The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
As a freshman in high school, Rosie Couture checked in on proposed legislation for the Virginia Assembly regularly. In November of 2019, she was shocked to see the Equal Rights Amendment on the list. She knew about the gender gap in school, pay and healthcare, but she didn’t realize that gender equality wasn’t a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. That summer, Couture and her friend Belan Yeshigeta founded Generation Ratify, an organization dedicated to adding the ERA to the Constitution.
Their initial efforts focused on canvassing, phone banking, text banking and voter outreach in their home state of Virginia. Collectively, Generation Ratify’s efforts helped elect pro-ERA legislators in Virginia, the last state needed in order to reach the three-fourths of the states to ratify an amendment as required by the Constitution.
Now, Generation Ratify and several other young women-led groups are lobbying Congress to remove a timeline-aspect from the amendment, originally passed in 1972, and recognize the ERA as the official 28th Amendment.
ERA-focused student organizations “are extremely useful because they are truly intersectional, intergenerational in their approach to things,” said Carol Jenkins, head of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, a leader in the fight for the amendment.
By introducing creative demonstrations, youth leaders make civic engagement fun for young people. Recently, members of Generation Ratify hosted a slumber party in front of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.. The goal was “to show that the youth won’t rest literally until the ERA is in the Constitution,” said Yeshigeta.
At the beginning of April, Generation Ratify organized a light bright outside of the Supreme Court to shine a spotlight on the ERA even after Women’s History Month ended. Young people came together both on the ground and virtually because they are “sick of experiencing gender-based violence in school as Title IX protections are weakened away,” said Couture.
Another approach to the ERA comes from West Coast youth organization, The Feminist Front. The group’s #ERANow campaign centers around students of color and a social media presence. For its art series, The Feminist Front commissioned nine artists to create pieces around the theme “ERA Now!” The submissions, all made by people of color ages 15 to 35, can be a poem, song, print, poster or other digital media centered around a theme such as trans and queer rights.
One of the nine featured artists, Urenna Evuleocha, used her piece to showcase the reality of many Black queer youth in our society, especially trans youth, who often face violence and oppression that the ERA would help prevent. Many queer youth are “forced to break themselves to fit into the status quo, and as someone who likes to explore my self expression constantly, that really hits close to home,” said Evuleocha.
For Isabella León-Chambers, an UCLA student and organization operations chair of The Feminist Front, the ERA matters because it “has the potential to protect all marginalized genders and sexual orientations.”
The ERA is not just any amendment to young people, nor do they see it as just another issue to highlight on an Instagram story. For Julia Squitteri, the teen founder of The Ruth Project, implementation of the ERA is more than honoring her organization’s mission to continue the work of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“As a young person,” said Squitteri, “advocating for the ERA means advocating for a fight that began with many of our grandmothers.”