Leadership within the National and North Carolina Women's Political Caucuses
McKay describes what she saw as ineffective leadership within the National Women's Political Caucus. According to McKay, leading women within the movement, such as Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, were more concerned with forming a "power base." McKay believed such manuevering was detrimental to the goals of the organization. She goes on to discuss the nature of leadership within the Caucus at the state level and explains that she and Grace Rorher stepped down from their positions of leadership within the Caucus too soon before the organization had a firm basis upon which to continue to flourish.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
We were talking about the National Women's Political Caucus and
there were numbers of well-known figures on that board when I went on
it. As we moved along it became clear to me, and to some others too,
that Bella Abzug and the group around her - I guess
Gloria [Steinem], although Gloria has never been as confronting and
abrasive as Bella - their major goal was to control
and to have a power base. I'm not saying they weren't feminists, of
course they're feminists, and Bella had done some terrific things in
Congress. But, for instance, when we went to the convention in '72,
Bella had lost her race and she was using the Caucus as leverage for a
power base and her interests as opposed to Caucus interests. And that
was too bad. And this went on for some time and I do think it stunted
the growth of the Caucus. For instance, in the '72 convention one of the
National Women's Political Caucus's big things was abortion. It wasn't
one of ours, I mean in North Carolina. We had a workshop on
'reproduction and its control' when we met and
people expressed their views, but we didn't have a series of platform
stands and so on. We worked mainly to get women into public office. But
down there, they had made lots of noise about abortion. Then when it
came time to act (the platform they wanted was not adopted as a party
platform, it was part of the minority report), when it came to be
presented to the convention, they didn't want to call for a roll-call
vote. That was because Bella was playing footsie with McGovern. She'd
lost her congressional seat, McGovern didn't want it to come up and so
they didn't want to take a vote. They told
everybody to make a lot of noise, blow whistles and stuff like that.
Well, because, it's my view, if you're in an organization, once they
adopt an issue, you've got to work for the issue. I had been working the
floor, having been assigned a number of states on that issue, and I
thought it had a fair chance of having a good showing. So at that
particular convention I sent word to Bella that I was going to call for
a roll call vote on that minority report. Well, you know, all heck broke
loose. They didn't want that. We did get it, and it was a surprise, etc.
With that kind of thing going on, what was happening, it's even
beginning there, some of your leaders from the various states were
saying, well, this is not what I thought it was going to be. Betty
Friedan saw the whole thing, in fact one reason she urged me to start
the Caucus here was she said that there had to be some yeast in there
from around the country or else it wasn't going to be what it should be
and what it could be, a democratic reflection. But then before the '72
convention when they finally got their by-laws, they fixed it
so - they changed what the group came up
with - so that the control still rested with what I
call the Washington-New York axis. Also, I could have stayed on there.
The Caucus here said, we'd like you stay on there, you stay on if you
want to. But the person who was going to be president next, she went
with me to a meeting and I thought she was enjoying it and I thought it
was only right for me to move out, so I did. Since that first year of
the Caucus, let's see, I can't remember exactly when Grace [Rohrer] was
president. But at any rate she was involved, we were both
involved. Grace ran for Secretary of State in '72 and did
not get the support of her party. If she had she would have won. She got
45% of the vote and only raised about three or four thousand dollars, it
was small. At any rate, Grace and I have talked since those days about
the fact that we probably moved out too soon, too fast.
- KATHRYN NASSTROM:
In what sense?
- MARTHA MCKAY:
I have always felt that if you serve in an office that you do your thing
and then you leave. I felt that with the Democratic National Committee.
The times I went to those meetings as an incumbent there were lots of
people who were ex-DNC members who kept showing up at these meetings.
Not that they could vote or have any impact, but I just think you do
your thing, you move on. One of the functions of leadership is to
provide new leadership. But this was a new organization, this whole
thing was new to the women in this state, and Grace and I think we
probably should have propped it up and supported it for a longer period
than we did. I did what is my habit to do after I serve, I guess I
stayed on the board or something for a year, but basically I moved on
out. That's not to say I dropped out of the organization, but I moved
out of any kind of, not just decision-making role, but process role. It
was a little soon for a baby organization to lose its parents.
Which, as I say, Grace and I have talked about, and we feel we
probably did move off, in a way, too fast. You don't have to remain
president, you can remain in a supporting role.