Tag Archives: Equal Rights Amendment

Forty Years and Counting. . . .

Forty years ago Thursday the U.S. Senate cleared the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it  to the states for ratification. It’s hard to believe in the current political climate, but the Senate vote was 84 in favor and only eight opposed.  Within the first year, 30 of the requisite 38 state legislatures voted to ratify the amendment….and then right-wing opposition coalesced against it, led by Phyllis Schlafly and her Stop ERA organization.

Last year, a longtime friend of mine from Australia came along when I did a television interview in connection with the publication of my book.  He was stunned to learn that the U.S. Constitution did not include a protection against discrimination on the basis of sex.  What could possibly be the issue after all this time, he wondered?

In 1976, Elly Peterson and Liz Carpenter were recruited to lead ERAmerica, a bipartisan coalition of organizations that supported the amendment. However, despite their efforts, the ratification campaign ultimately failed, even after the original  deadline was extended until 1982.

Activists today are now pursuing a “three-state strategy,” arguing that the ratification of the 27th Amendment in 1992 (prohibiting members of Congress from adjusting their salaries until the next session), provides a precedent for an unlimited extenstion of the ratification deadline. In this case, the amendment was ratified 203 years after Congress passed it in 1789. Here is more information on current ratification strategies.

In 1982, at a gathering of women’s groups in Michigan shortly after the ratification deadline passed, Peterson told them, “I am here because I believe the women of my generation let YOU down. . . . I am here, too, to apologize to you because I LET YOU DOWN. I have been far too complacent, believing that an occasional $100 check, letters to politicians or to friends to urge them to help, [and an] exchange of clippings, was a worthwhile contribution.  And I learned how miserable I had been–what little effect I had REALLY had–in about two minutes. ”

She described her experience watching young women in Illinois who had been willing to go on a hunger fast in support of the amendment, and added, “And I had had the termerity to think I had been doing something to help!”

She closed with words that resonate for me today, as we continue to wage battles over women’s access to contraception and health care, battles that most of us probably thought were resolved decades ago:

“But to those who have decided the women’s issues are their first priority–to those who have made the sometimes painful decision to be feminists first, I say:

This can be your year to make your voices heard. This can be your year to take the first step to lead instead of accepting. This can be your year to feel the heady sucess of real power where it counts.”

 

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Video of My Appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Elly

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Pie-Throwing Conspiracies

The pie thrown at Rupert Murdoch in his parliamentary appearance on Tuesday provided an opportunity for commentators, including The Washington Post, to reflect on the history of pie-throwing. It recounted an episode in 1977 in which Phyllis Schlafly received a pie in the face, courtesy of an activist named Aron Kay.

According to a 2007 New York Times blog post about the 2004 Republican National Convention in that city, Kay was also responsible for throwing pies at conservative pundit William F. Buckley, former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Watergate figures G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., New York Mayor Abraham Beame, and former CIA director William E. Colby. In other words, he had a reputation for throwing pies in the faces of a lot of people who were  establishment figures of a variety of political establishments.

Contacted by The Post on Tuesday, Schlafly contended that Aron “was out for hire. Obviously, he was backed by the feminists.”

I suspect that Elly Peterson may have wanted to throw a pie in the face of Phyllis Schlafly on more than one occasion, and particularly in 1977 when they were going head-to-head against each other over ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. But considering the wide range of Kay’s victims, and his reputation as “the Yippie pie-man,” it seems a stretch to still be blaming unnamed “feminists” 34 years later.

But then again, as noted here before, “feminist” is on its way to becoming a new “f” word, alongside the new “m” word, “Moderate.”

 

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Remembering Betty Ford

I was sad to hear the news that Betty Ford had died, but happy that she was remembered as a First Lady who had made a difference. It’s hard now to remember how astonishing her  announcements that she had breast cancer, and, later, an addiction to painkillers were at the time.

Elly Peterson was not a longtime close friend of Betty Ford’s, but I know she admired her, and they worked closely together in the mid-seventies, when Peterson worked in Gerald R. Ford’s presidential campaign and served as co-chair of ERAmerica. Betty Ford was not afraid to  speak her mind, and make reasonable pronouncements about the world in which she lived, no matter the political consequences. Her children might be smoking marijuana, her daughter might live with someone before she was married, it was better for women to have abortions in medical facilities than in back alleys. Of course, that was not necessarily good politics as far as her husband was concerned, but so be it. She was certainly a breath of fresh air, no matter your age or political perspective.

Betty Ford’s commitment to the Equal Rights Amendment was important to Peterson, and other moderate women who were working for ratification of the amendment in the mid-1970s. When Peterson served as deputy chairman of the President Ford Committee in 1976, she recognized that Betty Ford was an asset who could help attract moderate women to support the president. Even after her husband was defeated in 1976, the former First Lady played an important role in continuing to support the Equal Rights Amendment. At the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter served as honorary co-chairs of a rally in support of ERA that was attended by 4,000 persons. It was a demonstration that at the time, there was strong bipartisan support for the amendment. Ford remained a vocal advocate for the ERA at least through 1980, when the Republican National Convention failed–for the first time in many years–to endorse the ERA in its platform.

As I was wrapping up the research on my book, I interviewed Kathleen Currie, who had served as the PR person for ERAmerica. She commented on Peterson’s political savvy and her lack of ego in pursuing the ERA campaign. She recalled that Peterson’s attitude was “I don’t have to be on the podium for this to work,” and “Why do you need me when we could have Betty Ford?”

Persons younger than me will probably forever associate Betty Ford’s name with celebrity addiction. I don’t think she would mind that, but it would be nice if she were remembered for more than that.

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