UU Women's Connection

90 Years and Still Counting

I opened the e-mail press release from NOW with some degree of pride on August 26th [2010] the anniversary of the date 90 years ago when women finally won the right to vote. It made me think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent most of her adult life working for a woman's right to vote. She didn't live to see or experience women voting yet she continued to travel and work, speak on the issue for a full three fourths of her life.

Kids opening their history books as school starts this fall will actually be able to read that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was signed into law 90 years ago. Still I don't think, however even some of the most savvy will understand what women had to do to win this simple and fundamental right and how much more must be done to truly secure equality.

I know. Women have come so far. Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hillary Clinton came closer than any woman in history to winning her party's nomination for president; there are three sitting female US Supreme Court judges. Progress is too often clouded by the fact that women are still not equal, constitutionally. Opposition to the ERA continues. According to NOW President Terry O'Neill, "When history books and media celebrate women's successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality. In spite of these milestones women are astoundingly denied guaranteed equal protection under the law, which all men enjoy thanks to the 14th Amendment. The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statutes prohibiting it have no Constitutional foundation. It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment."

Opposition to the ERA has been consistent and vehement since it was first drafted by suffragist, Alice Paul introduced it in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment, by providing the Constitutional equality for women. In 1972 the ERA was passed by Congress, but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. That is just three states short. I am ashamed to say that Illinois is one of those states.

Every year since 1982 the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. It never gets out of committee in Illinois. Seems there is always something pressing and more important to occupy our leaders' minds and ours. I hate to whine, but when will women get their turn? We're sorry to bother you, but we've been waiting since 1923. We've been good. Well maybe we were a little mouthy at times. I know. We burned a few bras back in 1960s, and raised some hell in the 1970s but otherwise we have been pretty agreeable. And if not that, we've been patient and hopeful.

As I toured Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL) recently with friend and fellow Connection Councilor and her grandchildren, I was privy to her whisperings in her three grand children's ears, when we watched the ticker of deaths during the Civil war go higher and higher, and viewed an actual uniform worn by a young soldier no older that her grandsons. Janice, a beautiful woman of color, who is raising her two grandsons and granddaughter whispered, "This is why we must never take our right to vote for granted."

Now when Louisville, Kentucky friend, MJ, sent a beautiful reminder of what Alice Paul and others of the latter and more radical suffragist movement had done in front of the Wilson White House to raise a stink with their protests and placards I was again inspired to speak up about the deficiency that still exists. Eventually in 1920 a vote in Congress gave women the right to vote but we are not equal yet.

If you have forgotten or don't know the history watch the video "Iron Jawed Angels" for a little booster shot. Like Janice said to her grandchildren that day at the Lincoln museum, "We must never take the vote for granted." At a time when the world is recognizing the brutality visited on women all around the world how can American feminists loose heart? We are only three states away from ratification of the ERA?

Vote, vote, vote and elect those who care about equality. We are 38 years into a fifty year cycle since the 2nd wave feminism. I am told that these things "flare up" every fifty years. If we don't lose the faith and keep working, this could be our time. I, unlike my idol, Stanton, could live to see it.