One week last July, I worked on Capitol Hill lobbying Congress to end the practice of marketplace discrimination against individuals with autism specifically regarding health insurance coverage. My 11 year old daughter, Mairin, was by my side. Having practically cut her teeth on politics in a home filled with grassroots activism, she is no advocacy novice.
Late every afternoon, we toured museums and monuments. Prior to our trip, I filled her with anticipation for the National Museum of American History. I attended Mount Holyoke College, our country's first women's college. I am immersed in political advocacy every day in both my personal and professional life. Touring the women's suffrage section of our nation's archives with my young daughter so she could see what American women endured just to obtain the right to cast a ballot seemed fitting.
To my shock and surprise, despite the fact that half the American population is comprised of women, nothing significant exists there documenting the struggles women faced. Women persevered for seventy-two years to obtain the right to vote in a country where all men were declared equal at its birth.
Although I couldn't imagine we were looking in the wrong place, I asked for directions to any exhibit containing women's political memorabilia. We were directed to the First Ladies' inaugural gowns, which were pretty, but nothing signifying the achievement for those women to be able to vote for their own husbands for President was evident.
The next day, our taxi driver dropped us on the northeast corner of Capitol Hill for another day of delivering petitions and meeting with Senators. We noticed a sign hidden in the bushes for the Sewell-Belmont House and Museum - the house that was once the residence of Alice Paul. My heart skipped a beat. Alice Paul is my biggest heroine - the suffragette responsible for leading the final charge in the early 1900s to secure a woman's right to vote and the original author of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Without a doubt, she was way before her time. I weave her renegade political tactics used to grab the attention of the federal government into my own advocacy efforts. For the last 12 years, she has inspired me to post "signs" and "sentinels" asking "How long must we wait, Mr. President?" for issues important to members of my community.
It was fate. We had to tour the house. The petitions could wait an hour. My daughter needed to meet Alice.
The struggle for women's rights was present at the inception of this country. In 1776, Abigail Adams asked her husband, "In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands." To which John Adams replied, "I cannot but laugh. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems."
Maybe Abigail should have done us all a favor and smacked him upside the head with a frying pan.
It's always best to get your interests included while documents are being written rather than fight for them down the road.
Seventy-two years later, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Women's Rights Convention of 1848 sparking the modern suffrage movement. After the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth picked up the baton. These women fought for future women just like me, and one day Mairin, to have the ability to participate in the legislative process. They all died long before the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 giving women the right to vote without ever voting themselves - legally.
Upon the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment in Seneca Falls in 1923, Alice Paul sounded an alarm to all women stating,
"If we keep on this way they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Convention without being much further advanced in equal rights than we are... We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government."
During the first year the ERA was introduced it garnered 22 of the 38 states required for ratification. Sadly, the last time the amendment significantly moved was during the 1970's. During that period, women secured 8 states in 1973, 3 states in 1974 and 1 one state in 1975.
I was six years old the last time a state passed this legislation.
Alice Paul died two years later in 1977 never seeing her powerful words and her life's work come to fruition.
During the next decade as I came of age, doors opened and glass ceilings cracked but they are far from shattered. Women hold CEO positions and run major corporations. Women serve as Governors, local, state and federal political officials, the Surgeon General, Supreme Court Justices and the Secretary of State.
Two have even run on Presidential tickets in the past twenty-five years as Vice-President.
Have we let down these visionary women of our country's past by putting the fight for equal rights for women on the backburner for the last thirty-five years? Why is ERA such a dirty word? Did we brand the movement with the abortion issue when it is actually about so much more? Or is it just because we are more comfortable than we have ever been? Why are we so satisfied to make an average of 77% pay as our male counterparts in the same jobs? What keeps us from finishing what they started to secure equal rights for ourselves?
The last ten percent of every battle and of every goal is the hardest to accomplish.
Only three more states are needed to ratify the 28th amendment to the United States which provides that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The ERA was re-introduced for the umpteenth time by Congressman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Judy Biggert (R-IL) in July of 2009 as H.J. Res 61. 78 Members of Congress out of 435 have cosponsored this resolution but a two thirds majority in both Senate and House is required to pass this into law.
Mairin was born in 1998 - 150 years exactly of the anniversary of the 1848 Women's Congress - the same year Alice Paul predicted women would still be frittering away their rights that day in Senaca Falls. Twelve more years have passed by since then and women are still treading water instead of swimming to shore.
Alice said, "When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row."
Women especially in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia have a row to hoe.
You owe a guarantee of equality to your daughters. Finish this so we can put down Alice's plow. Finish this so our daughters will be even more effective in making the world better for their children once we are long gone.
In this era, we can no longer afford for deliberation, defined as "leisureliness of movement or action; slowness" to define us as women.