- Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune Updated: August 28, 2014 – 6:52 PM
Even today, the U.S. Constitution should guarantee gender justice.
It seemed to be a blast from the past: A group of former and present legislators and feminist leaders announced at the State Fair this week that a busload of Minnesota feminist activists would travel to Washington, D.C., for a Sept. 12-13 We Are Woman #Rally4Equality2014 event on the national mall. The rally’s aim: The revival of the moribund Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and a push for its inclusion in the U.S. Constitution.
Yes, the ERA — the 1970s lightning rod of division between feminists and gender traditionalists — is back on the national stage, complete with the banners, slogans and arguments of yore. It’s propelled by both a new equality-minded generation and veterans of the 20th-century women’s movement who consider the measure’s failure its most painful setback.
A sense of history was reinforced by the announcement’s timing Tuesday — Women’s Equality Day, the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. The ERA emerged as a feminist goal just three years after women’s suffrage became law, penned by National Women’s Party founder Alice Paul. Congress approved it and sent it to the states in 1972.
Despite falling three states short (see accompanying map) of the 38 required for ratification before the June 30, 1982, deadline set by Congress, the ERA never completely went away. It has been introduced in every Congress since then. Pro-ERA legal scholars say it remains alive, still only three states shy of its goal, awaiting congressional action to either set a new deadline for its ratification or remove the deadline altogether. ERA opponents disagree, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, and say that a fresh start would be required to adopt the amendment. But for the past 32 years, the ERA hasn’t generated much grass-roots passion — until now.
We welcome the surge of ERA enthusiasm in Minnesota. Today the amendment would not be the hugely transformative force it was portrayed to be 40 years ago by both its friends and its enemies. Many early claims were overstated. Society has evolved toward equality since then, without an ERA push. The arguments used to oppose the ERA’s ratification in the 1970s are telling. Conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly of Illinois spearheaded a campaign that warned that the ERA’s ratification would lead to women serving alongside men in the military, legalization of same-sex marriage, an end to traditional alimony for divorced wives, and unisex public restrooms. All of that came to pass anyway, without the ERA.
But the ERA would still offer explicit assurance of gender equality under the law, something that is absent from the foundational charters of both the United States and Minnesota. Its presence in those constitutions would make gender equity a bedrock principle of law.
The ERA likely would not magically close the persistent gap in pay between male and female workers doing comparable jobs, said Jill Gaulding, co-founder and legal director of Gender Justice, a St. Paul-based advocacy organization. But it would strengthen the hands of those seeking to end gender bias in the workplace.
Similarly, the ERA’s inclusion in the Constitution might not have changed the majority opinion in this year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that employers can, for religious reasons, exclude contraceptive coverage from their employee health insurance benefits. But it would have made a requirement of equal treatment of men and women under the law a bigger factor in the court’s thinking, Gaulding said.
The ERA would be an asset to women serving in the U.S. armed forces, particularly those seeking justice for victims of sexual assaults, argued Trista Matascastillo, chair of the Women Veterans’ Initiative. They would be able to claim more effectively that a lenient response is unlawful discrimination, she said.
Those possible practical consequences of the ERA deserve fresh examination in the light of all that has already changed for women in the 41 years since Minnesota ratified the amendment, on Feb. 12, 1973. But its importance as a statement of national principle ought not be lost in such speculation. As Gaulding of Gender Justice put it, in a democracy, “if people think something is important, the law should reflect that.” It surprises many Americans born after the ERA expired in 1982 that gender equality is not already a constitutional guarantee.
Overwhelmingly, Minnesotans would agree that American men and women should stand equally before the law. It’s well to ask anew whether they think their state and federal constitutions should say so.
Local and state chapters of NOW do not endorse candidates for federal office, but they can recommend to the national organization of NOW that they endorse a specific candidate. Oregon NOW, based on Senator Merkley’s responses to its “questionnaire” and on his support of NOW’s goals throughout his career recommended to NOW (national) that it endorse Senator Merkley and it has done so. Merkley’s opponent was also sent the “questionnaire”, but did not return it. For other Oregon Federal Election Candidates endorsed by NOW: http://nowpac.org/oregon-2014/
Oregon NOW’s “Questionnaire” and Senator Merkley’s responses:
Sen. Jeff Merkley
NOW Endorsement Response
The National Organization for Women offers our endorsement of candidates and campaigns that support women’s rights issues, including but not limited to:
- support for reproductive rights without restrictions,
- economic equality and pay equity,
- civil rights for all, with special emphasis on equal rights for people of color and lesbian and gays,
- constitutional equality for women,
- affirmative action,
- elimination of violence against women, and
- reasonable gun control legislation
If you would like to be endorsed by NOW, please describe in 250 words or less how you will reflect these priorities when you are elected.
In the Senate I am fighting to protect women’s rights, women’s health, and for equal pay in the workplace. I fought back when Republicans tried to cut access to contraceptives and repeal the Affordable Care Act. I support a woman’s right to choose 100%. And as long as I represent Oregon, women throughout the state will have an advocate in D.C. fighting for them.
To make our health care system work for American families and small businesses, I supported the Affordable Care Act, which brought an end to many of the predatory insurance practices that victimized women.
For too many working moms, it’s hard to get adequate time and space to pump breast milk while they are on the job. As Speaker of the Oregon House, I championed “right to pump” legislation and as Oregon’s Senator, I added a bipartisan amendment to the 2010 health care reform law to ensure that new mothers have the time and space they need to pump while at work.
I am the lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban LGBT employment discrimination. I supported the Violence Against Women Act, and also voted in favor of reasonable restrictions on guns, such as a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks.
Women in Oregon make just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. That’s why I am fighting now to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I am also leading the fight to increase the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women.
Andy Maggi, Political Director
503-200-5518 X115 (Office)
by Jasmine Burnett, National Black Network for Reproductive Justice
August 27, 2014 – 11:30 am
Rarely, if ever, are Black women interviewed in the neighborhoods where they live and asked about a policy’s impact on their lives. As such,on the days leading up to Women’s Equality Day, which is held each year on August 26, I felt it was high time for me to begin asking Black women in my community about their lived experiences with, and connection to, the laws that secured their right to vote.
When I think about Women’s Equality Day, I reflect on the power and significance of Black women exercising their right to vote. And I am reminded
of the ways in which the fight for women’s equality was a “crooked room” for Black suffragettes. As they stood on the front lines of organizing for women’s voting rights, they were also fighting to end the lynching of Black men and women across the South. Today, Black feminist activists continue this intersectional work, of having to protect our bodies, lives, and families by voting against legislation that aims to take away our human rights at the same time that we’re fighting to end sexist and gender-motivated violence as well as racist, state-sanctioned violence in our communities.
Most people, including women, don’t know or care much about Women’s Equality Day, except those of us who live and breathe women’s rights work. The cause of this can be largely attributed to sexism, plain and simple. For Women’s Equality Day, there isn’t the same level of attention paid to it that is given to federally recognized holidays, and we don’t get a day off work to reflect on its significance in American history, or our position in society as women voters.
So, I took to the streets of my neighborhood in West Philadelphia, interviewing
two friends and eight other Black women. In this area, 75 percent of the residents are African American. It comes as little surprise that politicians and law enforcement have a challenging history with the Black community here.
Being new to Philadelphia, and this community, I was relieved to find that the Black women I spoke with understood the complicated history with the Women’s Equality Day and that it took a combination of the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for Black women to have full access to the
vote. These facts illustrate the Black feminist adage about how all the women are white, all the Blacks are men, and Black women, indeed, are brave.
I found during my interviews that I was not alone in thinking that voting matters. As Briana, 25, shared, “It matters for me to have a voice, and now that we have it, we should make sure that we use it.”
“It’s important that Black women have the right to vote,” added Audrey, 55. “But, a lot of them don’t take the opportunity to vote. They come up with a lot of excuses like, ‘Why should I do this, it’s not going to matter anyway?’ I always tell people, it does matter.”
Some Black women, as Audrey explains, are traumatized to inaction at the fear of being made visible. “A lot of Black women I talk to between the ages of 19 and 30 don’t vote at all. They come up with excuses of why they shouldn’t. I often talk to young women and tell them every vote counts, and
their voice matters.”
But, having the right to vote is one thing, having the opportunity to exercise that right is another matter entirely, as has been made clear with voter identification laws that disproportionately affect women in this country.
“We live with this idea of a post-racial, post-sexist society,” said Charmaine, 26. “There’s still a lot of work left that we can do, especially in Pennsylvania , which is trying to change the voter laws. The monster we are up against changes every year. We need to re-evaluate and adjust our tactics.”
Currently, there is a coalition of organizational leaders pushing new pro-women legislation. Called the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, the coalition has put forth a series of bills that will provide low-income women, women of color, and women veterans with access to a range of health-care options, economic protections, and safety accommodations at work and in their communities. While this is good news for women’s rights, at this point the
leadership of this agenda is not reflective of the demographic population in Philadelphia, of which 44 percent are Black or African American. However, there is a women of color-led reproductive justice organization, based in Pittsburgh, leading in the policy discussions about the agenda.
The diversity of women’s health-care needs is addressed in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is promising because it provides protection for whether a woman’s rights will be respected, and whether or not her health insurance covers the range of her reproductive health needs. Charmaine provided some insight on health-care coverage and women’s reproductive health options when she said, “Even with Obamacare, you barely have [coverage of] birth control, based on who you work for, or an abortion if you can’t afford it because Medicaid doesn’t cover it [in most cases, as part of the Hyde Amendment]. I thought this was something that just happened in Texas, but now that I know that there isn’t [reliable] coverage [of reproductive health care services] in Pennsylvania, this just proves my point. People not only need health care, but they should get to choose what that health care is.”
When asked about the agenda she would set to improve the lives of communities of color in the state, Reagen, 32, responded: “If tomorrow I had the power to set priorities for all women in the state of Pennsylvania,
rather than choose just one issue [such as education, health care, and equal pay] to start with, I would highlight the intersections between all of them. As Audre Lorde said, “We don’t live single-issue lives.” I think it’s rare for any one thing to be the deciding thing in a person’s life; it’s usually multiple things at once.”
However, Jillian, 30, believes that equal pay for equal work is an issue to lead
this discussion: “First and foremost, equal pay for equal work is the most important to me. It’s almost like, why are we having the discussion about that, because it just seems like it’s common sense?”
The women I spoke with also made some interesting observations about their experiences in the workplace. Charmaine explained: “So, I’m a teacher. And the equal pay piece is the least important issue for me because I feel like
our struggle at my job is larger than pay, though it is connected to that. For example, there are only six men that work in our school, and four of them are administrators.”
Glory, 29, added: “Having worked in [the field of] medicine for some time, I have seen that it’s just not equal in the workforce. I see the competition. And especially as a Black woman, I have found out that people who have the same exact experience, or even less experience
were getting compensated a higher amount just because of who they were.”
On parenting and workplace discrimination, Samantha Jo, 32, had this to say: “One of my personal struggles right now is: Would I be supported being a trans woman of color while parenting? What would time off look like? What would bonding look like in order for me to stay home with my baby? These are concerns that are really present and of interest to me.”
It’s unrealistic to think that Black women could celebrate a day like Women’s Equality Day blindly and not reflect on the opportunities to build equality that meets all women where they are. Reagen, for example, provided some insight on how Black and undocumented women
can connect through their shared experiences: “As much as I think the police won’t show up when I need them, I still can call them without fear of being deported. As a Black woman, I think there’s an opportunity for a stronger movement and a stronger ask with brown women who are unafraid and probably need some of that support. I might be in a small minority here, but I actually don’t think it dilutes anyone’s agenda. In fact, it actually strengthens both undocumented immigrant women and Black women’s agendas if we were to come together.”
Jillian added that Women’s Equality Day “is an important dayfor people to take the time to reflect that women are a commodity in the workforce right now—especially
given the fact that you have a lot of Black women who are the sole providers for their families—it’s very important that we give light to that fact.”
“The majority of Black women are holding it down and holding their families down, not just with income but also working in what are considered male-dominated fields because of the limited options for work in our communities.” She went on to explain, “We are taking the initiative to have our voices heard, and
taking steps to better ourselves.”
The experience of being a Black woman and having the right and opportunity to vote is indeed something to celebrate. However, I think we can all agree with Samantha Jo when she said, “Women’s Equality is a celebration of liberation, but it can be bittersweet sometimes.”
This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
Follow Jasmine Burnett on Twitter: @Blkfeminst
This past Tuesday, August 26 was Women’s Equality Day. Congress (and more particularly, Bella Abzug) enacted Equality Day in 1971 to commemorate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The 19th Amendment passed in 1920. Oregonian women had already obtained the right to vote in 1912 (still 136 years after the Declaration of Independence). Now, 43 years after the first Equality Day, Oregonians have the opportunity to pass Ballot Measure 89 at the coming November election. Measure 89, the Equal Rights Amendment, will amend the Oregon Constitution to provide that the State and its political subdivisions “shall not deny or abridge equality of rights on account of sex.” Celebrate equality by registering to vote, encouraging others to register and exercising your vote in support of equality. It is the least we can do for our ancestors and our descendants. There is no shortage of new fights, so we should get the older inventory of justice issues off our plates!
People have been fighting and dying in this country for a long time for the right to vote, even while generations of women and people of color had no such right, or the exercise of the right was so severely burdened as to be meaningless. Yet as a nation we have a humiliating rate of voter turnoutand a recent Princeton study asserts that the United States is functionally no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. The power of voting may be eroding in this country, but we cannot fight that trend by voting less, only by voting more.
Whenever I think about women’s right to vote, I think of my grandmother. She was born in rural Virginia in 1914 and died there in 1992. Had she been born in Oregon, she would have been born with the fundamental right of a citizen to vote for her representatives. Where she was born, she was functionally not a citizen at her birth. She had the right by the time she was old enough to vote and exercised it throughout her life. It took 144 years from the Declaration of Independence for half the population to be included in the democracy. Today, there are certainly living Oregonian women who are older than their right to vote in national elections (94 years) and probably a few who are older than their right to vote even in Oregon (102 years). When my grandmother died, she did not have the inherent right to be free of discrimination because of her sex and today, women of the United States do not.
Equality Day, enacted during the push to enact a National ERA, is almost exactly the same age as I am, within a matter of days. The original campaign to enact a Federal ERA, began in 1923, in the wake of the passing of the 19th Amendment but nearly 50 years passed before the ERA passed the Senate and the House in 1972. An insufficient number of states have ratified it for it to be enacted. (Oregon ratified it in 1973). Therefore, while I was born with the right to vote, I was not born with the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of my sex, nor is anyone else, of any gender. Moreover the fight has been going on all my life. Even the constitutional right to be protected from discrimination isn’t always enough.
In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, activists began promoting voter registration in that community. Michael Brown, as a black man, was barely old enough to vote, but he had that right and he was constitutionally protected from discrimination as a black man. But he lived in a majority black community, governed by a majority white local government, in which voter turnout was 12%, leading to comments that a 12% voter turnout is “an insult to your children”.
I’ve actually met people who say with pride, “I don’t vote. Those parties are all the same and it doesn’t make a difference”. That is an insult to our collective children. It’s also an insult to our troops, our veterans, and every civil rights advocate and suffragette who marched, was beaten, hosed down, attacked by dogs, jailed or died for the right to vote. And it does have consequences.
Every Supreme Court decision in the last nine years has been decided by a court that included two judges appointed by George W. Bush. (e.g., Citizens United, which allowed for unlimited corporate money in elections, Hobby Lobby, which allowed employers’ alleged religious convictions to define the scope of women’s healthcare). The voter turnout in the 2000 election was 55% and in Florida in particular it was 57%. Without even getting into the effect of Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s effect on the Bush v. Gore decision, voting matters. It has immediate effects, it has ripple effects. But it is not the only bottom line. Inequality is more complicated than that, which is why the Voting Rights Act was still necessary after the 14th and the 15th Amendment, and why the 14th Amendment contains an Equal Protection Clause.
So let’s hear it for cause and effect! Vote for candidates who support equality. Vote for Measure 89. Vote as though your life depended on it. Because it does.
Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age
The Yachats Academy of Arts and Sciences is privileged to announce a presentation by Dr. Mary Christina Wood on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2 p.m. at the Yachats Commons. Dr. Wood is the Philip Knight Professor of Law, and Faculty Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Oregon School of Law.
Dr. Wood’s topic will be a discussion of her most recent book, Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, which exposes what is wrong with environmental law and offers transformational change based on the public trust doctrine. An ancient and enduring principle, the trust doctrine asserts public property rights to crucial resources. Its core logic compels government, as trustee, to protect natural inheritance such as air and water for all humanity.
Propelled by populist impulses and democratic imperatives, the public trust doctrine surfaces at epic times in history as a manifest human right. But until now it has lacked the precision necessary for citizens, government employees, legislators and judges to fully safeguard the natural resources we rely on for survival and prosperity. The Nature;s Trust’s approach empowers citizens worldwide to protect their intangible ecological rights for future generations.
There is no admission charge, but a $5 donation will help cover publicity expenses. For further information, go to GoYachats.com/events or call 541-961-6695.