Carolyn's ERA Journey
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. Mom 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 happening.
Mom never remarried or dated. Men’s and women’s roles were interchangeable in our home. Mom learned basic home maintenance, managed meager finances with precision and manicured our beautiful yard for 51 years and counting. 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. Yeah, I know... weird.
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.” My reaction was “What's the Constitution and what do you mean women aren’t safe?” She understood firsthand how women’s homemaking roles were undervalued in Court.
Yet, little did she (or I ) know that a seed was 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 career and family. Our company could do all the right things for employees, receive glowing recognition as an industry leader and still have no control over influencing the way we do business in America to accommodate the roles of caregivers of children, adults with disabilities and elders at work.
My research revealed that a bipartisan Congress had obstructed the Equal Rights Amendment. Subsequently, business faced a dilemma: Figure out how to keep working women employed as they enhanced productivity and the bottom line OR lose out!
But prior to our company going public, I was laid off along with some 3,000 employees. I volunteered on the Clinton campaign as my consolation. I reasoned that a national work/life agenda could become a priority for a mother and grandmother as President. While my dream job didn’t pan out in the White House, something more profound had shifted. My soul had found its calling in women's policy and public service.
I debated what to do for employment. Then it dawned on me that I had never escaped those bullying boys going to another school. They became the men barring a Hillary presidency.
This time – I wouldn’t cut and run to a good paying job and cop out. I would heal these wounds through constructive action that honored and valued women contributors. The logical path was a national campaign to resurrect and finish the Equal Rights Amendment.
To promote the legacy of our Foremothers while honoring my mother's sage ERA advice was thrilling. I heard the echo of our suffragists' heels in mine as I walked the halls of Congress seeking our bills sponsors. I ran and served eight years in a local elected office. Serving my community of 14,000, I testified on behalf of women, seniors, persons with disabilities and homeless adults. I championed infrastructure improvements and publicly dissented when the law, policy or business practice undermined the public good.
Today, Mom and I remain 'united for equality' and our initiative is known as HJR53 and SJR 6. 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! Despite the rumors, Congress's deadline cannot be ignored - however unconstitutional it was... We must work to eliminate it together.
Never underestimate the value of having one, specific and fundamental ask of power.
Change requires collective voices. Our Bill has successfully opened the door and made our wishes known. Now it’s time to accomplish 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. I hope you'll join us.