The Occupy Movement continues to protest economic inequality. But it might be missing an important opportunity to create a lasting legacy that will resonate for generations to come: to push for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
A more effective and powerful approach to reaching the Occupy Movement's goals could be to create a "sequential system" by building a unified voice (which many -- even those who are ardent supporters -- believe the Occupiers are lacking) and attack each injustice -- one at a time -- starting with the horrendous state of women's rights in this country.
Why the Equal Rights Amendment?
It is logical to start with something as basic as pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which will clearly state that men and women -- in the eyes of the law -- are equal. 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. More households are being headed by single mothers, which means that not only do women suffer, but so do our children.
The Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, to affirm that women and men have equal rights under the law, is a simply stated sentence which no man or woman with a sense of justice and fairness should be against:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
What is the current status of the Equal Rights Amendment?
There are two main strategies for getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed at this time:
There are some who may believe the ERA is an outdated concept put forth by the original vanguard of the women's movement in the 1960s, and one that is no longer relevant.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.
Some who are not in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment claim it is redundant and unnecessary, often citing the 14th Amendment, which they say already protects the rights of women. It does not. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly stated that the 14th Amendment was never intended to protect women. It was only intended to protect race. Federal and state law cannot protect citizens who are not protected under the Constitution. He made this remark in January 2011:
Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't.
Why do we need the Equal Rights Amendment?
Earlier this year, 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. I asked Rep. Maloney this question: Why do we need the Equal Rights Amendment? She answered:
Laws can be repealed. Judicial attitudes can shift. We continue to see demonstrable cases of systemic gender discrimination -- even in this day and age when women have come so far. Establishing the clear unambiguous language of the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution would have a real impact on our national consciousness. Our democracy rests on the principle of 'liberty and justice for all.' We need the ERA to ensure that this concept applies equal to women.
I presented the same question to Carolyn A. Cook, founder and CEO of United 4 Equality, who wrote the HJ Res. 47 resolution, which would effectively call for Congress to officially remove the time limit for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. She said:
Women in the armed services are fighting on the front lines in two wars to protect and defend a constitution that does not protect and defend them. The U.S. strongly urged Iraq and Afghanistan to include women in their new constitutions as they rebuild their societies; yet we have not led by example.
Who's Behind the Equal Rights Amendment?
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? 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.
But guess what? None of these people will do much of anything about the Equal Rights Amendment if they don't see that it's important to YOU. If every Occupier made passing the Equal Rights Amendment the first goal and priority, there's no doubt that others would jump on the ERA bandwagon: politicians, business leaders, celebrities and even average Americans who have not yet been able to sink their teeth into the Occupy Movement because of its perceived lack of clarity and focus.
Complacency will kill the Equal Rights Amendment, and so will thinking that it's no longer relevant. And, just as important, we need to change the tone of the discourse. Let's stop thinking about equality in terms of us against them, left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, men vs. women. Reframe the issue of the Equal Rights Amendment and ask yourself this question:
Is it the right thing to do?
And, consider this: Can a country that prides itself as the leader and protector of democracy in the world, and one which implores other countries to include the word "women" in their constitutions (Afghanistan and Iraq), still not protect the rights of women in its own?
For a long time, I believed that as Americans, we had lost our will to stand up and be heard, but the Occupy Movement has given me hope that we can, if we band together, move from apathy to action. But, it would be a terrible mistake to let this opportunity--when the entire world is watching and listening--to slip through our fingers.
I read a "letter to the editor" in the New York Times this week from a college freshman, responding to an article which accused millennials of being "Generation Sell." The student wrote:
I am a millennial. I can attest to our generation's passion for social responsibility and entrepreneurship that William Deresiewicz describes in the article. Yet my generation is not "Generation Sell," as Mr. Deresiewicz claims; we are "Generation Do."
My generation is motivated by impact, not profit. We are products of the political idealism of Barack Obama, the creative genius of Steve Jobs and the globalization of a 21st-century world.
If there's one thing we are not, it is quiet. We rally together and fight back against bigotry and hatred, organize in support of those political candidates who share our hopes for a better world, and refuse to stand by and wait for change.
My generation is sowing the seeds of social entrepreneurship and activism that will propel America to success in future generations. We, the millennials, are passionately screaming at the top of our lungs. The question is, Can you hear us?
I hear you. Do you hear me? Listen . . .
If you believe the Equal Rights Amendment should be in our U.S. Constitution, here's what to do:
. . . and lastly, raise your voice, loud and clear, and never, ever stop.
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