Silent Sentinels Are Back!

By Betty Folliard 

One would have thought after the #WomensMarch, #TimesUp, and #MeToo movements, coupled with women’s dominance in the polls last November ushering in new national leadership, that the wind was finally at our backs to certify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But no.

Citizens are suffering for the lack of constitutional equality. The emergency nature of gender discrimination demonstrates that it is a front-burner issue, heightening the call for the ERA. 

Pay inequity leaves women on average earning just 82 cents to a man’s dollar, with far higher inequities for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian women & women of colorone in 4 women in the U.S. experience severe intimate partner physical violenceone in five women will be raped in her lifetimewhile less than 1% of rapes ever lead to felony convictions2/3 of tipped workers and 2/3 of minimum wage earners are women; women still get fired for being pregnant; childcare can cost more than collegenearly 2/3 of elderly seniors living in poverty are womenwomen in our military fight and die for their country yet still don’t have equal rights; and the list goes on. All of these wounds have been greatly exacerbated by Covid-19. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women in America lost 4.6 million jobs during the pandemic.

The ERA, “Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” will create a more inclusive constitution and provide stronger scrutiny in our court system for cases of gender discrimination, including sexual violence, pregnancy discrimination, pay inequity, and the laws that unjustly discriminate against women, men, LGBTQ and non-binary individuals.

Last year, 2020, Virginia became the 38th state in the nation to ratify the ERA, thereby clearing all the constitutional hurdles set out in Article V of the Constitution. However, just two weeks before Virginia’s ratification, the Trump Administration Department of Justice’s (DOJ) shifted the line, issuing a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel that blocked U.S. Archivist David Ferriero from doing his duty to certify the amendment.

That Barr memo blocking the ERA has yet to be reversed or removed. This puts the onus now on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to rescind it. Attorney General Garland has a pivotal role to play in this long, arduous march to make equality legal in America. He can act to rescind the toxic Barr memo and allow the ERA to be certified.

The U.S. House has passed the bill to remove the time limit imposed on the ERA. Efforts are currently focused on the U.S. Senate, where it was given priority status as a Day 1 bill, SJ Res.1. The majority of senators support the ERA; co-sponsors include Democrats, Republicans, and an Independent. But it now requires 60 votes for passage. The filibuster, a Jim Crow relic, creates another barrier, amplifying the intersectional relationship between racism and sexism.

The ERA is the only amendment passed by 38 states that was written, instigated, and justified by women since women gained the vote, and is the only constitutional amendment that has cleared both hurdles required by Article V of the U.S. Constitution (i.e., having been adopted by 2/3 of Congress and ratified by 3⁄4 states) that has not been added to the constitution simply because of a time limit.

Over 104 years ago, Silent Sentinels first came to Washington, D.C., to demand the vote. Now Silent Sentinels are back – to finish the job of achieving equality in America by certifying the ERA. A delegation of ERA Minnesota Silent Sentinels are in Washington, D.C. as we speak. We’ll join compatriots around the country to hold daily vigil in front of the DOJ to tell AG Garland to rescind the ERA Barr memo.

Minnesota is among a minority of states that have still not added an ERA to our state constitution. State and federal governments remain dominated by white male leaders, many of whom are woefully out of step with the majority of Americans on the issue of equality.

Silent Sentinels speak volumes: Break down the barriers. Enact the ERA.

Betty Folliard is a thought leader, political strategist, former 3-term legislator, and Founder of ERA Minnesota – a coalition of thousands of activists & organizations dedicated to passing the Equal Rights Amendment into our state and national constitutions. ERA Minnesota is a member of the ERA Coalition.

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