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CRISES AND CONFLICTS IN
SOCIAL MOVEMENT ORGANIZATIONS

by Jo Freeman

Published in Chrysalis: A Magazine of Women's Culture, No. 5, 1978, pp. 43-51.


Like any social movement, the women's liberation movement faces a series of tasks. While there is no "right" way to handle most of them, the way the movement deals with these tasks will determine the nature of its impact on society. Granted, most movements are not organizations and thus not able to make conscious decisions about their direction. Usually they consist of numerous core groups and a large penumbra of sympathizers. Nonetheless, these core groups serve as the foci of a movement's values and activities and determine much of its deliberate policy. Just as it has been argued that society as a whole has a cultural and structural "center" about which most members of the society are more or less "peripheral,"1 so too can a social movement be conceived of as having a center and a periphery. Thus it is the groups at its center which must face the movement's tasks.
Social movement organizations are very peculiar kinds of organizations. They are inherently unstable because, unlike ordinary organizations, they are operating to change the society in which they originate -- not adapt to its needs. Thus their environment is often a hostile one and creates organizational pressures unknown to less threatening groups. Ultimately, a social movement organization's basic purpose is to put itself out of business by changing the situation that gave rise to it and thus eliminating the need for it to exist.
In this attempt a social movement organization has a very different resource base than other kinds of organizations. The numbers, kinds, and commitment of their supporters are all it ultimately has to rely on. Other organizations, especially voluntary ones, rely on these factors also, but rarely so totally. These supporters form the primary "social base" of the movement, and the resources they bring with them -- such as time, education, money, contacts, and personal access to different kinds of institutions -- are the primary resources of the movement.
Broadly speaking, a social movement organization must create a vision of its ultimate goal, define the necessary short-range objectives which will lead to that goal, and mobilize its resources to overcome societal barriers and resistance to their achievement. During this process, a movement faces a series of contradictions. It is torn by conflicting demands which constantly threaten to tear it apart, and which can never be completely resolved because each side reflects an essential element in the movement's functioning. For a movement to opt in favor of one faction over the other usually leads to the destruction of the movement by either wiping it out completely or reducing it to an innocuous group. Instead, it is necessary to maintain a dynamic tension between the different pressures. This is not easy, which is one of the reasons social movements rarely last very long. Running a social movement is something like walking a tightrope; it is very easy to fall off. On the other hand, a less ominous group can proceed as though on a bridge; the way is not always clear, but it is less tenuous.
The most persistent problem a movement group faces is the conflict between group maintenance needs and goal achievement needs. As with any other organization, a structure is necessary to make decisions and accomplish tasks in a coordinated fashion. This is most efficiently done in a well-defined, rational manner with lines of authority, specialization of function, and some routinization of tasks. However since a movement organization requires spontaneity as well as structure, enthusiasm as well as obligation, this bureaucratic style can be counterproductive. Especially in movements with democratic values, too much structure can discourage participation and inhibit eagerness.2

 
This problem arises from the incentives a social movement organization has available to it to induce people to join. Wilson3 identifies four major types of incentives that an organization can use to maintain its membership. These are material incentives (money, goods, and other tangible rewards); specific solidary incentives (status, power, and other intangible benefits that are scarce); collective solidary incentives (prestige, friendship, fun, and other rewards from being part of a group); and purposive incentives (value fulfillment, or the sense of satisfaction from contributing to a worthwhile cause).
Social movements rely predominantly on a combination of purposive and solidary incentives, though material ones are not necessarily excluded. The major incentive is purposive -- the promise that a desired goal will someday, through the efforts of the movement, be reached. However, many movement goals are quite remote, and gratification long delayed is usually insufficient to maintain active participation. Therefore, the ongoing incentives are solidary ones. In fact, the more remote the expected achievement of a movement's goals, the more it must rely on solidary incentives, as the pleasure of participation is all it has to offer. Movements whose goals are more immediate, or who can successfully identify short-range objectives that will lead to their ultimate goals, can use goal achievement as the major payoff.
Since a social movement's primary resource is the commitment of its members, it must rely on their dedication to get things done. Movement participants don't do things because they have to; they do them because they want to. This dependency on membership commitment means that maintaining morale and motivation is a prime need of any social movement organization. This takes a lot of its energy and determines a lot of its activities. Movement organizations must structure members' energy in order to achieve their goals, but they must do so without stifling it. When people feel they are being too structured they feel stifled, because what people want to do is not always that which will best further the goals of the organization.
Many of the most important movement tasks are also the most boring, such as phoning, soliciting donations, stuffing envelopes, or canvassing door-to-door. Consequently, the members' perspective is often very short-range, and crisis response takes up a lot of a movement's time. Some movements never get beyond crisis response into the planning stage necessary for efficient allocation of resources. Those that do must consider in their plans the problem of member morale.
To sum up, the less structure a movement organization has, the less control it has over the directions in which it develops and the political actions in which it engages. The more structured the organization is, the easier it becomes to channel people's energies into the necessary tasks, but the greater is the danger, of alienating those very people. Consequently, it is necessary for movement survival to opt for neither the apotheosis of efficiency nor the apotheosis of participation, but to maintain a balance between them both. This is difficult, and it is that very difficulty which often causes a movement to bureaucratize itself in order to make decisions efficiently or to be so concerned with member morale that it loses sight of its original purpose and becomes a social club.
Regardless, of the particular mix of incentives used, movement organizations must deal with the problem of recruitment. The most obvious conflict is that of inclusiveness versus exclusiveness. The more inclusive an organization is, the less the commitment required to join and remain a member. An organization that consciously tries to diversify its membership base as much as possible runs the risk of diluting its belief system. Those views which are not appealing to whatever segment of the population it is trying to recruit are played down in favor of those that are. Organizations attempting a great deal of heterogeneity are pushed in the direction of vague beliefs and remote goals in order not to alienate the potential membership.
 
This is a conflict faced by many feminist groups because of a pervasive belief that they must somehow be "everything to every woman." Given the diversity of the female population in this country and the lack of consensus on what women want, an attempt by any single organization to appeal to all segments of the population is very likely to lead to an avoidance of thinking about serious political questions. This avoidance of politics is typical of American social movements. Often seduced by the popularity poll, movement organizations are much more likely to view the growth of membership rather than the sharpening of ideas as the measure of success. This preference often has some very unintended consequences. For example, both SDS and CORE made major efforts in the 1960's to broaden their base, but neither was prepared for the different backgrounds, needs, and demands of the new recruits it attracted. These organizations found themselves unable to deal with the results of their own expansion, and the new recruits they had so earnestly sought became the seeds of their destruction.
While too much heterogeneity creates problems for organizations, it is not bad for movements. Historically, American movements have thrived best when they were highly pluralistic, with each group within them having a solid identity and distinct style of approach. The result is a division of labor of both appeal and activity that permits a great deal of flexibility. It is often necessary and valuable for different groups to play different roles, with pressure coming from one and conciliation from another, without any having to be directly responsible for the actions of any others. Thus, different groups are better off having their own organizations which can deal with their own particular needs, without having to secure approval from everyone else. A broadly based organization (which few feminist groups are) is not the same as a broadly movement (which feminism is).
An organization that is too exclusive generally has the opposite problems. While the ideology may be kept pure, the appeal is often so limited that the societal impact of the organization is negligible. Sectarian left groups usually commit this sin, but it is rarely a serious problem for feminist groups. Feminist groups tend to become exclusive not by deliberate restriction of membership on the basis of politics (though that sometimes happens), but by their insistence on total participation in all decisions and lack of a decision making structure. Since the number of interactions necessary to convey information and exchange opinions increases geometrically as the number of members increases arithmetically, participatory democracy virtually ensures that the size of the group is kept small. Such groups frequently become closed to new members because of the time and emotional investment required to build up the trust, acceptance, and mutual understanding necessary for their successful functioning. This trend is exacerbated when solidary incentives are the ones primarily employed, as the pleasures of personal contact come more frequently from length rather than diversity of association.
As organizations grow and develop, they formulate their own norms of correct behavior. Initially these are usually derived from those the originators have experienced in other organizations, but they are subject to change over time. For example, the strikingly different styles the two branches of the women's liberation movement displayed in the beginning closely reflected the contrasting nature of the groups their founders had been in. The women who formed the National Organization for Women had received their political education in traditional political organizations where constitutions, by-laws, Robert's Rules of Order, elections, and offices were the accepted modes of operation. The women of the younger branch primarily adopted their style of participatory democracy from the New Left, which most had been exposed to if not actually involved in. While there has since been an attempt to attribute this mode of participation -- stressing equality, community, and personal involvement -- as peculiarly "new feminist," it is in reality neither new nor especially feminist. Such a style has been a recessive theme throughout most of American history and has been adopted by many social protest groups who sought to change the tone of American life.
 
While both NOW and most of the small groups still have basically different styles of approach to organization, they have each adopted some ideas from the other. The 1974 NOW convention in Houston saw a great deal of hostility directed toward those women who sought to organize a slate of candidates for national office --with the epithet "machine" used frequently. Concomitantly, many of the small groups, while still experimental in their structure, are no longer afraid of the idea of structure itself.
As important as the style of organization are the norms which govern a group's style of conflict. Every group has disagreements, and in political groups these are the rule rather than the exception. If disagreements are too great the group splits, but what is and is not too great is determined by the means available to express disagreements. In the early days of the younger branch, a great deal of fission was created precisely because the norm of sisterhood negated the possibility of disagreement. People were reluctant to admit that serious dissidence could exist. As no means of debating or definitively resolving differences was created, groups were often faced with unending struggle, or they used informal means of ostracism or personal attack to eliminate discordant elements.
A political group without any conflict is a stagnating group. Conflict is necessary and valuable, as it is the means by which we debate our ideas, resolve our differences, test our theories, and come to conclusions. Conflict is the means by which we make changes in society and allow for changes in ourselves. People involved in groups with a long history of conflict learn to distance themselves from it as a means of personal survival. "Don't take criticism personally" is the predominant rule.
In the women's liberation movement, the opposite tends to occur. Conflict is usually personalized. Disagreements are often expressed as personal attacks, and even when they aren't they are often interpreted as such. It is a person's character and motivation, not her ideas, which are questioned. This personalization of differences can be seen in the language we use to criticize each other. Criticism can be either useful or destructive, depending on how it is used. In the women's movement there is an unfortunate tendency not to criticize people's actions but to criticize their selves. It is rarely said that someone made an error in judgment, or overlooked significant information, in making her decisions. Usually we are accused of some disreputable attitude: We are elitists, middle-class, on ego or power trips, etc. Mistakes are transitory; they can be changed. People are permanent and can only be hated or destroyed. Because this interpretation of conflict is so personal, people tend to avoid it by playing down real political, differences.
The traditional mode of conflict requires that problems be analyzed contextually, that the self be separated from the process. When carried to an extreme, however, this can lead to the creation of ideological rationalizations of what are really personality conflicts. This can lead to a lot of needless factionalization, but it does provide personal insulation. The feminist movement has seen very few serious political differences and very few splits as a result of political differences. But it has been very hard on the people in it.
Part of the reason for this personalization of conflict lies in inexperience. Most feminists haven't had any background in traditional political organization and haven't experienced the kind of socialization which would train us to interpret conflict politically. There is also a great deal of resistance to acquiring this approach, as it is somewhat in conflict with the personal emphasis of the feminist movement. By making the personal political we have also made the political personal. And we've fought our political battles through personal means.
Complicating -- and in part caused by -- this phenomenon is the need for any successful organization to develop a high degree of trust among its members and for its leaders. Trust is the creator of collective power. Just as organization is the means by which individual talents and energies are focused toward a common goal, trust is the crucial ingredient which allows some individuals to commit those resources without having to justify in advance even the most minor decisions. When there is little trust, tremendous amounts of time and energy must be spent persuading people to take suggested actions, which often means there is little left for the actions themselves. When there is too much trust, the opportunities for fraud and misuse of power increase.4
 
The women's movement has usually suffered from too little trust in others rather than too much. Not only are women trained from birth not to trust other women, but the very process of becoming a feminist increases one's skepticism about the actions of others and one's wariness of authority. Consequently, a great deal of movement energy has been spent in tearing down anyone appearing to act like an authority and in building up trust within the varying movement groups. This has contributed toward keeping most movement groups small, closed, and limited to activities which permit a great deal of consultation and deliberation.
Isolation and a strong enemy also help maintain the necessary degree of internal trust for organizational functioning. In a situation of otherwise low trust, a solid opponent can do more to unify a group and heal its splits than any other single factor. Many of the student sit-ins of the 1960's would have never gotten off the ground if the university authorities hadn't brought in the police. But even if the enemy is not so blatant, it is the perceived and not the real opposition that is important. Movements which neither perceive nor experience opposition find it difficult to maintain the degree of commitment necessary for a viable, active, organization. Often, opposition will be blown up larger than life because to do so serves the needs of group cohesion.5
However, the relationship between opposition (real or perceived) and movement strength is not linear. Effective application of social control measures can kill a movement as thoroughly as completely ignoring it. Similarly, a perceived opposition of great strength can effectively destroy a movement by convincing people that their actions are futile.6 For example, the many infiltration and conspiracy theories that left and feminist groups have developed to explain their internal problems have an initial effect of heightening commitment against a pernicious enemy. But if carried too far or too long, these theories may undermine the mutual trust necessary for movement survival. People play the game "Who Is the Agent," and that effectively preempts them from other tasks. Thus, an opposition that contributes to trust and commitment in the short range can kill it over the long run.
A concomitant problem, often suffered by those who hold leadership roles in movement groups, is the failure to realize that trust cannot be automatically expected. It is not uncommon for movement leaders, because they know their motives are pure and their actions taken for the best interests of the movement, to assume that everyone else feels the same way about them. Not realizing that the lack of trust socialized into underclass members does not dissolve when they join a movement, such leaders often fail to actively build that trust. When they experience more dissidence than cooperation, this is often interpreted as disloyalty or lack of commitment. If expressed in actions or words, this interpretation in turn convinces the dissenters that the leaders are not to be trusted. The result can be a spiral of conflict, confusion, and confrontation, which leads to splitting, eviction, or organizational paralysis.
Governing the conflicts discussed above is the ultimate crisis of all social movements: that of keeping a creative tension between "politics" and "vision." A movement's vision is its long-range goal, be it a vague utopia or a set of specific achievements. Its politics are the means it must use to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, the relationship between them is rarely very clear, and the more distant and/or the more radical the goals, the less clear are the means of achieving them.
In the realm of social change, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. The tightrope a movement must walk is not even stretched neatly across the precipice. Instead it curves and twists in a variety of unpredictable directions, so that where one appears to be going at any one moment may seem to bear no relation to where one wants to end up.
One danger in walking this tightrope is that of looking only at what immediately crosses one's path -- responding only to crises or the "latest issue" -- without wondering whether it is worth the energy. It is very easy for social movements, dependent as they are on spontaneity at the prime source of energy, to simply go from crisis to crisis or issue to issue. Not only does this fail to allocate scarce resources with any degree of efficiency, but it can lead one down a blind alley. Many social movements follow false leads only to discover years later that. these have gained them little or, worse yet, have boxed them into positions contrary to their long range goals. So few movements have a planning mechanism that the temptation of immediate demands is almost impossible to resist. It requires constant reflection on the relationship of current issues to long range goals to avoid this temptation.
The opposite danger is that of letting the desire to attain long range goals so completely dominate one's strategy that one commits the sin of "vanguardism." This happens when one tries to leap across the chasm instead of walking the tightrope by taking every idea to its most logical conclusion. The Weather Underground is the most recent example of what happens with this kind of thinking. Those who try to act out their ideals in their current lives without regard for circumstances often completely alienate themselves from potential supporters and thus from the possibility of creating new adherents. Vanguardists ignore the context in which issues have to be fought, and they ignore the stages people must go through to get to new levels of consciousness. Calculating just how far one can push, just how much one can act on the values one holds in a nonsupportive context, just what the speed is at which people can be moved, is both difficult and necessary. But it is hard to know when to challenge and when to compromise until we accept the necessity of doing both.
As it pursues its vision, a movement must decide how much of its time and energy should be spent changing people's views and how much spent changing the institutions we live in. This is a conflict only for those movements whose goals require a fundamentally different perspective on the world than the dominant one, because they are the only ones who need to change values and priorities. In other words, movements which want to change the pie and not just get a piece of it have to create a consensus for change among the other parts of the pie. Feminism fits into this category because it is an essentially radical idea that requires a total reorientation of everyone's perspective on themselves and on each other.
 
While this kind of movement must decide how much time to allocate to these different tasks, it cannot profitably concentrate on only one. If it tries only to change people, it faces an uphill fight, since current institutions support old values and norms of behavior. People who try to act out radically new values run into so many barriers and are so frequently frustrated that few have the dedication to continue the fight. Therefore, many consciousness-changing movements eventually face the reality that they must isolate themselves from the dominant society and live only in their own institutions by their own values, or they must change the dominant institutions. The problem with the first of these onerous choices is that the isolation necessary for survival precludes much recruitment of new adherents. The problem with the second is that changing institutions can absorb so much of a movement's energy that it puts its ideals and values on a back burner and occasionally forgets them. Movements that concentrate solely on changing institutions -- without constantly being reminded of the ultimate purpose of these changes -- are very easily co-opted. Immediate gains that are intended to be a means to an end frequently become an end in themselves, and their attainment is confused with the attainment of the movement's original goals. This is what happened with the 19th, century woman's movement, in which the view on suffrage changed from its being one goal among many to the goal that would give women equality. This is not the only way a movement can be coopted. The most prevalent way is for its leaders to identify with a co-opting group and thus to subsume the movement's goals to those of such a group.
Co-option can be defined as a divergence of resources of a person or group from use for their own goals to use for those of the coopting group or person. This definition assumes that the co-optor and co-optee have different goals or, if they accept the validity of each other's goals, have different priorities for their goals. Co-option can only occur between cognate groups -- i.e., those that have something in common. Groups with consciously contradictory goals have no basis for co-option because they are in an adversary position. One might seek to neutralize the other but cannot co-opt it.
In the 1960's, protest groups always viewed co-option as an evil -- one which might happen to them if they had any but an adversary relationship with the American political system. It was also viewed as the inevitable consequence of an individual's agreeing to "work within the system." While many of these groups proclaimed that their ultimate goals were contrary to those of the American government, they found the possibility of co-option so frightening precisely because their goals essentially involved a purer application of basic American values.
Yet political science has viewed co-option differently. From this other perspective, co-option is something that happens when an organized interest group "captures" an agency that is supposed to regulate its members in the public interest.7 It occurs when agency administrators gradually identify with the regulated interests and adopt their perspective because of their long and intense association.
When these perspectives are combined, they present a spectrum of possible relationships between a larger group and a smaller one which share common concerns. At one end of the spectrum is the 1960's sense of co-option as something that a larger group does to a smaller one. At the other end is the political science interpretation (which will be called "capturing" to differentiate it from the former) as something that a smaller group does to a larger. And in the middle is the "cooperation" that comes from each group giving up something in order to get something in return.
When this broader view is taken, co-option no longer appears to be inevitably bad or even inevitable. It is something that can, but does not necessarily, happen. There is no need to assume that co-option will necessarily occur when protest groups seek to use institutional resources in pursuit of their goals. Instead, this is a risk one takes. Whether it is a risk one should take depends upon one's analysis of the particular circumstances involved. Frankly, I think it is a risk the feminist movement is going to have to take, because the opportunities for protest activity are much more limited now than they were a decade ago.
There are two major means by which a new group makes demands on a governmental or other institution: confrontation and infiltration. Both of these means can -- in fact must -- go together, but in any given situation one is usually emphasized. For example, the civil rights and anti-war movements primarily used confrontation to make their demands known. But their confrontations were successful only when they had supporters on the inside to champion their cause. It was increasing numbers of Blacks in northern constituencies where they could vote and increasing numbers of Blacks in Congress which finally prompted the American Government to pay serious attention to Blacks' demands, And it was the acquisition of sympathizers within the Government which marked the turning point in America's attitude toward the Viet Nam war. To date, women's groups have largely used infiltration, but these "inside" women were only successful because of many small confrontations that went on and the potential threat of large ones posed by the existence of active feminist organizations.
Women's groups are going to have to continue to use infiltration because the jaded, law-and-order public mood of the Seventies does not make major confrontations the viable strategy it was in the Sixties. Thus, while there is a risk that the movement's "infiltrators" and even the movement itself will be coopted, it is a risk that must be taken.
This realization leads to a concern with how to alleviate this risk. While there are many factors that will affect whether we are co-opted or will capture institutional resources, the single most important one is the existence of feminist organizations that will remain ever wary and watchful. Strong, active, feminist groups must provide support and/or chastisement as necessary. They must keep those on the inside "honest" by protesting when they don't like their policy, and keep them responsive by backing them when they do.
I had an excellent opportunity to watch this idea in action last summer when I covered the Republican and Democratic conventions for Ms. magazine. Both conventions had a Women's Task Force, sponsored by the National Women's Political Caucus, to push for women's concerns, but the Democratic Convention had an outside as well as inside pressure group (primarily NOW), and the importance of its role was clear.
Women first caucused at the 1972 Democratic Convention, but, despite the McGovern rules requiring proportional representation and their 41-percent presence, they found themselves outsiders who were used but not listened to. A consequence of this convention was a women's caucus created within the Democratic National Committee, which, through organizing, maneuvering, and taking advantage of some historical opportunities, acquired some clout in the 1974 midterm convention. By the 1976 convention, this committee, in coalition with the Democratic Women's Task Force, got most of what it wanted from the preconvention platform committee. What it did not get from the Rules Committee was a requirement that all convention delegations from 1980 on had to be equally divided between the sexes. The coalition had particularly wanted this rule because the number of women delegates had decreased by 25 percent from 1972. It did not think that the watered-down proviso merely asking the Party to "promote equal division" was sufficient. However, the coalition did have enough votes in the Rules Committee to file a minority report and thus create the option of demanding a floor fight on what was called the "50-50" issue the last day of the convention.
 
Carter and the DNC were not interested in the floor fight or any other public disagreement which might taint the Party's unusual harmony. Therefore, Carter aides met with a group of women before the convention to work out compromise language. A meeting was arranged for the Sunday morning before the convention began in order for Carter to accept the agreed-upon compromise, and another meeting was called of all women delegates and observers for that afternoon to ratify the agreement. In the confusion, Carter was not shown the proposal until right before the morning meeting, and this created the embarrassing situation of his rejecting a proposal all thought he had sanctioned. An acceptable (to Carter) compromise was hammered out in a small meeting the next day, but because the legitimacy of the coalition came from its claim to represent the women of the Party, its leaders had to have the agreement ratified at a Tuesday meeting of delegates and observers.
At this caucus of several hundred women, most of the female political and feminist movement leaders of this country -- as well as many lesser-known delegates -- argued the merits of a floor fight versus the compromise in one of the best political debates I have ever heard. The issue of the debate was meaningless, but the debate itself was the most valuable activity that could have occurred.
It was meaningless because the NWPC had polled-the delegations beforehand and knew the "50-50" provision would lose in a floor fight. The NWPC also knew that since Carter's campaign had urged their female delegates to attend the debate and vote for the compromise, its chances of winning were excellent. Even though "50-50" was a losing cause, if the issue had not been forced the debate would not have happened.
The debate was valuable because of the attention it attracted. It exposed feminism and feminists to women whose only previous knowledge of them had come from the newspapers. It clarified the issues, which had been rather murky until then, and publicized Carter's agreement with the women's caucus widely, thus adding some insurance that he would fulfill his side of the compromise. It made the women's caucus appear strong, numerous, and democratic, thus increasing the leverage of its leaders in future negotiations. And, certainly not least, it led to further compromise between the two opposing sides. While the delegates voted overwhelmingly to accept the compromise and not demand a floor fight, at the end of the debate they also voted that if equal division had not been achieved de facto by the 1978 midterm convention, they would demand it be included in the rules in 1980.8
This debate and its consequences were possible only because there were organized women, not involved in negotiating the compromise, who could demand accountability and because the women who had negotiated had to legitimate their right to do so by reason of their willingness to be accountable.
At the GOP Convention this important ingredient was not present. The Republican Women's Task Force did consider itself to be feminist, but did not consider itself accountable to anyone. It was run by a clique of five women who were all friends, who considered themselves political pros, and whose power came from personal access to important figures within the Republican Party (specifically the President Ford campaign). Their legitimacy was based on who they knew, not who they represented.
Therefore they made no attempt to organize a women's caucus, and, at the one meeting they did call of a few dozen women before the convention, only reported on what they had done. They didn't ask for ratification of past efforts or direction for future ones. They were able to do this because "special interest group" are dirty words to the Republicans, and the Party was willing to recognize the RWTF as spokespeople without a visible, supportive constituency. Additionally, there were no groups demanding accountability. The longstanding National Federation of Republican Women was a traditional women's organization which did not think anyone had to be accountable to it, and it pushed no issues, women's or otherwise. NOW was asked to leave on the grounds that it was considered to be "pinko" and its presence would thus taint the efforts of the RWTF. NOW complied With this request.
As a consequence, the RWTF clique made all the decisions about what it would support, and it didn't support much. Of the three possible women's issues at the GOP Convention (ERA, abortion, and some rules changes), it sought only to keep the ERA in the platform. While it said that this was all it had the resources to do, it made no attempt to generate additional resources, and the ERA was the only women's issue supported by the President Ford campaign. Thus, on the surface, this would seem a classic case of co-option. At this convention the self-identified leaders of the feminist movement concerned themselves only with the issue supported by the power structure that recognized the legitimacy of their leadership. If Ford had lost the nomination, they would have lost their contacts with the Party leadership and thus their influence within it. Actively working on the abortion or rules issues would have done nothing to help Ford, and it might have hurt his chances, which the RWTF women consciously did not want to do.9
While the Republican and Democratic Women's Task Forces had to work within the different political environments of their respective parties, and under different circumstances, both were consistent in their support of their power base. For Republican women this was the President Ford campaign, and for Democratic women it was the caucus.
The need for outside pressure illustrated by these conventions is just one of the lessons the women's movement can learn from the experiences of other social change groups. And it is on these lessons that it must build its future. To sum them up:

(1) Pressure for change is most effective when exerted with a two-pronged approach. Operating solely within or without the political system is a handicap. When a protest group operates solely outside the system, it deprives itself of some resources, is frequently not heard, and is even more frequently disregarded. When it operates solely inside, there is no one to whom it is responsible and it becomes easily co-opted.

(2) Progress comes easiest when it builds off the gains of the past. New ideas are more readily accepted when they appear as extensions of old ones. The legislative gains of the movement to date grew from the ground-breaking efforts of the black movement, which legitimated concern with discrimination of all types. Even those gains which had no civil rights precedents had precedents nonetheless. The ACLU did not persuade the Supreme Court to make its abortion decision on the basis of a "woman's right to choose." Rather it interpreted a woman's control of her own body, for part of the pregnancy, as an extension of the established right to privacy. This is a strategy which the movement will have to continue, only with greater ingenuity than ever. As the movement moves to issues for which there are no ready precedents, such as child care, the going will be a lot harder.

 

(3) One can get at major issues by breaking them down into smaller ones. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund pursued this strategy masterfully in its series of legal cases which made segregated schools look more and more ridiculous. As the women's movement pursues its tougher issues, it too will have to learn how to achieve them piece by piece, through the gradual accumulation of more and more increments. This can be done only if the movement develops some mechanism for long-range planning. it must have some conception of where it wants to go in order to develop guidelines on how to get there.

(4) Perhaps the most important lesson of all those that can be learned from our own history and that of other American social movements is that of the importance of persistence. The American political system responds less to those who protest loudest than to those who protest longest. We must realize that it does not matter if we achieve all our goals tomorrow. What matters is that we continue to make progress toward them. We must make our society realize that women are going to be here for a very long time and that we will never withdraw; we will never give up. This fight may not be won in our lifetime, but we are going to be fighting it all of our lives.

Notes

1 Edward Shils, "Center and Periphery," Selected Essays, Chicago: Center for Social Organization Studies, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1970.

2 The problem of participation versus efficiency is an old. one. See, for example, V.I. Lenin's 1901 classic "What Is To Be done?"

3 James Q. Wilson, Political Organization, New York: Basic Books, 1973, Chapter III.

4 William A. Garrison, Power and Discontent, Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1968, Chapter III.

5 Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), Chapter VII.

6 Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.

7 Marver Bernstein, Regulating Business by Independent Commission, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955.

8 Jo Freeman, "Something DID Happen at the Democratic Convention," Ms., October 1976, pp. 113-115.

9 Jo Freeman, "Republican Convention: Let's Make a Deal," Ms., November 1976, pp. 19-20.


 
 

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