Who The Revolution Left Behind

by Diana Egozcue

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.

February 10, 2009

Diana Egozcue is Legislative Vice President for Virginia NOW. The Virginia ERA campaign will open a website soon.

Also see REVOLUTION LITE by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Twisted Treaty Shafts U.S. Womenby Janet Benshoof in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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