By Jenny Horn
Ellie Smeal, Co-Founder and President of the Feminist Majority and co-point speaker for this event, opened up the rally on the United States Supreme Court steps for Women’s Equality Day, stating we are here because we want the senate to hear us, and we want them to act now to help women worldwide. Expressing solitude for our sisters in Afghanistan, Smeal affirmed we remember them, and we are fighting for them in every way we know how, as the women’s movement is global and we will not rest until all women are treated equally, protected, and there is no discrimination on the basis of sex. Ellie Smeal closes her introduction demanding that the Equal Rights Amendment is placed in the U.S. Constitution, noting that we will not back down!
Carol Jenkins, President & CEO of the ERA Coalition & Fund for Women’s Equality and co-point speaker for this event, expressed her excitement to share this event with the Feminist Majority and the other ERA Coalition partners. She asserted that we all have our eyes on the senate, as we need to talk about women and Women’s Equality Day and do something fast for the protections of all women. Jenkins explained that many refer to this day as “Women’s Inequality Day” because the inequality is persistent, and life is not good for so many women in America. This is why we need the Equal Rights Amendment, and, Jenkins concluded, we all need to write to our senators and make sure they bring up the ERA when they are back in session in September.
Senator Pat Spearman of the Nevada State Legislature opened up the panel of guest speakers, recognizing women’s inequality day today as a movement towards women’s equality day in the future. Senator Spearman acknowledged the previous women and countless faceless individuals who have kept the fight for the ERA alive, who kept fighting and marching and talking. Today, the Senator is exclaiming we must continue the fight and demand “take the shackles off my feet!”. We are fighting for pay equity in the law, fighting for fair promotions, fighting for justice when reporting sexual harassment and assault, fighting for more secure retirements out of poverty — take the shackles off my feet! She passionately exclaims that we need everybody to recognize the existential nature of our already equality, and we are going to get the shackles off of our feet and we are going to dance. Senator Spearman says it is time to dance in equality, that women Black, white, Trans, Asian, LGBTQA+ and everybody will dance, and we will not stop fighting, pressing, and agitating until we are all included in the Constitution. She closes by stating that the shackles will only be off our feet when we are in the Constitution, and then we are going to dance!
Jennifer Carroll Foy, Former Virginia State Delegate & Current State Governor Candidate, was our next speaker, having pushed Virginia to become the 38th state to ratify. She recognized that Ruth Bader Ginsburg once exclaimed on the very steps where she stood that women are equal and women are deserving. Foy explained that people try to deny us and say women aren’t equal, and equality wasn’t possible, using the example that people once denied women from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). But, Foy stated, when people try and tell us what is possible, she stands here as one of the first women to ever graduate from VMI. As she ran for office while pregnant with twins, people again told her that it couldn’t happen, and to wait her time and wait her turn but again she ran and she won, and made the ratification of the ERA her top priority. When people said it wasn’t possible for Virginia to be the 38th state to ratify, we together proved them wrong. Today, Foy asserted, people are again trying to deny us and tell us what is and isn’t possible, but we all must be unequivocally clear: Our fate should not be dependent on who is in office and not dependent on any election. Laws can change as quickly as legislators change their minds, and Congress and the courts will hear us loud when we say that we are here to agitate for equality. We are demanding it without an apology, to disrupt the status quo, and we will continue to fight for change. Jennifer Carroll Foy closed her strong remarks by exclaiming that our time and our turn in now, and that there’s only one way to spell equality today and that’s ERA!
Bear Atwood, Vice President of the National Organization for Women, continues the rally by explaining that the horrific events we are seeing unfold in real time in Afghanistan is what happens when the clock runs out for equality for women. Unequal rights for women are a problem in the United States today, and until these equal rights are enshrined into the Constitution, no woman in the U.S. or abroad is safe from discrimination or worse. Atwood explains that the debate of the timeline imposed on the ERA is based on lies, distortions, and disinformation stemming from right-wing think tanks and ultra conservative politicians, as well as plain old misogyny. But groups are here today to push back, demanding to be heard, and to show that the United States is not the shining example of democracy many make it out to be. This mistake of leaving women out long demands correction, according to Atwood, and we cannot claim to have a real democracy until we write the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution. It is time for the ERA now!
Dr. Deborah Turner, President of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the League of Women Voters Education Fund, started her speech recognizing that the suffragists knew that work was not done at the passage of the 19th Amendment. We have been fighting for this for over 100 years now, and the ERA is closer than ever to being implemented within the Constitution. What stands in our way today, Dr. Turner explains, is an arbitrary and ambiguous deadline for enactment, but Congress has the power to change this. The House has already voted to remove the time limit, and our eyes are now turned to the Senate to do the same. She continues on that there is no excuse for ignoring the demand of the people, it is important to recognize that inequality hurts everyone, and that the ERA will be a representative promise that the government will not discriminate on the basis of sex. She asserts that the ERA will give us the tools to fight for equal pay, fair healthcare, protection against gender testing and progress rollbacks, prevention of gender discrimination, and would create protections for men within traditionally female-held positions. Dr. Turner exclaims that we need the ERA for all women, as the Constitution is not just a set of legal protections but is also a proclamation of a nation’s values. She closes by saying that we stand in front of the Supreme Court today because they are the guardians of our Constitution, and are charged with ensuring equal justice for all under the law. It is long past time to include equality of the sexes, and there is no time limit on equality!
Melanie Campbell, President & CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and Covener with the Black Women’s Roundtable, spoke next, exclaiming what an honor it was to be present at the rally on such a historic day to focus in on something that we all know is way past due. We are propelling freedom forward for all of us, and there are countless women and girls depending on us to get this done. Campbell asserted that we are here to be the voice of the 94% of American people who support ERA ratification, here for the Black, white, Trans, Latinx, LGBTQA+, AAPI, Native American, democrat, republican, independent, and otherwise women and individuals. This is not a partisan issue, but a matter of will and respect. We demand respect today to stand with all women, and the ERA is merely a down payment on what needs to happen for women. Campbell closed by stating that the ERA is a human rights issue and an economic issue, and women are still one sentence short away from being ensured equal rights in 2021, but now is the time to stand and we’re still here for our rights because the time is now — ERA now!!
E. Faye Williams, National President & CEO of the National Congress of Black Women and President of the Dick Gregory Society, maintained the event’s momentum is opening with an African proverb that says it is the women who hold the sky up, and the sky has never fallen. Like a washing machine, Williams explains, we need to agitate to make progress. We have allowed too much to happen, and we have allowed our issues to be separate. We are human beings in this country, she asserts, and we listen every day to the men on Capitol Hill denouncing the events in Afghanistan while we don’t even have protections for our own women here in the United States. There is no limit on equality, and the whole world is watching us and listening to what we are saying and what we are doing. Williams asks, how can we say we are so concerned about our sisters in Afghanistan if we’re not also concerned about the equal rights of our people here? She asserts that we must make it clear that we are for everything that is morally right, regardless of who it is for. As sisters we must stand together, we must not be afraid, and we cannot be tired. We have all of the equipment needed, we can pass the ERA now!
Amy Hinojosa, President & CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization, began her speech by simply stating that it is time to pass the ERA. On this hot August day, Hinojosa wanted us to think about our women in the fields, acting as the backbone of the economy during the COVID crisis. We must keep these women in our hearts and minds as we have these discussions today. To further set the tone. Hinojosa explained a common Spanish saying, translated into “tell me who you associate with and I will tell you who you are” — this is a reflection of us today and we must continue the fight! Now is the time for equality, and we must link arms with all our sisters. She concludes by addressing the senate directly: We will no longer be denied, ignored, or relegated to second-class citizens. We deserve protections in every way shape and form in the United States Constitution!
Rosie Couture & Belan Yeshigeta, Executive Directors of Generation Ratify, opened their discussion on the youth-led movement to ratify the ERA emphasizing the importance of intersectionality in our work. We are being loud and clear: We need the ERA and we need it now! They explain that the ERA will be our tool to advance justice for all people in that it is intersectional and fights for all and enables all towards equality. WE must center the conversation around those who will gain most from the ERA, though all of us have an important stake in the ratification of the amendment. They closed by stating that everyone needs to see themselves reflected in our fight, that there’s no time limit on equality, and that we need to get this done!
David Broder, President at SEIU Virginia, stated he was here on behalf of all essential frontline working women and men of SEIU, and here on behalf of them to say that it is long past time for the Equal Rights Amendment. This is a call on the U.S. Senate to ensure equal rights for all today. He clarified that the ERA is a union issue because we will never achieve true economic equality without gender equality just as we will never achieve economic justice without racial justice and without immigrant justice. As Dr. King once said, Broder exclaimed, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Broder continued to show that the pandemic has displayed an even brighter spotlight on the inequities and inequalities that have always existed within the economy, healthcare, and community. Black, Brown, AAPI, and immigrant women have been hit the hardest while working the frontlines everyday without a living wage and without a voice on the job. Broder continues to say that sexism and racism have denied and stripped women of the union and of a voice, and we all suffer when women do not have access to these rights. All of our fights are united! Broder says enough is enough — it is time to stop calling workers essential but not treating them as essential. It is time to ensure that all working families have living wages, paid leave, healthcare, and the right to join a union. Broder closes by asserting that it is time to welcome all immigrants and refugees to our communities, it is time to secure the right to vote for all people, and it is time to pass the ERA!!
Becca Damante, Legislative Assistant to New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, spoke on behalf of Representative Maloney at the rally. In her statement, Maloney proclaimed her longtime support of equality, as fueled by her employer’s decision to tell her not to return to work after Maloney had her first child. She has since introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in every session of Congress since 1997, has co-sponsored the bill to remove the time limit imposed on the ERA, and has never stopped fighting for this equality. To quote Alice Paul, Maloney said that “there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” In conclusion, Representative Maloney stated that rest assured, she will use all the tools in her toolbox to get the ERA across the finish line once and for all. Onwards to equality!
Allison Tovar, the Disinformation Content Strategist at Women’s March, opened her speech by demanding an explicit guarantee of equality etched into the United States Constitution. She explained that 101 years ago women in the U.S. were granted the right to vote, but not all women as arbitrary, racist, sexist laws were imposed to make voting outcomes impossible for marginalized women. Tovar is glad this movement today looks different, simply because it has to, as the dangers of disinformation and content intended to elicit real violence are all too prevalent. But, she exclaims, we are done being attacked on the streets and internet, and we are done pretending that equal rights have been secured for all women when they have not. We won’t stop fighting until all women everywhere are protected by the law, and women are not just cast aside and used as bargaining chips. We will never stop fighting regardless of arbitrary deadlines. She concludes by stating that it is not up for debate whether we are up for equal rights, and it is our birthright and we are not waiting through any further future generations!
Mona Sinha, Board Chair, Fund for Women’s Equality, was the final speaker at the rally, opening by saying that we are not waiting any longer! It is time to get rid of the artificial time limit on the Equal Rights Amendment, and there are no more excuses for our senate! The world is watching us, and we need unconditional equality — no more questions asked. The words are simple! “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on the account of sex.” This is not complicated, Sinha explains. We are all together in this fight, as it is our right and our duty to protect ourselves. Let’s get the ERA into the Constitution, let’s show the world that we are no longer the only democracy in the world that does not have equal rights in our Constitution. We are worth more — we are fighting for 100% — no excuses. She closes out her speech by calling us all to action to take 28 seconds, or 28 minutes to call and write our senators. We can and we must do this together, we are going to get this done!
Ellie Smeal and Carol Jenkins close out the rally speeches by reaffirming that this is just the beginning, and we have got to get to our senators now! No one will miss the fact that we have a historical chance to finish this job today! ERA now!