I cede my column space this week to Iselin Bratz, a 17-year-old senior from Camden Hills Regional High School. She wrote me: “As a woman, I have always indirectly had connection to the ERA, experiencing sexism throughout my life. I got more involved when Donald Trump was elected, getting more political and socially active. I have participated in Women’s Marches, demonstrations for social issues such as Black Lives Matter, and writing about various social topics in my school’s newspaper.”

My personal experience with demands for equal treatment of women occurred in 1978 working for the college newspaper, “The UMass Daily Collegianz.” Our offices were taken over by a feminist group who barricaded themselves in, keeping staff out for a week. The paper continued publishing from the library while the university negotiated a peaceful ending.

Protest sometimes is the only way to say “ENOUGH.” This one was respectful, but not without critics. Unlike the insurrection, both sides sought change through discussion, though the takeover of our offices was extreme. Sometimes the pendulum, when firmly entrenched to the right, must swing strongly left before it has any chance of settling in the middle. The lesson — sometimes a strong response must accompany a strong desire/need for change.

*****

The ERA: Where are equal rights now?

By Iselin Bratz

Equality (n) – the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.

Do you want equality? Equal protections? Equal rights? The fight for equal rights for women has been ongoing since the United States founding in 1776. The right to vote was granted in 1919, the right to things like opening a bank account didn’t become possible until the 1960s. The U.S. lagged other countries in providing equal protections and it is time to change that.

In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment with a ratification deadline by 1979. It states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex and Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of the article.

But intense protests kept the Equal Rights Amendment from being ratified.

“Now more than ever it’s important to make sure we have full equality9; we’ve made great headway in so many areas, but we still don’t have full equality under the law,” said Democratic Rep. Vicki Doudera, who represents Camden, Rockport and Islesboro in the state Legislature.

As time moves on, the United States has continued to exclude equality of the sexes from the Constitution. Currently, the U.S is the only major nation whose founding document does not protect its citizens against sex discrimination.

When the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1787, women were not considered equal. “The Constitution by its very terms applies to men; it was written by men, it applies to men,” said Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Many groups are campaigning for the ERA. Nancy Murdock, co-founder of ERA Maine, states, “the Constitution was written when men had rights if they were white and had property and were of the right national background. But no women, no African Americans, no native Americans. That was completely unfair; a lot has been changed and corrected, but not this.”

ERA Maine primarily does “educational outreach” as many people are unaware of the problem’s severity. “Political activism was not something I did before, but when I understood even just a brief history of the ERA, it made me mad. I was mad at myself because I hadn’t realized it hadn’t passed,” Murdock said. “Personally, it is deeply unsettling to think that I live in a country in which women are treated differently than men.”

Even in the modern age, opponents argue the ERA is not necessary. However, women still face inequality in wages, violence, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, health care discrimination, and a lack of body autonomy. Discrimination remains prevalent; it has simply become more discrete. “It is easier to say, why wouldn’t we include women in the Constitution when historically they haven’t been in it,” said Murdock. “If it doesn’t make any difference, why are you fighting so hard?”

As executive director of the Human Rights Commission, Sneirson has seen many cases involving all types of discrimination. “Every year, we go to the Legislature and testify in favor of the ERA because sex discrimination hasn’t gone away. Sex discrimination was one issue that led to the founding of the Maine human rights act and the Maine human rights commission 50 years ago,” Sneirson said. “Sexual harassment, men, women or people who are non-binary or people who are gay, it has never gone away in employment, in housing, in public accommodations and education.”

The ERA would “make discrimination based on sex unlawful in areas like law-making, court action, and insurance,” she said. “It would clarify the scrutiny that some laws in Maine have.”

The challenge is to get the ERA passed by Congress. Lawmakers have proposed two strategies. The first is passage of bills to remove the time limit and declare it complete when three-fourths (38) of the states ratify, thereby retaining the existing 35 state ratifications as viable. The second involves traditional legislation ratifying the ERA by the Constitution’s Article V ratification process. But this is easier said than done. “In the state of Maine, we do not have a single Republican House representative willing to vote for this, not one,” Murdock explained.

We need to speak up in support of the ERA, to sway elected officials to vote in favor of it.

This is especially pertinent to the younger generation. “You are an important voice because you have your whole life ahead and you can ask the question, why wouldn’t I want inclusion in the Constitution?” Murdock said. “Ask the question, what kind of a country wouldn’t do that?”

As the next generations of voters, many of us are becoming key players in the political scene. “Write your representatives and senators,” Doudera said. “Put pressure on your legislators.”

Information about your local legislators is on the Maine.gov website.