This last breakout session of the NOW conference was moderated by Jan Erickson, Director of NOW Foundation Programs and NOW Government Relations Director. The first speaker was Roberta Francis, co-chair of the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO). Next spoke Bettina Hager, also co-chair of the ERA Task Force of the NCWO and Programs Director at the National Women’s Political Caucus, assisting with the ERA Education Project. After her was Asafu Suzuki, NOW Foundation legal intern and law student at Georgetown. Diana Egozcue, Virginia NOW President, also spoke. Eleanor Smeal, former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, also made an appearance. I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.
I was surprised at how much interest there was in the topic at hand. The room had a good number of seats, but every chair was taken and a large crowd of people gathered in the back, so eager to listen in that they were willing to stand or sit on the floor for an hour.
As a history geek, I was really excited when I saw a session about the ERA. I haven’t done much research on the fight for the passage of the ERA - my knowledge it is pretty rudimentary, especially for a women’s history nut like me - so I was looking forward to hearing more about the past and present of the ERA. I wasn’t disappointed. The session was thorough, effectively explaining the history behind the ERA and how it’s still possible for it to be ratified.
Something that really struck me about this session is how much American women really need an ERA. I knew it beforehand and it’s sort of a feminist given, but this point really hit home as I listened to the speakers talk about what the ERA can and will do when it’s ratified, b’mhera b’yamenu (speedily in our days). If the ERA, or something like it, is put on the books, sexism is literally illegal. Laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act would be unnecessary, even redundant, since women’s right to equal pay will already be protected by the ERA. The concept is, at least for me, absolutely mindblowing. When the ERA passes, it means that America will undergo a whole cultural shift! It means American society will be completely transformed! It means that my daughters won’t have to deal with the inequality and unfairness that my mother and I had to endure! Someone please show me the bad part, because I can’t see it!
At a plenary session, I believe it was Representative Carolyn Maloney who mentioned Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s claim that women are not protected under the Constitution. She then said something to the effect of, “That’s a challenge if I ever heard one! We need to put women in the Constitution through the ERA, and fast!” Feminists from every corner of the United States should take Scalia’s claim as a challenge, like Maloney said, and rally for the ratification of the ERA. We need this amendment!
What you can do to help the ERA:
- Call your US senator and congressperson and leave them a message, urging them to support the ERA.
- Tell your friends and family to call their senators and congresspeople about the ERA.
- Write blog posts like these to raise awareness that the ERA is not dead!
- Sign up for updates from organizations like Pass ERA (passera.org)
This is my last blog post about the NOW conference. I’ve been writing about my experience at the conference for so long that it almost feels like the end of an era. But in conclusion, I think the above message is my overall takeaway from that weekend in Baltimore: working together means good results. That means women working with men, straight people working with LGBT+ individuals, Democrats working with Republicans, everyone working together for a common goal: a better world for our children.