There are two breeds of cats
in politics. There are those
with the temperment, the ego,
the backing to be candidates.
And then there are those of
us who are organizers.
I've got the freedom to stick
my finger in a lot of pies. But
if you run for office, you've
got to keep it in only one.
I don't know whether it's because I'm a Gemini or just
insane that I like to do a lot
of things at one time. That's
just the kind of person I am.
(CARR continued from page 1)
that I voted for abortion." And she
' When people look at the SDEC voting
record, they're going to see that we voted
on some very liberal, very progressive resolutions. For the first time the state
Democratic party office has actually lobbied for progressive legislation that was
adopted by the SDEC, including a bill
against the loan sharks. Calvin Guest, the
chair of the SDEC, owns a savings and loan
company. And he signed it, too.
Of course the mod-cons say we don't
represent Texas, this terrible group that
passes all these resolutions, so they want to
take back control of the SDEC, and
they're organizing to do that. We're organizing, too.
It's crucial for us to win the SDEC
seats again, with a similar kind of philosophical view as the present committee,
in order to show that it wasn't just a
fluke in 1976, that we didn't just win it on
the back of Carter. The new committee
will be the people in office when the crucial decisions are made about the 1980
elections. I think it would be terrible to let
the so-called conservative Democrats take
this over and pass rules that will never let
us get back in the door again.
Too, we'll elect delegates at the September convention to attend the national
party's mini-convention in Memphis. It's
important for women to be elected because women's issues will be lots more
discussed at that mini-convention.
Q: Is the question of party rules, and
party openness, going to be addressed at
A: The administration-here I am,
already anti-Carter (laughter)-doesn't
want anything to happen at the mini-
convention. But we, the liberals, want
delegates to go there and make sure something does happen. And we hope that the
rules issue will be addressed.
Q: One last question, Billie, before you
go home. You're known by political insiders as one of the most effective grassroots organizers in the country. And having been in that game for over 20 years—
Q: Right. Since 1953, as I recall. Your
participation has always been as a non-
elected activist. A lot of women are getting
involved in politics now, and many who
want to do so think of elective politics as
the prime kind. If a woman asked your
advice, would you point her toward elective office or your own mode of participation—organizing?
A: Well, there are two breeds of cats in
politics. There are those people-and we
need them badly-who have the temperament, the ego, the backing to be candidates. And then there are those of us-and.
I say "us" because I decided years ago
that I was an organizer. You can't be both.
A few may pull it off, but not many.
I'd have to answer that question on an
individual basis—whoever the person was,
what their potential looked like.
I wish we had more women candidates
running because until we have women
running for office we're not going to get
women elected. It's just that simple.
But I must say that I, as an organizer,
have a freedom that I enjoy. I am not tied
to what the public thinks. I'd rather be a
poll maker than a poll taker.
And the reason that I can't run for
office at this stage of the game is that I
have been the messenger that has brought
bad news. You know, I said the war was
wrong, I said that segregation is wrong.
Everything that has been bad in this state,
I have been among a group of people who
has been the first to shout it. In olden
days they killed the person who brought
the bad news, and (laughter) we're not far
from doing that now. You're called "anti*
American" if you come out for unpopular
causes too quick. But somebody has to
take those positions.
And I like that. Just like I was telling
them, now that we're developing new
issues. Some of the ones that we're talking
about I'm excited about. They'll be earth-
shattering, and we're going to get lots
more criticism. I'm beginning to think that
we liberals have got sort of complacent and
lazy, and it's time we started taking some
unpopular stands again, if we're going to
continue our role as a conscience of a
state or an era.
So I find the role of organizer more interesting. I work with congressmen. My
God, I go to the White House-I've been
to the White House since Carter's been
elected on four different occasions, met
with him once, met with Mondale once,
met with Eizenstat four or five times,met
with-I can't say his name-Brzezinski-
met with the man who's writing some of
his disarmament policies.
When I go in the White House gate,
what is interesting is that the guards look
at you like, "Go around to the other gate,
this isn't the visitors' gate," and your
name is there, and you get respect. But
outside are the demonstrators, and I'm
going inside the White House to have a
meeting with the President, and I feel
like, you know, "What am I doing here?"
And sometimes I feel like joining the
That's a role I enjoy. I may meet with
a couple of congressmen, I may cuss Bob
Gammage for whatever he's done lately.**
Then I can come back and talk to a state
senator, work with the legislature. I've
seen bills that I've actually written become law. I can work with the mayor
or city council, and the commissioners'
court. So I've got the freedom to stick
my finger in a lot of pies. But if you run
for public office, you've got to keep it
in only one.
I don't know whether it's because I'm
a Gemini or just insane that I like to do a
lot of things at one time. That's just the
kind of person I am.
And I still love going out organizing
precincts. I think that is the most exciting
thing, to see people who have never done
anything get involved.
The success stories of people who came
in here and stuffed envelopes and became
Barbara Jordan or became Ron Waters or
Bob Eckhardt-there's reward in that. But
the real reward is in the housewife who
came in here one time, who had four
children and who had dropped out of
school at 14, and said, "I can't do anything, but I'm willing to try." We said,
"Well, look, you can file, you can stuff,
you can address, you can answer the
phone." She was real scared the first time
that she had to answer it. Now, she didn't
become Barbara Jordan, but she had been
a person with very little self-confidence.
And out of her work here, she developed
a great deal of self-confidence.
And there are a lot of people I have
seen come into the organization and it's
changed their lives completely. You could
write a book about all of the people who
work here. They're all very interesting
people who have brought something to
the organization and got something back
from it. They grow while they're here and
I enjoy that. We don't all have to beome
famous. We can just become interesting. . .
You know, I was Billie Carr, American
housewife, a house full of children, and I
ran for precinct committee in my precinct
because my husband was president of a
labor union, and they thought he would
be too unpopular to get elected, and that
I might be elect-able, and they ran me instead of him. And Mrs. Frankie Randolph
-the women's movement has got to learn
that Mrs. Randolph, who was the person
who made the liberal movement in this
county and in this state what it is today
-it was Mrs. Randolph who made Billie
Carr into what she is today. At least
the good part. I won't blame Frankie for
But I didn't just learn practical politics
by getting involved. I learned many other
things. I started reading again, I went
back to school, I was saved from having
my brain become practically a vegetable.
Q: Are you saying, then, Billie, that if
a woman gets involved in politics, and
decides not to go the elective office
route, the fact that she's in an office like
this one, or that she's involved in com
munity organizing doesn't mean that
she has to play the role of the "go-fer"—
the person who gets the doughnuts and
A: Right now in this county most of
the biggest campaigns are being run by
women. And most of them came out of
this organization. The thing I want to express to women is that you can have clout
without being a candidate. Running a
campaign is not a secondary position.
Q: Billie, I've kept you longer than
promised. Thanks on behalf of
*Buch, who was contacted by phone
after the interview, admitted that he was
against affirmative action, having testified
before the Winograd Commission, the
party's national commission charged with
reviewing delegate selection rules, that,
"I feel like quotas and percentages have
a tendency to destroy the Democratic
process really, in that it imposes an unnecessary burden, I think, to find members of some specific 'down-trodden'
minority who may not care two whoops
in Halifax about the party winning the
election or attending its convention." He
said, however, that his post as Harris
County party chair did not involve convention politics, and therefore his views on
delegate selection were immaterial in this
race. Greene, asked for her opinion on the
matter, said she disagreed completely
with Buch. "Harris County is a very big
and very important county," she said.
"As chairperson, he was invited before the
Winograd Commission to give his opinion.
If they didn't think that in this capacity
he didn 't have something important to
say, they wouldn't have invited him. So
his position on affirmative action is very
important in this race. "
**_/._». Rep. Bob Gammage, from
Houston's 22nd district, was a liberal in
the Texas Senate, but voted very conservatively after his razor-thin election to
Congress in 1976. One of his key votes
was to deny federal funds to provide
abortions. Harris County Democrats
endorsed him in 1976, but endorsed his
opponent, Gerald Liedtke, in 1978.
***R. D. Randolph, one of the very
few wealthy Texans to become involved
in liberal causes, was a major figure in
Harris County Democrats in the 1950s.
As a precinct organizer, a contributor
to liberal campaigns, a convention strategist, and as a founder of the Texas
Observer, the statewide progressive news
magazine, Randolph's influence was unusual. She early recognized the talents of
the 25-year-old political newcomer, Billie
Carr, who became her protegee.