Katherine Spillar: How the 70’s Fight for Equal Rights has Become a Battle for 2017

RESISTANCE WATCH--Back in the seventies, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a hot topic of conversation. Amidst the backdrop of the current political environment and administration, the battle has resurged, alive and kicking. 

On Sunday, March 26, at least a thousand are expected to gather in Pan Pacific Park for The Walk for Equality Southern California, a rally, walk, and call to action as part of Feminist Majority-organized rallies and fundraising walks in support of feminist equality, including the push to ratify the ERA. 

I sat down with Katherine Spillar, Director of The Feminist Majority Foundation, to discuss Sunday’s event, the history of the ERA and why the amendment is at a crucial turning point. 

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) was created to develop bold, new strategies and programs to advance women's equality, non-violence, economic development, and, most importantly, empowerment of women and girls in all sectors of society. All programs of the FMF endeavor to include a global perspective and activities to promote leadership development, especially among young women. Along with reproductive rights and access to reproductive technology, the FMF's programs have focused on the empowerment of women in law, business, medicine, academia, sports, and the Internet. 

The Rally and Walk: 

On March 26, feminists will gather in Los Angeles and in Palo Alto to raise funds and “build momentum for finally ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee full constitutional equality for women and girls. All contributions raised by the Rally & March for Equality will ensure that we have the resources to fight back and build momentum. We need to raise funds for field organizers, recruiting and training volunteers, educational materials and online organizing. -- Feminist Majority Foundation 

Check-in for the event will begin at Pan Pacific Park, rain or shine, at 8:30 am. The kickoff rally will begin at 9:30 am and the walk at 10:30 am. 

Rally speakers as of publication include: 

  • Curtis Armstrong – Actor and Producer
  • Dan Bucatinsky – Actor, 24 Legacy
  • Honorable Judy Chu – Congress member
  • Maria Elena Durazo – General Vice-President, UNITE HERE
  • Annabeth Gish – Actor and Activist
  • Wendy Greuel – Former Controller, City of Los Angeles
  • Abbe Land – Former Mayor and City Councilmember West Hollywood
  • Donna Mills – Actor & Activist
  • Emiliana Guereca – Women’s March Los Angeles Organizer
  • Frangela (a.k.a. Frances Callier & Angela Shelton) – Comedic Team
  • Jason George – actor, Grey’s Anatomy
  • Carol Ann Leif – Feminist Majority Board Member
  • Kamala Lopez – Award-winning Director “Equal Means Equal
  • Rose McGowen – Actor, Producer, Director, Singer, Charmed
  • Jill Sobule – Singer
  • Honorable Hilda Solis – Supervisor, County of Los Angeles
  • Dinah Stephens – Director of Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project LA County
  • Heather Thomas – Activist and Actor
  • Diana Trujillo – Team Chief, Curiosity’s Engineering Division, JPL/NASA
  • Jessica Yellin – Former CNN White House Correspondent
  • Ani Zonneveld – Muslims for Progressive Values 

Beth Cone Kramer: What are the goals of The Rally & Walk for Women’s Equality? 

Spillar: The key is coming together to demand attention and efforts to finally ratify the ERA. Women are no in the Constitution except for the 19th Amendment, the only time any rights for women are specifically guaranteed by the highest laws of our country. The Rally and Walk are to wake people up. We can fight to win final ratification that is so critical. If we had constitutional equality, we could be in a better place to stop what is happening to women’s rights issues in Congress and by the Trump Administration. All of this is even as we are fighting to keep Gorsuch off the Court. It’s one call to action to save Roe v Wade and to block Gorsuch for SCOTUS. We are fighting the effort to push back just as we must keep fighting to keep moving forward. 

BCK: Why now? 

Spillar: On March 20, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, a federal Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit sex discrimination and guarantee equal rights for women and girls. Nevada’s ratification will be finalized exactly 45 years after the US Senate approved and sent the ERA to the states. The amendment needs ratification by 38 states to pass. 

Scalia spent the last few years of his life debating Ruth Bader Ginsberg and was very clear on his reading of the Constitution that women do not have protection from sex discrimination in the Constitution. We have to get it added. 

BCK: What’s at risk if we don’t pass ERA? 

Spiller: The administration is probably going to gut women’s provisions in the health care repeal, defunding Planned Parenthood, taking away access to contraception as a guarantee in health insurance coverage. The Trump Administration intends to take away Title IX as it relates to sexual assault, no longer holding campuses accountable for sexual assault on campus or to support work to prevent sexual assault. The ERA would fight that. The rationale is that colleges and universities don’t want to be liable for lawsuits. Fraternities and sports teams are opposed to tougher environments. 

BCK: Labor Issues? 

Spillar: The Department of Labor is pulling back on enforcement of laws that deal with sex discrimination in the workplace. Judge Gorsuch (Supreme Court nominee) has lectured law students to okay asking prospective employers to ask if female applicants plan to have children. Gorsuch is an originalist, a texturalist. He has the same opinion as Scalia had -- that women’s rights are not guaranteed by the Constitution. To the framers, women were chattel. 

BCK: Protection for Women? 

Spillar: We need the ERA to be very clear about equality. If any administration proves this, it’s the Trump Administration, which is very clear about dismantling gains we have made. If we had the ERA, we’d be in a much stronger position to fight. The ERA would ensure comprehensive access to abortion and contraceptives, opposition to violence against women, equal access to educational opportunity and equal pay for equal work, as well as equal opportunities in the workplace. The ERA applies to all these areas. 

BCK: What happened to the ERA last time? 

Spillar: The ERA was passed out of Congress by a Super Majority, two-thirds of both Houses in 1972 and then, the vote went to the states. To add an amendment, three-fourths of the state legislatures must ratify -- not by referendum or initiative. In the great wisdom of a Congress that was only two percent women, they passed a time limit to have states ratify within seven years. As 1979 approached, the movement geared up massively to remove the time restriction. As of 1979, 35 of the states had ratified. We only needed two more. The time limit was extended to June of 1982. Just seven men in three states stood in the way of adding the ERA to the Constitution. By June 30, 1982, we fell three states short. 

Believing this was it, we went all out nationally to fight because of Reagan to hold on to rights like Roe v Wade; Title IX was under attack. Other laws were weakened. The movement focused on these attacks. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Movement began to consider getting these additional three states and going for the retroactive removal of the time limit. What gave us the idea was the ratification of the Madison Amendment. Two hundred years earlier, it was proposed by James Madison that Congress could not vote on its own pay raises; Congressional members could only vote for members of the next Congress. The Amendment was finally ratified 200 years after it was first proposed. 

We thought, wait a minute! We got nine years and they had 200 years plus. The whole movement was reinvigorated to remove the time limit retroactively. Carolyn Maloney put new ERA language in the House and her counterpart did the same in the Senate. We’ve been working continuously on this effort since the Suffragists first proposed an Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s. It’s now gaining steam with Nevada as the 35th state this week. That just leaves two states. 

The United States is one of the only modern democracies that does not have constitutional guarantees for women. We are way behind on constitutional equality. If we have a stronger movement here, then our sisters around the world will have stronger partners for advocating for full equality and for fundamental rights. 

If everyone steps up, we are one foot closer to rally and sign up. The call to action issued on Sunday will be about the SCOTUS but there are so many fights. We need a SCOTUS that will support and not ignore the ERA. The two are very intertwined. 

NEED TO KNOW

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw