The ERA: It’s Back
- Women’s dearest possession is life,/And since it is given to her but once/She must live as to feel no torturing regret/For years without purpose,/So live as not to be scarred with the shame of /A cowardly and trivial past/So live that dying she can say:/All my life and all my strength /Was given to the finest cause in the world/The liberation of womankind.
-Alice Paul, 1885-1977, author of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923
This year is the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. It’s mind boggling to think that there are people in this country alive today who actually experienced a time when women could not vote. Extraordinary.
I was moved beyond words by the movie Iron Jawed Angels, which focuses on suffrage leader Alice Paul’s fight to win this most basic of rights. The beatings, the forced feedings, the tireless, backbreaking work to convince congressmen one by one to vote for women’s suffrage. Having seen that movie and the sacrifices these women made for me, I will never, never, not vote again.
Alice Paul’s vision of liberation for womankind extended beyond suffrage. In 1923, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendmendment:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”
As we know, her amendment has had a long and torturous history. But unknown to many of us is that the ERA was introduced (yet again) in the House in 2009, sponsored by Democrat Carolyn Maloney of N.Y. and Republican Judy Biggert of Illinois. According to an editorial in our local newspaper, “The National Women’s Political Caucus is putting the ERA on a fast-track campaign. Now with the Internet, we have a shot at going viral with social media.”*
This is thrilling to me. Because the bottom line for me is that I want women’s right to equal treatment under the law written into the Constitution. I realize that the courts will have to go back and figure out exactly what this “equality of rights” means, but they have to do that all the time anyway under anti-discrimination laws. Let women’s full humanity be cemented into our nation’s most foundational document, and let the courts work from there.
* “A New ERA” by Ellen Snortland in the Pasadena Star News.