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The State of the Union, Precarious: Victory within our grasp

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(A little bird in Karl Rove's Office might have heard this) Mr. President, have you read over the speech? (pause) I know. It doesn't matter if Congress believes it. (pause) Of course the public will swallow it. (pause) Your friends will understand that you have to say you support alternative energy. Anyway, you already have the donations in for the Library. (pause) Health care is an issue, try to read those briefing papers. (pause) I do think it is a nice piece of work, yeah, I like the new typeface. Just make sure you don't say her name that way Tuesday night. (pause) Keep working at it. If you find any other words you don't understand just call back. Tuesday night a man got up and gave a speech. The focus of the world was on every word he uttered even though they knew what he was going to say. Today a rally is taking place in Arkansas. One event matters, the other does not in the long run. Wording of the Equal Rights Amendment Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Today all of the Constitutional officers for the State of Arkansas, mostly in office for the first time, attended a rally held at the State Capitol along with two hundred enthusiastic supporters for the ERA. Mike Beebe, the new governor, stepped up to the podium to announce his support of a measure that, pro and con, was one of the dividing points in the gubernatorial election last November, according to Zack Wright, Communications Coordinator for the Governor. Wright added that Beebe's position is that ratification is long overdue. A few months ago the widower and children of Marjorie Rudolph called Lindsley Smith, Representative for the 92nd District of Arkansas, at her office and put into her hands the ERA bracelet their wife and mother had cherished since 1972. Marjorie, they said, had always hoped the ERA would be ratified. They asked Ms. Smith if she would accept the bracelet since she had introduced the ERA for ratification in their home state of Arkansas. Ms. Smith accepted; she told them she would be wearing the bracelet when she dropped the bill in the box and when it is passed. Ms. Smith expects this will happen very soon, perhaps in just a matter of days. After the rally Ms Smith said, "It was wonderful; people were crowded into the Rotunda and hallways. I knew that we were taking a stand; doing the right thing – acting on principle. Knowing that was happening here, in Arkansas, made me proud." America's women have waited since July 1788. When the Declaration of Independence was read aloud to those assembled in July of 1776 it said, "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 this way the mission statement for America was established. All are equal; the rights exercised come not from government, but from God. Women believed and labored mightily in the cause of freedom, as they would in all the wars that followed. Women poured their lives into activism. Generations of women have died waiting to know that their rights were affirmed under the Constitution. As women talk today they share the stories of mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers, who fought for their freedom and died knowing they had failed. It is a sad heritage for a country founded on the idea of individual freedom. In 2000, 212 years after the Constitution was ratified and women were excluded as people, a retired executive, Dr. Jennifer Macleod, gave a presentation to a group of Girl Scouts on the Equal Rights Amendment. The excited girls asked if Dr. Macleod could help them do a project on the ERA. The Doctor, an expert in survey research, prepared a simple poll and showed the girls how to conduct it. Later, Macleod would admit that she expected that the poll would reflect mixed opinions to the idea of equality for women. She was wrong. There were three questions. Jennifer expected the Girl Scouts, polling their classmates, teachers, and parents, to find a range of opinions on equality for women. Instead, they found close to unanimous support for the idea that all of us are born possessed of inherent rights, as recognized in the Declaration of Independence. Dumbfounded, Jennifer Macleod arranged for a national survey professionally conducted in July 2001, among American adults all across the country. The findings? 96% answered "yes" to the question, "In your opinion, should male and female citizens of the United States have equal rights?"; 88% answered "yes" to the question, "In your opinion, should the Constitution make it clear that male and female citizens are supposed to have equal rights?"; and, demonstrating a public lack of knowledge, 72% mistakenly answered "yes" to the question, "As far as you know, does the Constitution of the United States make it clear that male and female citizens are supposed to have equal rights?" The results were similar for both men and women, and in all age groups, educational levels, regions of the country, racial categories, and household composition. The results were the same. While the legislatures of 15 states had refused to ratify the ERA Americans had done so in their hearts and minds. In this way a new wave of activism for ratification began, erasing the sense of hopelessness left in the wake of the failure of the 70s. In Arkansas today women wept tears of joy. At this moment Representative Smith says that the measure has 67 co-sponsors in the House, including the Speaker, Benny C. Petrus. When the newly passed ERA was sent to the states from Congress in 1972 everyone believed that it would be ratified by the required 38 states quickly but instead it became a political football linked to issues that have nothing to do with simple equality. Women like Phyllis Schlafly have made careers of opposing the equality that was promised to all Americans in 1776. The final blow to the effort came when Ronald Reagan took the ERA out of the Republican Platform, despite the pleas of scores of Republican Women, including his own daughter, Maureen. For women, the promise of equality receded into the distance. Instead women were forced to rely on a series of laws that assert 'fairness', many passed on the state level. Such laws can be rescinded by simple legislation. Today women still hang their trust that their rights are protected on privileges conferred by legislators . Without the clear and specific backing of the federal Constitution all laws improving women's rights and opportunities can be overturned. For women in America freedom is provisional. If you ever doubted the need for ratification the crew just booted from Congress should have demonstrated to you just how fragile these rights can be. Consider the present make up of the Supreme Court; Consider the moral fiber demonstrated by an Administration that rescinded the 4th Amendment and used torture and deceit. Simple justice long overdue is also desperately needed. Securing it need not be difficult. Three State Strategy The Constitution, in setting forth how amendments can be made, said NOTHING about any time limits on ratification by the states -- although, as was the case for several amendments, a time limit can if desired be included in the body of a proposed amendment. The 1972 Congress, in passing the ERA -- which, fully intentionally, contains no mention of any time limit -- chose to attach a 7-year ratification time limit separate from the amendment itself. Then, when the 1978 Congress extended the time limit by 3 years, that set the precedent such that any Congress can legitimately vote to change such a time limit. How could equality ever fail to be relevant? In an era when women are serving in the military in roles that expose them to combat, the arguments that they are frail and must be protected fail to persuade Americans. It was not women's weaknesses that moved men to deny them their inherent rights, it was the habit of control. In addition to Arkansas, vigorous ratification drives are well underway in Illinois (which came very close to ratification in 2004), Florida and Missouri, while many of the other not-yet-ratified states, including Arizona, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and Georgia are building support for their own ratification drives. Perhaps the legislators in three of these states now understand just how important our rights are. Now that we have seen a Congress and President commit the treason of negating the 4th Amendment the time to be patient is over. Now we can demand action from Democrats and the Republicans who are now distancing themselves from the corrupt Bush Administration. The states that are not yet ratified are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. By the time you read this Arkansas may proudly be the 36th State to ratify. Two events took place this week. One man talked; a coalition of women and men, united in defense of real freedom, took action. It is doing the right thing that matters, no matter how long it takes.
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Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the author of GREED: The NeoConning of America and A Tour of Old Yosemite. The former is a novel about the lives of the NeoCons with a strong autobiographical component. The latter is a non-fiction book about her father (more...)
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