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From Hope to History: It's Time to Pass the Equal Rights Amendment

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My two teenaged daughters want to know why we have failed them. They want to know why -- in 2011 -- the U.S. Constitution still does not state that men and women are equal.

What do I tell them?

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wal-Mart and against the almost 1.6 million women who were part of the class action suit and who had been systematically denied pay and opportunities to advance within the company on par with their male colleagues. My daughters shook their heads in disgust.

And then this: a small article publicizing that Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment at an event in Washington D.C. Yes, the same ERA that was introduced 88 years ago, and which has never gotten the 38 states necessary for ratification (only 35 came through) to make it a permanent part of the Constitution. Had I not seen that on Huffington Post, I never would have known that it had just been reintroduced. And the only major media coverage I've seen was on the Rachel Maddow show. My daughters looked at me as though it were all my fault.

Not only do the major media ignore this story year after year, but most people I interviewed didn't know the status of the ERA, or even the actual words of the amendment. According to EqualRightsAmendment.org:

The Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, to affirm that women and men have equal rights under the law, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.

The ERA was passed out of Congress in 1972 and has been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states. When three more states vote yes, it is possible that the ERA could become the 28th Amendment. The ERA could also be ratified by restarting the traditional process of passage by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, followed by ratification by legislatures in three-quarters (38) of the 50 states.

The actual words of the simply stated amendment as written by Alice Paul are:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Women (and men) in this country should be (and are) outraged, appalled, and angry at the utter lack of attention it has received. The ERA is probably the one amendment to our Constitution that could actually stop big companies like Wal-Mart from paying and promoting people based on sex... and it was not headline news, even on the heels of the Supreme Court debacle. Passing the ERA could very well be the beginning of the end of the war on women.

Trying to gauge how people are feeling, I put this question out on Facebook and Twitter -- Did you know that the ERA was just reintroduced and do you even care? -- and here are just a few of the many comments I received from all over the country (reprinted with their permission):

Of course I care! Equal work for unequal pay is one of the major disparities left between men and women's rights.

Elizabeth Flynn

I did not know! I was just telling my son and his girlfriend (ages 24) about the original ERA last week. I remember being utterly shocked, dismayed, depressed and disappointed that it did not pass the first time around. And it really opened my eyes to inequality. It's time.

Linda Landis

For a long time after ERA died (thanks largely to Utah, my home state) I thought it no longer mattered. Equality was settled, time to move on. What has happened just since last November in the War on Women has made it imperative that we get this done.

Jann Steckel Swanson

We women must stand united. We must care and we have to incite a rumble and be heard. Equal rights for all should be a given.

Vickie Stahl

I teach high school history and my students are always shocked to learn that women are not equal. We have quite a discussion on what it means and why it did not pass.

Donna Monica Krause

And this from a man who has two young daughters and would like to see the ERA become a reality this time around:

Women are getting paid less for the same jobs as men, they still must break glass ceilings, and they are being violently attacked and assaulted by males at home and at jobs and constantly face men who are bullies. The ERA can and should be passed by Congress and ratified by the states before the November 2012 elections. It is time for women to unite and demand that the ERA be part of the Constitution. Every member of the House and Senate should be called on immediately before July 4th to add their names as co-sponsor of the ERA. The time for excuses is over.

Brad Berger

For those of us who feel deeply about the ERA, this is what we should be asking:

Where are the powerful men and women who could -- with a few encouraging words -- get people out in the streets, writing letters to government leaders, energizing us to fight to make this a reality? Nancy Pelosi? Michelle Obama? In fact, where is President Obama? The White House website posted an "official" position on the ERA which I found disheartening indeed. Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, wrote a blog about how President Obama has "a proven track record of supporting the ERA" and how then-Senator Obama in 2008 was "a sponsor of a joint resolution ratifying the ERA... " Yes. That's one of the reasons we voted for him to begin with. But what is President Obama doing now that he is in the position to help turn the ERA from fantasy into fact? And, Oprah, if you are reading... we all know what you could do.

There are some who may believe the ERA is an outdated concept put forth by the original vanguard of the women's movement, and one that is no longer relevant. The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite. It has never been more important, essential and urgent than it is now. Women are still making 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes, and there are even fewer women on boards and in senior management than in previous years. There is a War on Women happening in this country, make no mistake. The time has come. No more excuses, no more waiting. And no more Supreme Court decisions like the one handed down about Wal-Mart.

Marianne Schnall, founder of feminist.com, and author of the beautiful book, Daring to Be Ourselves, wrote this to me in an email:

It feels to me like unfinished business to have the ERA left unratified, especially when it is about something as fundamental as establishing the equality of men and women under the law. The fact that women are still so underrepresented and underpaid in this country is evidence that we still need this protection. This is an opportunity to create a historic milestone.

Let this be a call to action: Groups are being formed around the country, and on the Internet, to help get this ratified once and for all. It's a simple decision: If you believe the ERA should become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, consider doing the following:

  • Contact your local government leader and tell them you will not back down until the ERA is ratified
  • Go to Facebook pages such as ERA Now and Equal Rights Amendment to get up-to-date information
  • Share this article and get others as energized as you

Don't let another year go by. Let the pride we have in our country -- as we celebrate the 4th of July -- extend to our belief in equality for all. If we work together, we can turn hope into history, and show our daughters and sons that we will not fail them... again.