; the other three groups averaged 24 years. A little less than half of all the delegates had attended a prior convention, but men went to more than women.

What They Thought:

Positions on issues showed a vast gulf by party but not much of one by sex. Delegates mostly gave the expected answer to questions about the death penalty, school vouchers, affirmative action, public schooling for children of illegal immigrants, protection of the environment, guns, social security, what to do with the budget surplus, and free trade. When asked to identify the "most important campaign issue in your state this year" there were significant differences by party and by sex.

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
Education 34 32 34 22
Health care 22 15 3 3
Big Government 0 0 6 10
The Economy 9 15 7 13
Taxes 1 2 12 13

Abortion has been a partisan issue for 25 years but this is reflected more in the views of delegates than voters. Very few delegates in either party thought it would be an important issue this year. The attitude of Democratic voters is closer to that of Republican voters than to Democratic delegates. Among both groups of delegates, women are more liberal on a woman's right to choose than are men.

  Democrats Republicans
  Delegates Voters Delegates Voters
  W M   W M  
Abortion should be:            
% generally available 76 66 37 20 11 20
% with stricter limits 16 22 45 39 46 48
% not at all 2 6 14 27 33 30
% DK/NA 6 6 4 13 11 2

The only issue on which gender was more important than party was whether China should have the same trade privileges as other friendly nations. Men think alike on this issue, and women do not.

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
% Yes 47 51 36 52
% No 38 40 46 39
% DK/NA 15 9 18 9

The Interest groups

Unions are the most important interest group in the Democratic Party. About a quarter of union delegates were teachers, and another quarter were "other." Among the few Republican union members, over 40 percent were teachers, and a third were "other."

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
% Union Members 32 29 5 4

The AFL-CIO occupied major space in the headquarters hotel, and several large unions held regular caucus meetings and rallies. AFSCME, SEIU, UAW, AFT and NEA were the most visible. Its "Working Women Vote" program was prominent, with press packets, stickers and signs on the convention floor promoting education, health care and equal pay as the issues most important to working women today.
Caucus meetings of interest groups are common to the Democratic convention, but rare at the Republicans'. Nine different Democratic interest groups met at two different hotels. In addition, some labor unions (e.g. AFSCME) also met separately, though they weren't on the official caucus list. While I could only sample a few of these, my impression is that they were all rallies for the campaign, not forums for debate.
The Republican party doesn't have organized interests quite like the Democrats. The Christian Coalition is the closest equivalent to the AFL-CIO, but its influence was not reflected in the roughly fifty men and fifty women the CC sent as delegates. Only five percent of Republican delegates said they were in the CC in 2000, compared to 11 percent in 1996. Pat Robertson's political organization has been in a state of organizational and financial disarray since Ralph Reed departed a few years ago to make more money as a political consultant. Reed was almost as popular with the troops as Robertson and much better organized.


The unofficial chief operating officer is Roberta Combs, who is officially the Executive Vice President. She ran the Tuesday afternoon Faith & Freedom Rally which brought 3,000 cheering supporters to the Grand Ballroom in the headquarters hotel. Unlike Reed at past conventions, she didn't make a major speech, confining her remarks to introductions of the several men who made brief remarks. Robertson shared the spotlight only with the CC's attorney, Jay Sekulow, a former New York Democrat, who described his victories against the ACLU, dubbing it the "Anti-Christian Litigation Unit." Phyllis Schlafly was the only woman scheduled to address the crowd, and she didn't show.
Despite the falloff of CC members as delegates, born again Christians remain the base of the Republican party, as various members of the Platform Committee frequently proclaimed. They are the core workers crucial to Republican victories and think of the platform as their turf. "W" wasn't their preferred candidate, but he knew enough not to threaten their territory. The CC in turn declared that "W" was "acceptable" even if he did occasionally deviate from the party line.
CBS didn't even ask the Democratic delegates if they were members of the Christian Coalition. Delegates of both parties were asked if they considered themselves born again Christians or members of the religious right, and there are a few among the "party of sexual perversion" as the CC likes to call it. While there is only a minor sex distinction, the partisan divide is quite pronounced.

  Democrats Republicans
  W M W M
% born again 13 11 25 28
% religious right 1 0 14 13

The two parties have polar opposite attitudes toward Gays and Lesbians. The Democrats officially said there were 158 open G/Ls among the delegates; the G/L caucus claimed 215. At least that many met regularly to listen to speakers and pass out literature and buttons. About 80 % of those in the one caucus meeting I went to were white males. The Democratic Platform opposes work place discrimination and supports "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation."
In the Republican Party G/Ls are barely tolerated. Its platform "affirm[s] that homosexuality is incompatible with military service." Nonetheless, there were probably more open gays and lesbians than open feminists among the Republican delegates. G/Ls have lobbied for acceptance and have made some inroads despite being viewed as sinful by most Republican delegates. They claimed 18 openly gay or lesbian delegates at the 2000 convention. Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney has an openly lesbian daughter and he didn't try to keep her in the closet, though she wasn't held up as a role model either.
Although the Log Cabin convention (of G/L Republicans) didn't meet until after the official convention left town, G/Ls did hold three fancy receptions, attended by some Republican office holders. They are following the normal Republican strategy of keeping a low profile and boring from within. Since about 90 % of the Log Cabin Republicans are white males (judging from those attending the 1996 convention), they probably have the money to do this.

Republican Women's Activities

Phyllis Schlafly and her Republican National Coalition for Life held its quadrennial event at the Union League on Wednesday afternoon. Founded in 1862, the Union League was restricted to men until about fifteen years ago. When I arrived I found a small group of pro-choice picketers and a line of blue shirted cops making sure that only those "invited" could get in. Even though I had phoned in advance, I quickly discovered that off our backs was not on the "acceptable" press list, so I confined myself to chatting with the demonstrators.
They were a very young group, unschooled in fine art of sidewalk solicitation. No one passed out leaflets, and their signs had more show than substance. If you didn't already know who they were and why they were there, you wouldn't find out by walking down the street. On the curb two young men vigorously debated the merits of abortion with each other, while a third blocked my attempt to photograph the first two. Across the street a few pro-lifers displayed one of their disassembled fetus signs.
Ironically, the Union League also rented office space to one of the pro-choice groups which came to lobby the Republicans, Ann Stone's Republicans for Choice. From a back room reachable only through the restaurant Ann, her friend Janet McElligott, and several volunteers distributed bandannas, stickers, and literature asking Republicans to "Yank the Plank" on abortion from the Platform. Stone is a professional fundraiser and her group is a PAC, not a membership organization.
Sue Cullman's Republican Pro-Choice Coalition is based on the remnants of the defunct liberal wing of the Republican Party. Although liberal Republicans (who call themselves moderates) can't elect many delegates, they have money. About a thousand of them went to the Sunday afternoon pro-choice reception, where they heard Roselyn O'Connell, the new Republican President of the National Women's Political Caucus, confirm their passionate belief that it is "we in this room who truly represent Republican values."
The RPCC is headquartered in New York City, has an office in Washington, D.C., and six state chapters, all in the northeast. The few pro-choice Republican elected officials are on their Advisory Board. However, none of the pro-choice Republican Governors, Senators or Representatives said a word of support in public for changing the platform at the convention. They knew that silence is the price of acceptance within the party and there was nothing to be gained by beating a dead horse.
Nonetheless, the grassroots pro-choicers put on a good show. Karla Henderlong came from California to parade around the committee hearing rooms with a large sign saying "agree to disagree 2000." It was confiscated at one point, but later returned. The RPCC mailed out letters and postcards to Republicans describing the abortion plank as a "pothole" which had to be paved for a unified party. Several of their people promenaded through the headquarters hotel sporting bright yellow shirts that said "Warning! GOP Pothole Ahead."
The Right doesn't want a unified party. It would rather be pure than elect a President, and has enough votes and workers to give it clout within the party. The ex-liberals don't have either of these. They do have money, but not enough to fund a Presidential bid by a pro-choice Republican. As long as they remain in the Republican party, their future lies in talking to each other.
More powerful is the WISHlist -- Women In Senate and House -- a PAC which raises funds for pro-choice Republican women. It's President is Candace Straight of New Jersey, who led the pro-choice forces on the Platform Committee. Of necessity, WISHlist has a broad definition of pro-choice. It readily endorsed Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, who believes in choice "with reasonable restrictions." She thanked WISHlist for its support as an example of "making steps toward inclusion" because many in her state think she is too liberal.
Almost five hundred supporters bought $100 tickets to the WISHlist breakfast on Wednesday to honor longstanding Pennsylvania National Committeewoman Elsie Hillman. Hillman is a party woman from the old school. "Women approach things differently than men," she told the group. "Men are macho; women have intuition." Hillman confessed that she wanted to run for Mayor of Pittsburgh years ago, but her husband wouldn't let her.
The National Federation of Republican Women is the oldest of all the partisan women's organizations. Founded in 1938 to give a voice to Republican women, its 100,000 members are the workhorses of the party, quietly doing the scut work behind the scenes. The NFRW ran a Republican Women's Information Service in the convention press tent, as it has done in the past, but was it open so few hours that I saw only its sign. Perhaps Republican women have other things to do. Instead of providing information to the press, the NFRW sponsored a Tribute to Laura Bush for 2,500 luncheoners. Its President, Marian Miller, got two minutes of podium time at the Monday session of the convention to tell a lot of empty seats why a Bush administration would leave no child behind.

Democratic Women's Activities

Democratic women were all over the place. There were so many events for, by and about women that I and my assistant could not get to them all. They were mostly celebrations and rallies with a common theme: women are wonderful, and are breaking into the mainstream of political and economic life. Nor were the women all white; Asian, African-American and Latino women were prominently present, and on the podium.
As usual there was a daily women's caucus, which was open to anyone, not just delegates. The women's caucus was run by the Women's Leadership Forum, founded in 1993, and currently headed by Susan Turnbull. The "new" thing this year was corporate sponsorship. Corporations may have financed meetings in the past, but they advertised it this time. The sponsors of each days women's caucus were publicly announced. Their signs were on the stage and promos passed out to the audience, separately and in goodie bags. At least two sponsors had speakers on the panels to talk about why they were for women.
The 2000 women's caucus heard from Hillary on Monday, and Tipper and Hadassah on Thursday, but not their husbands. Tuesday featured issues panels and Wednesday was devoted "getting out your message." Only two to five hundred people attended each days' caucus, far short of the two thousand that sometimes attended in the past. However, the available hotel ballrooms were smaller than usual and the caucus meetings were not widely publicized, so knowledge rather than interest may have limited attendance.
At the rallies the campaign message to women was clear: Your right to choose (to have an abortion) is at stake. Up to four Supreme Court justices may be appointed by the next President, and if the Republicans choose the justices, women's right to choose may be lost. "It's the Supreme Court, stupid" was printed on plastic bags handed out to every attendee, as were buttons saying "which 9 next time?"
The many "tributes" to Democratic women were also sponsored by economic interests. Although most were by "invitation" and some cost money, receptivity to the press varied. The UAW and GM "team" sponsored seven events at a local studio, including one for women candidates. They welcomed my assistant and myself with open arms and gave us red carpet treatment. At another studio "Tribute to Women House Members" sponsored by Chase Bank and Dreamworks we were told to wait out in the hot sun for an hour; if there was room we might be allowed in. We left. At a Women of Distinction Brunch by the California (women run) lobbying firm of Rose and Kendall, Inc. we were told that the press was not welcome, but we were; hide the camera and press tags and come in. We did.

Where were the Feminists?

Missing from both conventions were out-front feminists. NOW and NARAL -- which are basically Democratic interest groups -- co-sponsored Sunday's Unity2000 march at the Republican convention. Their signs were displayed prominently in the front line where only true believers could see them. The post march rally was like a county fair, with booths, entertainment, food and festivities. NOW national President Patricia Ireland told the few dozen people paying attention that "Bush and Cheney are not compassionate conservatives but ruthless reactionaries."
At the Democratic convention NOW held no functions, led no marches, and made no speeches. The Feminist Majority Fund had press credentials and Ellie Smeal and Alice Cohen represented it at various "tributes" to women. Women's presence was felt largely through NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the American Nurses Association, Voters for Choice, Emily's List and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Kate Michaelman spoke at the convention.
While there were multiple demonstrations and marches during the Democratic convention, NOW led none of them. A Tuesday march was supposedly about women, but since anyone could join and did, it was not clear from the signs that women were the theme.

The Podium


In the past one has been able to read the tea leaves of party struggles by seeing who gets to speak at the convention, on what, and when. Not any more. Now it's just a show. Indeed the parties competed with each other to see how many ordinary people they could put before the TV cameras and how diverse they could be. The Democrats had two "Democratic women" segments -- celebrating women candidates and those already elected to the Senate and House -- in addition to a lot of individual women. The Republicans had a lot of individual women speakers.
The GOP's boldest move was to give three minutes at the podium on Tuesday eve to Arizonan Jim Kolbe, the only openly gay Member of Congress. He spoke on foreign trade but his mere presence evoked protest from some delegates who deliberately refused to applaud. The Texas delegation, which had the front row seats, planned to walk out, but didn't because the aisles were too crowded for anyone to move.
At the Democratic convention the AFL-CIO's "Working Women Vote" signs were widely distributed and visible every night, along with those printed by Emily's List saying "When Women Vote, Women Win." At the Republican convention, the only signs were the mysterious "W Stands for Women," which neither the press office nor anyone else could explain. Perhaps they say all that need be said about the parties' different approach to women and women's rights at the 2000 conventions.

I'd like to thank Barbara Ryan and Jeni Maier for help at the conventions, Judith Meuli and Stephanie Palmer for housing in LA, and Kathleen Frankovic and Sarah Dutton for data from the CBS delegate polls.