2014 Changemaker: Betty Folliard

“Didn’t we already pass the ERA in the ’70s?”

Betty Folliard gets asked that question a lot.

In fact, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution was passed by Congress and approved by 35 states, including Minnesota, of the 38 needed for ratification. Advocates did not meet a deadline for approval in 1982 and are now trying to eliminate the deadline to allow three more states to ratify it.

Is the ERA still needed? Think about the wage differences between men and women; that only 3 percent of rapists will spend a night in jail; that women can still get fired for being pregnant; or that women can give their lives in service to our country but are not protected from sex discrimination or sexual violence in that service.

Last May, when Folliard heard about the “We Are Woman” rally and lobby day scheduled for Sept. 12-13 in Washington, D.C., she signed up on the spot. Folliard, a former DFL state representative from Hopkins, hadn’t seen a rally for equality in 30 to 40 years. When she mentioned at a women’s political gathering that she was going to an ERA rally, she was told, “We need to get a bus.”

Then Folliard’s self-talk started: “I hadn’t thought about a group. Well, OK. I don’t know how to get a bus together. I guess I better figure it out … because we are getting a bus.”

She didn’t want the cost of the bus ride to be a barrier for women to attend the rally. “Women have too many real and perceived barriers already,” she says. So not only did she organize women to participate and arrange the logistics and transportation, she raised the money to pay for it. She called the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, which agreed to be the fiscal agent. She called the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and got her first contribution. Many calls, conversations and e-mails later, she had the funding. As one participant said, “It is hard to say ‘no’ to Betty.”

“I was so ready to do this. Not from a place of anger, but from passion,” Folliard says. “We get complacent and that does not make things better for the women around us or the next generation. I had to put myself in an uncomfortable position.”

The Minnesota Delegation (MNDEL) that Folliard put together ranged in age from teens to 60s, representing a broad demographic of veterans, union members, artists, activists, students, teachers, elected officials, lawyers, women’s advocates, violence prevention experts, mothers, daughters and grandmothers.

Folliard is proud of MNDEL’s accomplishments:
• Delegates raised awareness that work on the ERA is not complete.
• They visited nearly every Minnesota congressional office as well as the congressional offices of other states to garner commitments of legislative support.
• The Minnesota models for organizing – MNDEL and for the passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act in the last legislative session – were held up as models for the rest of the country.
• Connections were made among the delegation and with ERA organizers and organizations across the country that will go forward in this effort.
• A group of seasoned Minnesota activists has been launched.

To get involved: Betty Folliard and the MNDEL are not done yet. Look for action in the next legislative session on the ERA. She suggests you start calling your legislators now to tell them there is work to do and that women care about this issue.

FFI: To get involved in ERA efforts contact betty.folliard@gmail.com