Who The Revolution Left Behind

From: On The Issues Magazine – Winter 2009

I get a lot of questions and statements when I explain that I am campaigning for the Virginia ratification of the ERA, one of several states where campaigns are active. “What’’s the ERA? Why do we need that? I thought that passed years ago.”

From men, I often hear: “The ERA is dead! You’re already covered by a lot of laws, so you don’t need it.” But, sometimes, if it’s a woman making the comment, I am screaming inside.

The ERA is the Equal Rights Amendment which passed the U.S. House and Senate in 1972. It simply says: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Thirty-five states ratified it before it stalled in the 1980s. We now need three states to ratify before it is written into the Constitution. There is no actual time period in the Constitution by which an amendment must be passed by the required number of states. A national strategy in support of the Equal Rights Amendment is attempting to gather ratification in the final three states, based on the Constitutional process for passing the ERA.

Fifteen states did not ratify in the 1980s: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Notice that both presidential candidates came from unratified states, and that Nevada has legalized prostitution, but has not ratified the ERA. Women who lived in ratifying states in the 1980s, assume the other states did the same and are astounded to learn that 15 states hold the others hostage.

Why the ERA? Some people say that the 14th Amendment covers everyone, but it specifically refers to “male citizens” in one section, and the Supreme Court does not always accept the 14th Amendment as covering women. Most young women have grown up living under hard-won laws like Title IX, banning sex discrimination in education and Title VII, prohibiting job discrimination, so some refer to them as “growing up with fluoride in the water.” These protections have always been there for them, and they do not know feminist history. One 30-something told me that the ERA was an “old woman’s cause” and we had too many problems to work on to worry about that. What she did not realize is that if we had the ERA, many of those problems would disappear since they would be covered by the amendment. All the laws that cover women can disappear tomorrow if the Congress or the president passes new laws to nullify them or writes an executive order to undermine them. Women need this amendment as protection for all those hard- won laws or to establish more rights in court. Title IX was struck down by the Supreme Court, and it took four years for Congress to rewrite and pass it again. The new Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act can be rescinded at any time without the protection of an Equal Rights Amendment, and equal enforcement in every state has yet to be demonstrated.

Five years ago, I realized that the Equal Rights Amendment had just disappeared, and everyone was working on issues created when it failed in the past. I knew someone had to get busy, so I was it.

“Why do this?” I want to be written into the Constitution before I die. I want my full rights as a citizen. Not a half-citizen or three-quarters of a citizen, but a 100-percent citizen.

I find ignorance to be what I have to fight. Whether it’s young women who do not know history, older women who think the ERA passed or men who do not know how important the ERA is for the women in their families, the job is to educate and form coalitions of organizations to work for passage. Since the 1980s, we women have done a poor job of telling our story, and informing younger women and men about the need to progress on our rights. Now is the time to rectify that.

2 thoughts on “Who The Revolution Left Behind

  1. Thank you for having both the courage of your convictions and the determination of continuing to lend your voice, your action and your logic to the sometimes daunting task of enacting real progress and positive change in this world. Many throughout the world look to this country and its constitution and framework and principles of democracy and freedoms and rights as a shining symbol and
    example that ideas and ingenuity, principles and empowerment are both potentially possible but can also be improved upon.

    The brilliance of our forefathers in writing
    and designing our government as well as outlining and setting forth certain principles for it to both follow and guarantee or allow for its individual citizens
    is certainly the recognition that in 1787 everything could not necessarily have been thought of or reasoned well enough to become
    firmly or illogically set into permanent stone
    within either our hearts or our minds.
    And the beauty or brilliance of the constitution is not that it attempted to create itself as an absolute list of “do’s and don’t-s, but rather they recognized both
    the necessity of allowing for as well as making it possible for the constitution to be
    amended or changed and hopefully to be able for it to remain and retain a certain amount of credibility and flexibility well into the future — long after any sudden whiplash or
    pendulum swing of post war or revolutionary
    spirit might have suddenly or swiftly gone away a decade or two later.

    And yet it would seem odd for us today to not recognize or be able to appreciate and point to any number of rights, responsibilities, freedoms or opportunities which were only brought about and exist today because they were carefully spelled out and added or made into revisions for the wording and the initial constitution ratified back in 1789 —
    many years as most of us would agree which were “BOT — BEFORE OUR TIME.”
    Some might have wanted or believed them to be somehow “implied” in that original constitution as it was originally spelled out and written in 1787, but both time and history
    have demonstrated that they could never be fully fixed into our political pyches or considered any real world right or freedom until they were carefully spelled out or written into several amendments passed together and later forever called to be known as “The Bill of Rights.”

    We also like to point out the participatory part and distinctive nature of our democratic process of voting and consider both a right and a necessary responsibility of our civic duty as citizens. And yet can we not realize just who might still be the only allowed “voters” in such a “democracy” if we
    did not as a nation on several occasions widen both the definition of who “citizens” were as well as how important it was to clearly spell out the right to suffrage (the right to be able to vote) and even run for office in this nation 10 years later let alone nearly 225 years later?

    As several early critics and opponents to some vague, implied or compromised wording of any or all of the later specifically spelled out rights (albeit some still left to the interpretation of the federal courts in some specific cases) — NO RIGHT ever exists solely
    in its implication and perhaps can never be understood or acted or allowed unless it is
    articulated in writing. Some people think that actions always speak louder than words, but words can always help us to better safeguard and insist that our actions align themselves less hypocritically and illustrate both an example and a sample of our reasoning.

    I applaud your efforts at helping to lend a voice of reason and common sense in its application to make sure that not only ourselves but our future generations can be able to both enjoy and better understand and live out and improve upon the principles of democracy.

    Cicero once said, “To only know what has happened since you were born is to always remain a child.” We need not only try to search for or invoke any hindsight or foresight that we can in order to face the challenges and the problems of today and tomorrow. We need more importantly to try to better gain the INSIGHT to make better sense of our own times and ourselves as well.

    James Baldwin wrote in one of his books published in 1961 — the title of which I believe was “Nobody Knows My Name” these words:
    “The world is before you and you need not
    take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

    This website I believe clearly demonstrates the importance of this principle appropriately applied to the challenges and opportunites which we are forever called upon to give our voice to, our hard work and action in helping to bring about, as well as
    inspire and invite others to choose to do the same.

    I myself, am a longtime sports fan of sorts who also happened to choose to be a middle school social studies teacher in the public schools for 25 years so I can say without hesitation that some things in life can be enjoyed while you sit at home and watch TV
    or perhaps even occasionally sit in the shaded stands or bleachers and cheer others on. But most of the meaningful things and real enjoyment of life remains in not sitting passively on the sidelines but by choosing to
    involve yourself in direct participation. Some things can be great spectator sports.
    But for a democracy to be able to work effectively more people have to look upon it not in spectator terms but as an active participant in the game. Sometimes it may appear to be just a game, but really it is much more than just that. And until we can
    add the necessary wording and actual amendment to our constitution clearly spelling out the “equal protection of men AND
    women” unlike some sports others will not be
    able “TO LOOK IT UP” when they hope to argue for a particular statistic or average on anything be it wages, opportunities, work, careers and most other rights we would believe or think that EVERYONE should be entitled or allowed to have or exercise.

  2. Before 09/11/2001, Virginia ERA supporters used to gather every year in front of the General Assembly in Richmond on a cold and windy day in February. We would stand in silent vigil with Flora Crater and our ERA posters as the state legislators passed by to enter the building.

    The button on my lapel said, “Yes Virginia, there is an ERA.” My homemade poster resembled a red, yellow and green stoplight and said, “Stop manhandling the Constitution. Ratify the ERA.”

    Afterwords, we would have an ERA luncheon. We made plans to testify in the Privileges and Elections Committee (P&E) in the Senate and House of Delegates when the ERA resolution would be up for a vote.

    Flora Crater was a wonderful mentor. We co-chaired the Legislative Committee in the Falls Church Business and Professional Women’s Local Organization. She taught me all that she knew about the logistics of Virginia legislative procedures. We went to the P&E Committees together. When she wasn’t able to go anymore, as she approached the age of 90, I testified, for a few years, on behalf of the ERA resolutions that she had drafted. Flora Crater always recruited the legislators to sponsor the resolutions.

    Since the mid 1990’s, the Virginia P&E Committees have had a Republican majority. Republicans (9 out of 10) always voted against the ERA, whereas, all Democrats voted in favor of the ERA resolution.

    Flora Crater lived long enough to see Barack Obama become President. She also saw the return of Democratic rule in one house of the Virginia General Assembly. There is hope for ERA ratification.

    Donna C. King
    Falls Church Business and Professional Women

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