Feminism on Trial
Leadership & Internecine Warfare
By the early 1980s Ginny had become an effective lobbyist and labor organizer, helping to defeat anti-abortion bills in the California Legislature. Also at this time, as vice president of the California NOW chapter, Ginny had been virtually running the state organization due to the illness of its president. She was encouraged to run for the state presidency in 1981 and, after receiving assurances that the voluntary position would become a salaried one, she ran and won a two-year term.
During this time, NOW's California membership doubled from around 20,000 to 40,000, keeping its standing as the largest chapter in the nation. Ginny traveled around the huge state constantly, visiting local chapters and taking up the cudgel on nearly every issue deemed to be important to the movement reproductive rights, gay and lesbian issues, reapportionment, equal pay for women, and many others. She was a frequent guest on interview shows and she was a member of influential political organizations under the Democratic Party auspices. She supported the gubernatorial campaign of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the senatorial campaign of Governor Jerry Brown (despite his earlier signing of the extradition order that transferred her to jail in Nevada), and the campaign of Leo McCarthy for Lieutenant Governor.
The constant whirlwind of activity suited Ginny's need to be involved in what she felt to be worthwhile causes. She was beginning to see the fruits of her idealism ripening.
However, as is the case in almost any national revolution or powerful social movement, the women's movement began to cannibalize itself as its power grew. Jealousies, differences of opinion, and personality clashes led to dissention, factionalism, and internecine warfare. By the early 1980s NOW was experiencing these growing pains. Ginny, as president of the nation's largest NOW chapter, was caught up in this maelstrom in the most destructive way.
One of the key issues at state in this dispute revolved around the actual leadership itself. Ginny's "inner circle" initially included a group made up of powerful feminists like Shelly Mandell, Elaine Lafferty, Jan Holden, editor Toni Carabillo of the NOW national newsletter, and Jean Conger who had been NOW's national secretary and an executive assistant to Ellie Smeal. This group, however, would soon begin bickering and breaking off into factions. Smeal's second term as NOW president would be ending in 1982 and, according to NOW's bylaws at that time, she couldn't succeed herself.
Ginny was getting letters and phone calls from all over the country encouraging her to run for the national NOW presidency and Mandell and Lafferty were hoping to manage her campaign. However, fearing that the unresolved indictment in Louisiana might come back to haunt her if she attained the high-visibility position of NOW President, Ginny decided instead to run for one of the organization's lower-profile three vice presidencies. But, when she told Mandell and Lafferty about her decision, they were upset because the decision was made without consulting them. This was the beginning of a rift that would once again land Ginny in hot water.
At the 1982 NOW convention in Indianapolis, rumors of the Louisiana indictment against Ginny began circulating on the floor and in the back rooms where deals were being concocted. Ginny immediately suspected Mandell and Lafferty of circulating the rumors, since they were now backing a candidate running against Ginny. They denied it, of course, but the damage was done. Ginny lost her bid for the vice presidency.
Several months later, while attending a national NOW board meeting in Washington in December 1982, Ginny received a phone call from a California politician. He asked her to intervene in a dispute over the election of a slate of delegates to the 1983 California Democratic Convention. The phone call resulted in a bitter confrontation between Ginny and Mandell. Mandell, who had herself once been considered a possible candidate for the national NOW presidency, began to resent Ginny's growing power within the organization. This time she decided to do something malicious to put a stop to her rival's ascent. She made a phone call to Jefferson Parish.