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Carolyn's ERA Story

It was hip to be a girl in the 1970s. We were surrounded by images of strong, independent, single women. On TV, Wonder Woman’s magic lasso compelled the bad guys to tell the truth. The Bionic Woman deciphered top-secret conversations in high-risk assignments. Mary Tyler Moore lived happily without Mr. Right. And One Day At A Time featured a single mom raising her two daughters alone

Our home reflected these changing times… my mother raised my sister and I alone and worked for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. She found herself in the pages of the Feminine Mystique which would help her to weather the storms of divorce and then leave the Church when she realized women priests weren’t coming.

My mother never remarried or dated. Instead, she demonstrated that men’s and women’s roles were interchangeable. She learned basic home maintenance, managed her meager finances with precision and maintained our beautiful yard until we could. She's 88 and still gets out there with me! Mom embraced feminism and her newfound independence; forging strong female friendships that helped her self-publish her book of philosophical verse, Destiny Charted. I never doubted that women were superior leaders because of my Mom's example. 

On the flipside, growing up without a father in the house did not prepare me for the bullying I would encounter in elementary school.  Suddenly, being a girl wasn't cool. It meant I was the OTHER.  “I was too tall for a girl. I ran too fast for a girl. I was too pale...”. They made fun of my red hair and me to the tune of Jingle Bells. 

I was so upset that I begged my parents to let me transfer to an all-girls school after 5th grade which they allowed.  I remained there for four years before transferring back to a co-ed highschool.  I cherish those years for the comfort I felt in my own skin, at school, to express myself. 

One morning at breakfast, during my parent’s divorce, around 1976, Mom confided in me that “Women will never be safe until we have the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution.” She understood firsthand how women’s homemaker roles fell short of parity in Court.  My reaction was “What's the Constitution and what do you mean women aren’t safe?”

Little did she or I know of the seed she had planted that day... that would blossom some 30 years later in 2008 while unemployed and a volunteer to elect the 1st woman president of the United States – Hillary Clinton.  

I had just been laid off from my job managing work/family initiatives at the Discovery Channel where single and married mothers were trying to effectively manage a career and a family. It occurred to me then that our company could do all the right things for employees, receive repeated recognition as an industry leader and yet have not control over changing the entire system – or way we do business in America to accommodate the roles of caregivers at work.  

A bipartisan Congress had obstructed the Equal Rights Amendment and business became the drivers behind the work/family movement out of necessity.  The goal: Figure out how to keep working women employed as they enhanced productivity and improved the bottom line. Women are customers – maybe we should listen to them too?

But I was not to continue down that path. Laid off along with some 3,000 employees, I volunteered on the Clinton campaign as my only consolation. I reasoned that a national work/life agenda would be within reach under a working woman, mother and grandmother as president. While my job prospect didn’t pan out to work in the Clinton White House, something more profound had shifted into place. It was as if my soul had found its calling and that calling was feminist advocacy and public service. 

I was emboldened by the misogyny and double standard Hillary had endured.  But I had to find a job. Suddenly it dawned on me that as a child when I was put down for being a girl and in 2008, those same boys were the men taunting Hillary.  My fear had become her fate as an adult.  The cycle of misogyny never ended.  Only this time – I wouldn’t cut and run and forget the lessons I had learned. Finding a good job would be a copout. I needed to process my hurt and anger through constructive action seeking to elevate America’s collective conscious to respect and celebrate women contributors. The only logical path was policy via resurrecting and finish the Equal Rights Amendment.

To grasp the legacy still unfinished of our Foremothers from centuries ago has been a privilege and then to take my own mother's advice from the 1970s into today. Their political actions became mine in the form of petitioning Congress to eliminate their deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. I also ran for public office. Serving my community of 14,000, I advocated for seniors, disabled drivers and the homeless; testified on various bills and policies and championed infrastructure improvements as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for eight years. 

Today, Mom and I are united for equality and our initiative is known as HJR53 and SJR 5. Since our bill's debut in 2011 (US House) and 2012 (US Senate), Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017 and Illinois became the 37th state in 2018.  There is only one more state needed for victory! But Americans cannot ignore Congress's deadline - however unconstitutional it was... We must work to eliminate it together.

Women cannot underestimate the value of having one, specific ask of power. Constitutional equality with men.

We've often wished luck on passing our ERA bill in Congress.  But like all things political – issues become priorities based on demand. Change requires collective voices. Our federal bill has successfully opened the door and made our wishes known. Now it’s high time for others to focus and put their ingenuity to the task at hand. Our goal is ERA by 2020 to honor and celebrate our Suffragist Foremothers and the legacy we will leave for the generations to come.  Are you in?