On July 24, the Feminist Majority Foundation interns met in front of the Supreme Court for an Equal Rights Amendment rally. The ERA is a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would make discrimination based on sex illegal. The women’s rights movement has fought for this amendment to become reality for decades, and we were glad we could be there when Congresswomen Jackie Spear and Carolyn Maloney brought women from all generations together to demand it.
The first time I heard of the Equal Rights Amendment was during my junior year of in high school, during a United States history class. Very few topics of discussion from that class have held immediate relevance in my life, but the Equal Rights Amendment would become a large part of my summer of activism. In June, I began as an intern with the Feminist Majority Foundation, where I’ve had countless opportunities to learn, grow, and advocate as feminist activist. As a government relations and campus outreach intern, I’ve learned a lot about the Equal Rights Amendment beyond the scope of that high school history class.
Learning about the Equal Rights Amendment and how its absence in the constitution affects my access to contraception, equity in education, and equal pay in my career has motivated me to work toward its ratification. Last Thursday, while attending a pro-ERA rally in front of the Supreme Court, I was more inspired than ever to take on the task as a supporter and activist for the ERA. Young interns and activists of all races, genders, and backgrounds came out to hear Congresswomen and feminist leaders discuss the Equal Rights Amendment. To me, this diversity in attendance was the most amazing aspect of the rally. While there were many impressive speakers and leaders there, the diverse crowd of young feminists really empowered me. To know that so many other students put women’s rights at the forefront of their activism made the possibility of the Equal Rights Amendment a reality. The ERA is not just another piece of legislation from the history books, it is an amendment that still needs to be fought for, and to know that I, along with others, can continue that struggle, is a very powerful idea.
I’m a DC native (okay, Northern Virginia), but prior to this summer I had never been to a political rally. I always talked about going, but one thing or another always got in the way—my friends weren’t interested, the metro seemed too tedious, the weather was horrendous—there was always something. This summer I’ve finally been able to get out there and actually make it to some rallies, many of which I attended in my capacity as an FMF intern. As much as I enjoy each and every morning I spend holding feminist signs and chanting about my rights, the recent ERA rally definitely tops the list.
It wasn’t the biggest rally of the summer, nor the loudest, but the energy of the gathering was palpable. Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s intern core handed out “Rosie the Riveter” bandanas, and National Organization for Women interns brought original “ERA YES” signs for the crowd to pass around. Everyone was energetic and happy to be there, and the mixture of generations and organizations made the gathering feel authentic.
The ERA has been a relevant issue for decades now, and while it’s disappointing that it has yet to be passed, the unity it creates through the generations was amazing to experience. Between posing as Rosie with FMF president Ellie Smeal, wearing an “ERA YES” sticker from the 1970s, and hearing two brilliant Congresswomen speak, I really felt like I was experiencing the feminist movement firsthand and making myself a part of that shared history that all women have.
One of the most inspiring moments of the rally came during FMF president Eleanor Smeal’s speech. Ellie described how feminist leaders had spent decades securing legislative and judicial victories for women’s rights, only to have to fight tooth-and-nail to prevent those victories from being rolled back. She argued that if the gender equality were enshrined within the U.S. Constitution, women wouldn’t have to fight as hard to establish and maintain piecemeal successes. Ellie’s account of the impressive persistence and leadership of past feminist movements made me apprehensive about whether it would be possible for modern feminist movements to achieve comparable successes in today’s political climate. But at the end of her speech, Ellie argued that Millennials would be the group to ensure the ERA’s passage, and even spontaneously encouraged young members of the crowd to take the microphone from her. At the time, no one rushed forward to speak—personally, I didn’t think I was up to the task. But since that day, I’ve been challenging that self-perception. Ellie’s faith that our generation would be able to fill the shoes of older feminist trailblazers made me begin to trust in my own power and that of other young people around me.
Wanna get involved? Bring our campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to your campus!