On Wednesday, September 30th, the ERA Coalition held a special “Meet the Chairs” event to raise awareness and funds in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Founded in 2014, the ERA Coalition works to further along the process involved in ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, newly focusing its efforts on Black and Indigenous women and women of color, as well as gender-nonconforming people and transgender women and girls.
Kimberly Peeler-Allen, the new Chair of the ERA Coalition, and S. Mona Sinha, the new Chair of the Coalition’s sister organization, the Fund for Women’s Equality, spoke with Alyssa Milano on their motivations, passions, and hopes for their work with the ERA Coalition and beyond.
The event featured performances and speeches from prominent members of the feminist funding community, as well as actors and activists showing their support for the cause.
The event opened with a video breakdown of the importance of the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as the mission of the ERA Coalition.
“There is only one way to spell equality,” said Delegate Jennifer D. Carroll Foy. “And that is simply E-R-A.”
Carol Jenkins and Jessica Neuwirth, co-founders of the ERA Coalition, kicked off the event with a welcome to attendees and an introduction of the new ERA Coalition chairs, S. Mona Sinha and Kimberly Peeler-Allen.
Building This Path For Her: Future Generations and the ERA
Alyssa Milano facilitated the conversation between Sinha and Peeler-Allen. She began the discussion with a nod to “how close we are to passing the ERA, and what that would mean for our kids’ generation.”
For Peeler-Allen, the ERA represents an opportunity for her daughter “to be able to know that she can achieve anything she wants, and she will be paid for what she is worth… That she will not have barriers put up in front of her because she is a woman, and for my son to know that there is true equality.”
Sinha spoke to her daughters’ experiences visiting the House of Representatives while the decision was made to strike down the deadline on ratifying the ERA. Her daughters were shocked to hear that there are women who oppose the ERA, and Sinha was proud to turn that into a learning experience for her girls.
Peeler-Allen added that children are much more open-minded to topics like fairness and equality, speaking to her optimism for future generations once the ERA is made official.
“It’s only when we put in these patriarchal constructs that make the differentiation between the genders that we find ourselves in a place where we have to remind ourselves what life was like back when things were simpler,” said Peeler-Allen. “It’s the fight we need to show our children.”
What Comes After the ERA?
The ERA is close to ratification. The fight is far from over, but the new chairs are looking to the future and what comes after the Equal Rights Amendment.
“We have to imagine what lived equality is going to look like,” said Sinha, giving the examples of equal access in education, healthcare, and legal rights, and pointing out how once the ERA is passed, all of these parts of lived experience will be impacted.
“We see this as a tremendous step forward in closing the disparities in healthcare for black women and women of color,” said Peeler-Allen.
All three speakers brought up the point that COVID-19 has revealed economic and legal disparities for women in healthcare, both in terms of treatment and in working on the front lines. Given that women of color make up the majority of healthcare workers on the front lines, COVID-19 puts them at undue risk, especially when we consider that women of color do not receive equal pay for equal work.
The two new chairs also discussed how the passage of the ERA could alleviate some of the difficulties front line workers face with Ai-jen Poo, co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“The beauty of this moment of crisis is that so much has been revealed about the incredible contributions of women, and women of color in particular, in holding up our economy and in keeping us safe,” said Poo. “The ERA will holistically recognize, value, and protect that work.”
Patricia Arquette: “Now, More Than Ever, We Need To Make Sure That This Happens”
Following a special performance by DGLS, a cover of Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up,” actress and activist Patricia Arquette, who is a Member of the ERA Coalition’s Advisory Council, spoke on her experiences advocating for the ERA in front of the House Committee.
The ERA team shared a recording of Arquette’s passionate presentation in the House. “We will all feel compelled to do what we must to ensure that women are afforded every equal right and protection in our country,” she said.
Arquette’s testimony focused on striking down the time limit outlined in the original drafting of the amendment. Today, the ERA has achieved the 38 state ratifications it needs to be made part of the Constitution, and the House has struck down the time limit as well. Now, all that is needed is the Senate to take the same step. (For context, US states had until 1982 to ratify the ERA. Although the time limit has passed, the ERA Coalition now fights to have that time limit removed from the record.)
“Why didn’t women achieve full Constitutional equality in 1787 or 1982?” Arquette asked. “Because the country wasn’t ready? Well, I hope we’re ready now! Because women have been waiting 232 years for equality in this country, and it’s failed them. Legislators have blocked the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for decades. But we’re done waiting.”
The ERA’s Impact on the Rest of the World
The conversation between Milano, Sinha, and Peeler-Allen continued with a discussion on the impacts of the ERA’s passage outside of the United States. All three women spoke to the ways the ERA could act as a roadmap for gender equality efforts in other countries.
“The world looks at the US as a leader,” said Sinha. “We need to step into that leadership and show the world, ‘You can do this.’ And we need to do it right.”
“We have to continue doing all we can to push the boulder forward,” said Peeler-Allen. “For every inch that we push it forward and it stays there, that is another opportunity for a girl of color to stand in her full power.”
This idea also tracks for movements like #MeToo. Sinha and Peeler-Allen spoke to the importance of accountability, in politics, entertainment, and personal relationships. Putting women’s equal rights into the Constitution will make it legally necessary to hold men accountable for their actions.
Peeler-Allen also stressed the importance of voting, particularly in this election and in the current political climate.
“If things align with your beliefs in a broad spectrum, you’ve got to get out there and vote,” she said. “This is an election where, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, your voice needs to be heard. Our democracy thrives on that, and when we don’t participate and we don’t engage — that’s when democracy dies.”
Bamby Salcedo on Changing Trans Lives with the ERA
Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO of the Translatin@ Coalition, joined Sinha and Peeler-Allen to discuss the opportunities the ERA presents for trans people in the United States and around the world.
“The policies that are enacted to try to erase our existence [have] been pervasive throughout our community,” said Salcedo. “The ERA would be a miraculous thing for our community.”
Salcedo also spoke to the “invisible discrimination” trans people face within the community. Discrimination that is “hard to prove,” such as being treated differently by coworkers or being asked impolite questions about identity and biology.
“We need to build support for the community and the movement,”she said. “Through that, we’ll be able to create policies that are inclusive and address the needs of our community.”
Ilyasah Shabazz: “No One Is Free Until All of Us Are Free”
One of the newest members of the ERA Advisory Council, activist and speaker Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, stepped up to the virtual podium to continue the conversation on equality in today’s political climate.
Peeler-Allen asked about the impact of Shabazz’s childhood on her activism today.
“The black woman is the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected person in America,” said Shabazz, quoting her father. She described her mother’s strength in the face of the firebombing of her home, the murder of Malcolm X, and the struggles that followed. “She never accepted ‘no’ as an answer for herself. Not only did she safeguard her husband’s legacy, but she protected her babies and educated other children around the world.”
“Black rights are not exclusionary,” said Shabazz. “Women’s rights are not exclusionary. We are all part of the same human family.”
The Loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Peeler-Allen moved the conversation to a celebration of the life and victories of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as the mourning the philanthropy community is still going through following her death.
“It is a profound loss,” said Peeler-Allen. “But it is also an inspiration, because we know that she wants us — and actually demands us — to march on for justice and equality for everyone.”
Sinha remembered meeting Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2018 at She Opened The Door. “I expected just a handshake, but we ended up having a half-hour conversation about human rights,” she said. “She really was that champion that helped us get across the finish line in India with LGBTQ rights and so many other human rights laws that are having a profound impact around the world.”
“What struck me is how centered she was in her feelings and her convictions about equality,” said Sinha. “And she lived it, every day… She’s lit her torch, and now it’s time for all of us to run forward.”
The event closed with a special performance from Board Member Heidi Schreck, actor and writer of What the Constitution Means to Me.
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