Originally published by Ms. Magazine on July 26, 2023
On July 21, 1923, the National Women’s Party unveiled the Equal Rights Amendment at the First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls in New York. Precisely 100 years later, contemporary ERA advocates gathered to mark this important historic milestone and plan for the final push for recognition of the ERA as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
At the exact same podium where ERA co-author Alice Paul first introduced the sex equality amendment, Nevada state Senator Pat Spearman led hundreds of attendees in chanting, “Watch us get it done. We’re not gonna quit until it’s done o’clock!”
The ERA Centennial Convention on July 21 and 22 in Seneca Falls, was sponsored by Equal Rights Action, Columbia Law School’s ERA Project and Generation Ratify, a youth-led organization supporting the ERA and gender equality. The convention attracted participants from states across the U.S.
Of the nearly 300 who registered for the convention, over half were young people under 25. The youngest participant was nine years old.
This will be the last generation to fight for the ERA because you will get it done.Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.)
“We want this convention to be an incubator for the future of the movement,” said conference co-organizer Kate Kelly in her opening remarks. “Our goal is for you to see yourself as part of this movement. We need you in the movement.”
Elected officials speaking at the convention included: the House ERA Caucus chair and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York Attorney General Letitia James, state Rep. and ERA Minnesota founder Betty Folliard, Pro Tempore of the Nevada state Senate Rev. Dr. Pat Spearman and board chair of the ERA Coalition and former U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Advocates and organizational leaders speaking included director of Columbia Law School’s ERA Project Ting Ting Cheng, Generation Ratify executive director Rosie Couture, NOW president Christian F. Nunes and Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal.
The gathering was held 175 years after the original Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention convened in 1848 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and several others.
“I feel like we are on sacred ground,” said former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
The convention opened Friday night with an “interfaith ERA revival.” Saturday morning had an intergenerational panel on the ERA; Saturday evening had an ERA march and rally. The conference had breakout sessions on organizing for equality, intergenerational and cross movement coalition building, state and local ERA organizing and faith organizing. Sessions also addressed how the ERA will strengthen abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, gender justice and voting rights.
Young women have been campaigning for the ERA for over 100 years. Alice Paul was just 21 years old in 1906 when she first conceptualized an equality amendment, which she later drafted as the ERA and presented it to women’s rights advocates in Seneca Falls in 1923.
In the 1970s, young women dropped out of college to campaign for state ratifications of the ERA and for congressional extension of the ratification timeline in 1979.
After Nevada’s Spearman revived the ERA fight in 2017, leading her state to finally ratify the ERA, young women have once again joined the ERA movement for the final push to ratify the ERA.
“This will be the last generation to fight for Constitutional equality, because you are making it happen,” said Bush to thundering applause.
The Final Push
- Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have introduced House Joint Resolution 25 and Senate Joint Resolution 4 to remove the timeline and recognize the ratification of the ERA. Constitutional law scholars carefully crafted this resolution’s language, modeled on the congressional resolution recognizing the fourteenth amendment, in order to prevail in any future legal challenges to the ERA.
- The petition—Sign4ERA—will show the overwhelming support for the ERA. “Sign4ERA is a strategy for the end game… that we will be before the Supreme Court,” said Maloney. “The end game is how do we make it impossible for them to rule against us.”
Polls show that 85 percent of the population supports the ERA.
“We need to hit them from all directions. Be as big as we can be. Think big,” said Smeal, who emphasized that Article V of the Constitution does not give the executive or judicial branches of the government a role in amending the Constitution—only Congress and the states. “They don’t have the power—it doesn’t say the Supreme Court has the last word. The president is not in Article V.”
Pressley has filed a discharge petition to bring her resolution to the House floor over Republicans’ attempts to block a vote in committee on the bill. Smeal noted that advocates are “very close to the 218” needed to pass the resolution in the House.
In the Senate, advocates are urging Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to use a privileged motion to get the ERA to the floor of the Senate for a vote, which would allow a simple majority to pass the resolution; currently 53 Senators support the resolution.
“We’ve had a lot of gains. We just need to finish the job,” said Smeal.
Bush and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have also introduced HJ Res. 82 and SJ Res. 39 directing the archivist to publish the ERA. Both resolutions are supported across the movement.
“I’m feeling so energized and excited to be in community with ERA advocates, old and young, from across the country,” said Rosie Couture, executive director of Generation Ratify.
“The contemporary movement for the Equal Rights Amendment truly is inclusive, expansive and intersectional, and centers the people that stand to gain the most from the ERA.”