Last spring, I addressed a group of Democrats in North Florida as part of a commemorative program to mark National Women’s History Month. The theme for 2011 was “our history is our strength”. At that point, I still entertained hope the Florida Legislature might actually ratify the ERA in 2011.
Yes, 2011 – the same year that the Florida Legislature was busy passing over a dozen anti-choice bills and also the year that the word “uterus” was banned from the lexicon on the House floor.
The theme for 2012 will be “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment” and the 2012 legislative session will be concluding in this redistricting year just as National Women’s History Month begins. I want to be able to give a talk next March about Florida ratified the ERA during the 2012 legislative session.
Last year, Senator Nan Rich and Representative Evan Jenne filed concurrent legislation calling for ERA ratification.
Tallahassee Democrat writer Bill Cotterell wrote about the legislation in a December 23, 2010 article under the headline “With no hope of passing, ERA returns to Legislature.” According to Bill Cotterell, “It won’t pass, partly because the ERA is one of the reasons Nan Rich is minority leader (in 2011); following its feminist instincts helped the Democratic Party lose the legislative majorities it had when the amendment first surfaced.”
The “when” that Cotterell referred to is 1972– when Congress first passed the ERA amendment and set a 1979 deadline for ratification by 38 states. To date, only 35 of the required 38 states needed for ratification have done so.
As Cotterell predicted, the legislation did not get much traction. However, Senator Rich isn’t done yet. This September, Senator Nan Rich partnered with Representative Lori Berman to file concurrent resolutions SCR 180 and HCR 8003 entitled “Equal Rights for Men and Women.” A press conference and rally have been scheduled for Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at 5:00 pm on the front steps of the historic Old Capitol building located at 400 South Monroe Street in Tallahassee.
Longtime ERA proponent Sandy Oestreich is calling on women in Florida to “Occupy the Capitol for the ERA” on October 18th in support of Senator Rich’s and Representative Berman’s planned event.
When I think about passing the Equal Rights Amendment, I always think about the fight women waged to get the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was a great victory but only one battle in women’s long fight for equal standing under the law.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson urged a joint session of Congress to guarantee women the right to vote. In his Sept. 30 speech, Wilson said, “We have made partners of the women in this war. … Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”
This weekend, as I wrote this piece, the growing Occupy Wall Street movement joined images of Wisconsin and Florida’s Awake the State efforts as I thought about organizing women (and men) to support ERA ratification in Florida.
In a state where a recent call to “incorporate my uterus” (see http://incorporatemyuterus.com/) still resonates among many women and pink “Uterus” buttons are coveted badges among progressive activists, I think we’ve got to keep calling for ERA ratification until we get it.
Why do we still need the ERA in the 21st century? Ask yourself why the Lily Ledbetter Act was one of the first pieces of legislation that became law in 2010 when President Obama took office. Then ask why, despite this law, is the issue of fair pay for women still a battle we have to fight as we head into 2o12?
Why do we need the ERA? For two different perspectives, I suggest comparing a corporate perspective on the economic benefits from a 2008 economic Goldman Sachs white paper “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” with the book Half the Sky by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
And what, anyway, does the language of this legislation actually involve? It is really very simple:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Still not convinced that we need an Equal Rights Amendment in the 21st century? Consider the ERA in this perspective — it is 2011 and women in the United States are still fighting for comparable worth, gender parity, and decision rights over their own bodies. No current law or set of laws does what the ERA will do when ratified.
The Bill of Rights does not do it, the 14th amendment does not do it, and the 19th amendment does not do it. Why did we need a law like the Lily Ledbetter Act of 2010? Why does the A.C.L.U need a Reproductive Freedom Project? These reasons and more all exemplify why we need the ERA.
Now, if you are not inclined to take my reading suggestions and my other examples haven’t swayed you, let me go back to 1992 for a moment. I will simplify things and just borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, “it’s the economy, stupid!” We cannot continue to disenfranchise half the population without economic repercussions.
Global Economics Paper No. 164. The paper was underwritten by Goldman Sachs and authored by Sandra Lawson:
The book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Cheryl and the companion website: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/