Women’s Vote Can Change the World

Today is Women’s Equality Day. This blog says it all. Women’s history. Voting Rights. And the Equal Rights Amendment which states:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

 

Ninety-six years ago today, women won the right to vote with the addition of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. It’s now time for full equality. Women rights must be added to the US Constitution. Pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Nel's New Day

Pickets-Women-White-HouseMy mother was born on November 12, 1899, just ten days too late to vote the United States legalized the vote for women. After 72 years of ridicule, imprisonment, forced feedings, and other forms of opposition to women gaining their full citizenship rights, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed on August 18, 1920—thanks to one state legislator from Tennessee who followed his mother’s advice. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation after the certified record from Tennessee arrived at the capitol.

it's a woman's worldIn the first election, only nine million women, about 35 percent of those eligible, voted, compared to almost twice as many men. Public sentiment followed one of the headlines about the event: “Is suffrage a failure?” For the next 45 years, black women in the South joined black men to eliminate literacy tests, poll tests, and other voter suppression activities. Since 1980, however, women…

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Is “Anonymous” Always a Woman Anymore? NO!

We have all heard Virginia Woolf’s quote “Anonymous was a woman.”  This quote refers to women who have disappeared when speaking their truth, history, and art throughout much of recorded history. She may not have signed her statements. Her statements may have been attributed to either a male that she was associated with or she has, over time, had her voice misattributed to a man in the popular mind.  As with quotes, women’s history has long been made hidden or anonymous.

This hidden history is now being addressed and has been since the 1970’s here in the United States.  As President Jimmy Carter said in 1980:

“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.”

Initially in the US, the federal government proclaimed the week surrounding March 8 (known around the world as International Women’s Day) as Women’s History Week.  By 1986, 14 states had declared March to be Women’s History Month to have schools and communities recognize and raise up the history of women – individuals as well as movements.  The following year Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. Every year since then the President of the United States creates a special proclamation once again declaring March as Women’s History Month by highlighting the achievements of American women.

We as women are no longer “Anonymous.” Our voices and our history are being added to what children and adults learn.

As part of each year’s Women’s History Month, a theme is associated with the month’s programs on women’s history.  In 2016, that theme is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.  Following this theme, leaders throughout the country, both women and men, have stepped up to the plate to highlight women’s service and history.

Here’s what President Obama said in his 2016 proclamation on February 29, 2016:

Throughout history, women have driven humanity forward on the path to a more equal and just society, contributing in innumerable ways to our character and progress as a people.  In the face of discrimination and undue hardship, they have never given up on the promise of America:  that with hard work and determination, nothing is out of reach.  During Women’s History Month, we remember the trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books, and we honor their legacies by carrying forward the valuable lessons learned from the powerful examples they set.

For too long, women were formally excluded from full participation in our society and our democracy.  Because of the courage of so many bold women who dared to transcend preconceived expectations and prove they were capable of doing all that a man could do and more, advances were made, discoveries were revealed, barriers were broken, and progress triumphed.  Whether serving in elected positions across America, leading groundbreaking civil rights movements, venturing into unknown frontiers, or programming revolutionary technologies, generations of women that knew their gender was no obstacle to what they could accomplish have long stirred new ideas and opened new doors, having a profound and positive impact on our Nation.  Through hardship and strife and in every realm of life, women have spurred change in communities around the world, steadfastly joining together to overcome adversity and lead the charge for a fairer, more inclusive, and more progressive society.

During Women’s History Month, we honor the countless women who sacrificed and strived to ensure all people have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream.  As President, the first bill I signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for working American women to effectively challenge illegal, unequal pay disparities.  Additionally, my Administration proposed collecting pay data from businesses to shine a light on pay discrimination, and I signed an Executive Order to ensure the Federal Government only works with and awards contracts to businesses that follow laws that uphold fair and equal labor practices.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge women more for health insurance simply because of their gender.  And last year, we officially opened for women the last jobs left unavailable to them in our military, because one of the best ways to ensure our Armed Forces remains the strongest in the world is to draw on the talents and skills of all Americans.

Though we have made great progress toward achieving gender equality, work remains to be done.  Women still earn, on average, less for every dollar made by men, which is why I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — a sensible step to provide women with basic tools to fight pay discrimination.  Meanwhile, my Administration has taken steps to support working families by fighting for paid leave for all Americans, providing women with more small business loans and opportunities, and addressing the challenges still faced by women and girls of color, who consistently face wider opportunity gaps and structural barriers — including greater discrepancies in pay.  And although the majority of our Nation’s college and graduate students are women, they are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which is why we are encouraging more women and girls to pursue careers in these fields….

This month, as we reflect on the marks made by women throughout history, let us uphold the responsibility that falls on all of us — regardless of gender — and fight for equal opportunity for our daughters as well as our sons.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2016 as Women’s History Month.  I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. 

Similarly, in my back yard, the Centre County Commissioners today proclaimed March 2016 as Women’s History Month here is Centre County and presented the proclamation to Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local chapter of the National Organization for Women).

Before we were given the proclamation, Michele talked about the history of Women’s History Month and this year’s theme. She then called upon people throughout the county to recognize local woman who have taken up public service and/or are serving our local communities in public office past and present and in the future.

 

01-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation  IMG_8934

Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW presenting the history of the creation of Women’s History Month. Note that in honor of women’s history, we wore the suffragists’ emblematic colors   – purple, white, and gold

I then gave a bit of women’s history – from women being hidden and anonymous to the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls in 1858, to the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in the US in 1920, to the continuing activities throughout the US today to put women fully in to the US Constitution through the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

I then, like Michele, called on the public, to advocate for passage of the ERA both at the state level and at the national level.  FYI, here in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1971, we became the 4th or 5th state in the country to create a state-level ERA (Virginia also created their state ERA in 1971, but I can’t find the actual date of ratification) and we were the 21st state to ratify the federal ERA on September 27, 1972.  Currently, 35 of 38 states have ratified the federal ERA.

02-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8935

Joanne Tosti-Vasey (l) presenting information on the history of the Equal Rights Amendment

For more information on the ERA and the two routes of activism to full ratification, go to Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution.

Once our presentations giving voice to women’s history in the US and here in Centre County, we were presented with the “County of Centre Proclamation Number 7 of 2016:

10-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8943

Women’s History Month Proclamation by Centre County PA Commissioners

Here’s the text of the proclamation:

 

WHEREAS, women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the gro3wth and strength of our County in countless way; and

WHEREAS,  women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of the life of the County; and

WHEREAS, women have played a unique role throughout the history of the County, Pennsylvania and the United States in many ways; and

WHEREAS, women have and continue to, through their work, improve communities through or County; and

WHEREAS, women have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist mov3ment, the emancipation movement, the industrial lavor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements, which creat4 a more fair and just society for all; and

WHEREAS, younger generations of women from all races, classes, and ethnic backgrounds will continue to contribute to our County, Commonwealth, and Country;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the Centre County Board of Commissioners does hereby proclaim March2016 as “Women’s History Month” and encourages the citizens of Centre County to observe with attending appropriate programs, ceremonies, activities, and to visit womenshistorymonth.gov and or local Centre County Library and Historical Museum to learn about the generations of women who have influenced or history.

ADOPTED this 22nd day of March, 2016

CENTRE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

Michael Pipe, Chair

Mark Higgins

Steven G. Dershem

09-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8942

Proclamation Presentation: l. to r.: Mike Pipe, Mark Higgins, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, Michele Hamilton, and Steven G. Dershem

 

 

 

 

Repeal the RFRA and Ratify the ERA

ERA words buttonCorporations should not have more religious rights than woman.  With the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision, women’s personally “sincerely held” beliefs now mean nothing.

The Hobby Lobby decision is not based on the US Constitution.  Instead it’s based on a bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA combined with the recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that granted personhood status to companies. Since there is no constitutional equality for women and therefore no strict scrutiny review for women’s religious and civil rights, this decision eliminating women personal religious beliefs and access to reproductive health coverage occurred.

The RFRA, when combined with this SCOTUS decision, makes women non-persons.

Therefore in order to place women back on equal footing with men (and the “personhood” of corporations as this activist Court has mandated), we need to do two things:

    1. Ratify the ERA — the Equal Rights Amendment — and put women into the US Constitution so that women WILL be equally treated as people and not as objects to be pushed around by the will of corporations and by gender bigots.
    2. Repeal the RFRA  –  The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed an ad in the New York Times entitled Dogma Should NOT trump Civil Liberties that in part states:

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people. Now, the Supreme Court asserts that corporations have “religious rights” that surpass those of women.In the words of Justice John Paul Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings,no thoughts, no desires” — but real women do. Allowing employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use is not,as the Supreme Court ruled, an “exercise of religion.” It is an exercise of tyranny.

I agree.  Repeal the RFRA and put women into the US Constitution.

The repeal of the RFRA would require an act of Congress. That means we need to elect new members to Congress who respect and will stand up for women. So we all need to register to vote and then vote.

We only need three more states to ratify the ERA to make it the 28th amendment to the US Constitution. Illinois is halfway there; their Senate ratified it and we’re now awaiting the vote in the state House.  Just two more states and then we can proudly say:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

 

ALICE PAUL – CRUSADER FOR WOMEN – JANUARY 11 BIRTHDAY

In honor of Women’s Equality Day (August 26). Alice Paul spearheaded the final long-time nationwide effort to get the 19th amendment to the US Constitution passed. And once that occurred in 1920, she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment; yet, almost a century later, it has yet to become part of the US Constitution. It’s time for women to achieve full legal equality.

King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

We Did It! White House ERA Petition Receives Over 25,000 Signatures

Between 1:30 and 1:54 pm EST today the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification petition received the required minimum 25,000 signatures that triggers a response from the White House. This means that White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response in the very near future.

Luanne J. Smith, one of the organizers for the petition drive, sent out this congratulations announcement as soon as we passed the 25,000 mark:

Yes!!!! We have passed the 25,000-signature mark, and with 3 1/2 days to spare!!!! Congratulations to Tammy Simkins, who initiated the petition and coordinated the petition drive, and to the entire team of ERA supporters who have worked so hard to see us reach this milestone!!! If you haven’t already joined the team by signing and sharing the petition, please do so NOW! Let’s get the Equal Rights Amendment moving forward! ERA NOW!!!

And here’s a screen shot at 1:54 pm EST today, February 6, 2013 showing 34 signatures over the 25,000 signature threshold.

Screenshot of "We the People" website showing more 25,034 signatures on ERA petition.

Screenshot of “We the People” website showing more than 25,000 signatures on ERA petition.

Signature number 25,000 was from Knoxville, TN.  Which by the way is rather neat.  It was Tennessee’s ratification of 19th amendment on August 24 1920 that gave women the right to vote. And that ratification vote was by a majority of one vote. So having signature 25,000 come from someone from Tennessee is appropriate.

The ERA petition to the White House will remain open for signing until 11:59 pm EST February 9, 2013.  Please add your name to the groundswell for this historic petition. For more information on the petition, check out my earlier blogs here and here.

Congratulations everyone for all your hard work!

White House Petition for the Equal Rights Amendment: Deadline to Sign is February 9

Please go to the White House’s “We the People” website & sign the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification petition; just 4 days left. Here’s an email I received from NOW and the Feminist Majority indicating that we can make this deadline IF each and every one of us acts now. For more details on why the ERA is needed, check out my earlier blog, “Why We are Pushing for Ratification of the ERA (the Equal Rights Amendment).”

ERA YES antique button

Dear Joanne ,

A petition for Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification is currently collecting signatures through the We the People petition process on the White House website.

The ERA petition has over 18,000 signatures. If the petition has 25,000 signatures by 11:59pm on February 9, the White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. (Currently, the We the People process requires over 100,000 signatures, but the ERA petition was filed before the increased requirement.)

It is time to get the ERA back high on the national agenda. This petition asks the White House to support lifting the deadline on the original 1972 ERA. Women would only need three more states to get full rights if the deadline was lifted. Thirty-five states have already ratified the ERA. We need you to go to the White House website and sign the petition.

Sign it today. Women have waited long enough for equality.

For equality,

   
Eleanor Smeal
President
Feminist Majority Foundation
  Terry O’Neill
President
National Organization for Women

Paycheck Fairness Act and the ERA

Yesterday, a reporter from the local newspaper contacted me regarding a press conference that was held by Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA). During that press conference, Senator Casey discussed a report highlighting the fact that women in Pennsylvania earn 18.3 percent less than their male peers.

This earning differential is known as the Pay or Wage Gap.  The commonly used measure to determine the wage gap is the ratio of women’s to men’s median annual earnings for full-time, full-year workers.  Nationally, in 2011, women earned just 77 percent of what men earned.  That’s a national wage gap of 23 percent.  Although Pennsylvania appears to be doing better than the nation on pay equity, we are still being short-changed.

For women of color, the wage gap is even worse.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Asian American women have the smallest wage gap, earning 91 percent of what the average white man earned in 2010. White women are next, earning approximately 81 percent of white men’s average income. African-American women (70 percent) and Hispanic women (60 percent) have the largest wage gaps as compared to white men.

So why did Jessica VanderKolk call me for a comment about Senator Casey’s press conference? The message she left on the phone was that she was interested in what I thought of Casey’s stance on pay inequity, partly as a follow-up to an article she did on this issue in May 2012, where I was also quoted.  She wanted to know why I thought there had been almost no change in wage gap in the last year and what I thought needed to happen in order to eliminate this problem.

My first statement to her was that pay inequity is unfair and unjust.  She quoted me in the news article this morning,

“It takes just as much to feed a woman’s family as a man’s family and put a roof over your head,” Tosti-Vasey said. “Gender should have no basis [in determining] your salary.”

We then went on to discuss the main point of Senator Casey’s press conference: his support and co-sponsorship of the Paycheck Fairness Act.  This bill was introduced again for the fourth time on January 23, 2013 (Casey signed on as a co-sponsor on January 30, 2013 right after announcing his support of S.R. 84).

The Paycheck Fairness Act updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It gives women the tools they need to challenge the wage gap itself.  According to the ACLU, both S.R. 84 and H.R. 377 include the following remedies and programs to help remove pay inequity:

  • Require employers to demonstrate that wage differentials between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from factors other than sex.
  • Prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.
  • Permit reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages.
  • Strengthen penalties for equal pay violations. The bill’s measured approach levels the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.
  • Encourage proactive enforcement of equal pay laws by re-instating the collection of wage-related data and providing for training for the workers who enforce our equal pay laws.
  • Modernize the Equal Pay Act to make it more in line with the class action procedures available under Title VII. It would not extend class action protections beyond what is available under other anti-discrimination laws.
  • provide important safeguards for businesses, including:
    • providing an exemption for small businesses;
    • instituting a six months waiting period from the time of enactment and requiring the Department of Labor to assist small businesses with compliance; and
    • Recognizing employers for excellence in their pay practices and strengthening federal outreach and assistance to all businesses to help improve equal pay practices.

Yet if people in general understand that paying someone less for doing the same job is unfair, why is this bill now in its fourth iteration? I was asked this question by Jessica Vandervolk during our phone call.  She paraphrased my comment, stating that Senator Casey and I agree on this issue:

[Tosti-Vasey] said the lack of action so far may have to do with the conservative climate, and Casey added that he hopes the 2012 election makes a difference.

The paraphrase is accurate, but somewhat incomplete.  I said that I believed that the lack of passage was mostly due to conservative legislators.  I continued by stating that this is particularly true in the US House of Representatives but also occurs among conservatives in the US Senate.  Why?  Just follow the campaign money.  These legislators listen to lobbyists and business honchos who want full control over how much they pay others. If employers can get away with paying less and discriminating against one segment of their workforce, then they will lobby and work to defeat any effort to change this scenario.  When elected officials’ campaign war-chests depend upon funds from uncaring, well-financed business owners and lobbyists, they vote no.

So I agree with Casey.  We have a slightly more caring House and Senate as a result of the November election and maybe we can get the Paycheck Fairness Act to become law during this session of Congress.  As constituents, let all of your legislators–both Senators and your US Representative—know that you want them to cosponsor (if they are not already a sponsor) and vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act as soon as possible.

You can find out where your representatives stand on the Paycheck Fairness Act by going to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. In the search box in the middle of the page, type in “Paycheck Fairness Act” and click search.  On the next page, 2 bills will show up—SR 84 and HR 377.  If you then click on “cosponsors” for each bill, you can determine if your representatives are publicly supporting the bill or not.

Meanwhile this might never have come up as an issue to fight in Congress OVER and OVER and OVER again if the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) had been ratified by 38 states and was now part of the US Constitution.  I recently blogged about why having an ERA is important, so check that out as well.  Once you have done that, go to the White House petition site and tell President Obama that you want him to work with Congress to finally get the ERA ratified.