Some sang, some chanted, and more than a few came with stories—and signs—from the original fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) more than thirty years ago. This past weekend, hundreds of supporters of women’s equality in Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CA turned out to attend the Feminist Majority’s first annual RALLY & WALK for EQUALITY. A sister march in Santa Barbara, organized by the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, brought the number of attendees statewide to more than a thousand.
The ERA would add a simple but powerful provision to the constitution: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
With the ratification of the ERA, gender discrimination would be—for the first time—subject to the strictest level of scrutiny in the courts. The ERA would help women and girls in cases of discrimination in education, employment, wages, insurance benefits, scholarships, military service, social security, violence against women and so much more.
Like every proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA was was sent to the states for ratification. The ERA passed both houses of Congress in 1972. Thirty-eight state legislatures must vote to ratify an amendment before it can take effect. When it passed the ERA, however, Congress imposed a seven-year deadline on ratification, which it later extended to June 30, 1982 after massive pressure from the movement, led by the National Organization for Women (NOW). Ultimately, the ERA was ratified by 35 states, falling three states short of the 38 needed. Now, thirty-five years later, women are still fighting—and are committed more than ever to the ERA’s ratification.
“Some have asked why focus on the ERA when we face such imminent threats to women and girls, including efforts to roll back the clock on access to birth control and safe abortion, on Title IX, on funding for violence against women programs – all of which are threatened under this president and this Congress,” said Kathy Spillar, executive director of Feminist Majority, at the Palo Alto RALLY. “If ever there was a time that proves we need the Equal Rights Amendment, it is now. With the ERA, women and girls would at last have a bedrock principle of equality in the highest law of the land that no one could deny, and that no one could take away. Not state legislatures. Not the Congress. Not the president. And not the Supreme Court.”
Booths from Ms. magazine, Planned Parenthood and the California Women’s Law Center lined the one-mile walk route in Los Angeles’ Pan Pacific Park, where emcee Jessica Yellin, former CNN White House Correspondent, was joined by a bevy of supporters who came out to add their support for the ERA. High school and college students joined forces with organization leaders—including Dinah Stephens of Planned Parenthood, General Vice President of UNITE HERE Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles Women’s March organizer Emi Guereca, Kamala Lopez of Equal Means Equal, Ani Zonneveld of Muslims for Progressive Values and Feminist Majority Board Member Carol Ann Leif. Elected leaders, among them Congresswoman Judy Chu, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, former Los Angeles Controller Wendy Gruel and former West Hollywood City Councilmember and mayor Abbe Land, came out to demand women’s rights be protected by the Constitution. Hollywood also leant its star power to the event, with speakers including Annabeth Gish of The West Wing and Scandal, Heather Thomas, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jason George, Emmy-Award winner Dan Bucatinsky, Curtis Armstrong and Donna Mills. Comedy duo FRANGELA (Frances Callier and Angela Shelton) had the crowd laughing and Jill Sobule had the crowd singing as they headed off on the one-mile long WALK for EQUALITY.
In Palo Alto, co-chairs Linda McGeever, Lisa Liddle, Shital Patel and Ellen Flamen, along with emcee and NBC Bay Area anchor Diane Dwyer got the RALLY moving—literally—with a spirited Zumba session by Esteban DeLeon before hearing remarks from leaders across a number of fields. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA)—chief sponsor of the resolution in the House of Representatives to remove the time limit on the ERA—and California State Controller Betty Yee—the highest elected woman in California—were joined by Planned Parenthood’s Karen Grove, National Board Chair of Emerge America Amy Pearl, San Jose Women’s March organizer Jenny Bradanini and San Francisco Women’s March organizer Elizabeth Lanyon, Gabrielle Antolovich of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center, Olympic Athlete Anne Cribbs, Jessica Stender of Equal Rights Advocates, reproductive health physician Sophia Yen, RISE UP! Students from Downtown College Prep and Girls Learn International student leaders and Stanford Law Professor and leader of the Recall Judge Persky Campaign Michele Dauber all lent their voices to this latest rallying cry for gender equality.
Walkers also had reason to celebrate. Just last week, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA. Nevada’s move has sparked a newfound awareness and momentum for ensuring women are finally given full protection under the Constitution.“We must stand together and speak out for equality so that we do not go backward, but instead, even in these challenging times, move forward to create an inclusive society,” Catherine Swysen, president of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, told the crowd assembled in the city’s De la Guerra Plaza.
As Nanci Kauffman, head of the Castilleja School in Palo Alto told the cheering crowd in Northern California: “Today, we have to fight back.” These walks are a first step into a new era of women’s activism.