New Generation, Similar Struggles

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Today marked the first day of my summer internship with the Georgia House Democratic Caucus; it was made particularly interesting by a tour of the Georgia Capitol building provided by my senior staff member. As Georgia’s most recent legislative session ended around March, the Capitol was unusually quiet. This gave me and the members of my team ample time to browse the many glass display cases placed among the different floors of the building. On the third floor, one display case in particular caught my attention. The case featured different protests and movements that had come through the Capitol over the years. Among the facts and pictures of protesting students, I noticed several pins displaying the letters “E, R, A.” I immediately understood these letters to stand for the name “Equal Rights Amendment.”

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The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was an amendment that was originally drafted by Alice Paul and was introduced in Congress for the first time in 1923. Though it took decades, the ERA finally passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. However, the amendment failed to receive the needed number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress, which corresponded to June 30, 1982. This meant that, after so many years of work to be passed through Congress, the ERA was not adopted. The ERA had one core mission: to ensure equality for any citizen of the United States regardless of sex. The first section of the amendment stated that equality of rights under the law will not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on the basis of sex. The remaining sections of the amendment stated that Congress had the power to enforce this legislation and that it would become effective two years after the date of its ratification.

Cut back to today, and a few hours after returning home from my internship I find myself reading an article that has been forwarded to me from a friend. The article is titled “US Republicans block women’s wage bill.” The article is focused on a bill that was introduced into the United States Senate; the bill was aimed at strengthening laws against wage discrimination by preventing companies from taking action against employees who share pay data with colleagues, as well as making it easier for women to file pay discrimination lawsuits. However, this bill, known as the Paycheque Fairness Act, was not able to make it to the Senate floor for debate because it was eight votes short of the sixty required. According to the article, no Republicans voted to bring the bill to the floor and the Senate minority leader seemed to dismiss the bill as unnecessary because (as he put it) there are already enough problems to deal with. Though every article will remain biased to some extent, I still believe it makes a valid point. There are many problems facing America today; inequality between the sexes should not be one of them.

I have the opportunity to go to a fairly liberal university where I am able to witness my peers taking action to stand up for many of the things they believe in, including women’s rights. I am concerned that the majority of American women may not be willing to stand up for issues such as wage discrimination. Or worse, some women may not know much about the issue at all. It is imperative that we educate American citizens, especially women, on issues such as this. It is also imperative that we never stop taking actions to try and fix issues such as wage discrimination. Taking action doesn’t require some crazy riot; it requires us to get educated and to continue to spread awareness. It requires us to continue to try and get legislation such as the Paycheque Fairness Act passed into law. It is important to remember that wage discrimination is something that affects a huge amount of people; women make up at least half of the citizens in the United States. Wage discrimination should never be brushed off as something that is simply not important at the time. Unless it is fixed, it will continue to be an issue for American citizens no matter what other problems we face.

When Lilly Ledbetter watched the Paycheque Fairness Act fail to make it to the Senate floor for debate, she was disappointed. She said, “This is not right. This country is smarter, we’re better than this.” I can only imagine that a similar sentiment would have been on many women’s minds years ago when the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified. We need to continue to remember these words as we move forward in our fight for equality.

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