VIEW: Apathy or Action?

Suzann Willhite (left) and Betty Folliard, long-time ERA advocates from Minnesota, gathered with others recently in D.C.

I flew out to Washington DC at the end of June to advocate with four fellow ERAMN supporters for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) — again! 

Friends call me the “ERA woman” and ask about the current status of the ERA? It is frustrating for me to explain the long history of delays and roadblocks for what seems to me to be such an unquestionable, fundamental right: for all persons to have legal equality added to the U.S. Constitution.

Frustration can lead to apathy or action. Apathy can come from feeling that the government, politicians, elected officials, or people are indifferent or lack interest in an issue. Many people give up or feel powerless to make positive change. It can seem overwhelming and unrewarding.

I have only been working on the ERA since 2016. That is minimal time compared to other advocates, such as Alice Paul and Pauli Murray, who died many years ago, after fighting for equal rights for all. Heroically, there are many marathoners who continue to commit to ongoing action for equality. 

Vacillating between apathy and action, I recharge my passion for completing the ERA movement by taking action. This recent D.C. trip was focused on protesting at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to demand that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland rescind the memo from the former Trump/Barr DOJ blocking the U.S. Archivist from publishing the ERA as the 28th Amendment.

According to the U.S. Constitution, Article 5, three-fourths of the states must ratify a new amendment. In regards to ERA, that was accomplished in January 2020 when the 38th state of Virginia ratified the ERA. The archivist is then responsible to publish the ERA, which includes a two-year implementation period to allow states to correct laws of inequality.

The Archivist has not published the ERA. Action is needed.

We traveled to D.C. We marched. We talked. We sang. We carried signs demanding action. We dressed up as Silent Sentinels in honor of women who fought for the right to vote with the 19th Amendment. We called our legislators. We called DOJ staff. We danced. We made a difference. We took action.

As my plane brought me back to Minneapolis, I listened to people talking about their plans for the 4th of July holiday celebrations. It made me think about what we as Americans commemorate with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This notorious document declared the freedom of the original colonies from British rule and stated in part that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was intended for mainly white men.

On July 9th, 1848, over 100 people at Seneca Falls, New York, gathered to sign the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for equal rights for women and men. It stated that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

On July 4th, 1876, suffragists crashed the national centennial celebration to present a “Declaration of the Rights of Women,” 100 years after our country’s first Declaration of Independence declaring:

“We, therefore, women of the United States of America, do solemnly publish and declare that we are by nature, and of right, ought to be by law, free and independent citizens, possessing equal political power with our brother men.

In 2021 there is still not freedom or equal legal rights for all people in the United States. The U.S. is a promise unfulfilled. It requires action.