Now is the time to pass the ERA in Illinois

On January, 21st 2017, a sea of knitted, pink hats could be seen across the country. Women were coming together in support of common ideals and values in masses of large crowds. As January turned into spring and the frost melted on the ground, those same women are still showing up to rallies and protests to let their voices be heard about the values they care most about in our country. One of those values is equal rights regardless of gender.

The ERA has had a vaunted and turbulent history. After initial controversy when it was first introduced by Alice Paul at Seneca Falls in 1923, it was finally on it’s way to gathering large support during the women’s movement of the 1960’s and was close to becoming law until one person was able to almost single-handedly change public opinion against it. Passage was stalled at 35 states when 38 were needed.

Since then a new effort has been taken up by a new era of activists and they’ve adopted a “three state strategy” to finally gain ratification of the ERA. With Nevada ratifying it in March of 2017, Illinois could be the next state in the solution to the three state strategy.

I’ve been an organizer for more years than I’d like to admit, but I still count myself as a member of Generation X. I wasn’t yet born when Phyllis Schlafly began her STOP ERA campaign and helped grind to a halt the efforts of millions of women who had been working on passage. Though I wasn’t born yet, I can only imagine the devastation at seeing something so close to happening slip away. Something that would validate the equality of gender in the U.S. It may have been similar to the devastation felt when a more qualified female candidate for President loses to a man who brags about grabbing women’s genitalia.

Being an organizer, I recognize I’m only able to do the work I do because of the women who came before me. I didn’t blaze this path, it was blazed for me. I do my best every day in the work I do to honor that, and to recognize the energy and perseverance that was done for all of us to get women to where we are now. When I organize a protest or a rally today, or I need someone to help with a phone bank or lobby a legislator on behalf of a grassroots group, it’s often the women from the generation ahead of me who are showing up. They show up and they know what they are doing, because they’ve done this before. They’ve seen this fight before, they’ve been in these trenches before and they know the opposition. They know the work it takes to persevere and they know that not every battle is won, but it’s that we keep fighting that makes us all stronger together.

It’s because of these women, those that came before me and are still showing up that I’ve realized now is the time we must pass the ERA. We owe a debt of gratitude that is too great to fill with mere words or accolades to these women for showing us the way. But, this is one step we can take to repay them for the work they did for all of us and to illustrate how important that work has been. Gender equality didn’t just become buzzword overnight, these are concepts that have to seep in the public consciousness and culture, the heavy lifting of much of this work was done for us by an older generation and passage of the ERA is a way to show our appreciation for that work. Easier conversations about feminism, equal pay, access to affordable childcare and reproductive healthcare is their legacy to us. Working together we can pass the ERA in Illinois and have it be all of our legacy. The time is now.

If you agree with me, please join me in a statewide effort to ensure passage of the ERA in Illinois. You can contact me at jennifer@actionillinois.org.