Making Democracy Work

Social Justice & ERA

Equal Rights Amendment, Racial Justice

Two Interconnected Movements for Equality

The two movements, equality for women and equality for African-Americans, have paralleled and spurred each other. It was women abolition leaders who met at Seneca Falls in 1848 to demand the vote that women won in 1920. Following the African-American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, white women have been the largest number of beneficiaries, simply because they are 51% of the population while African-Americans are 15%. Historically, times that expanded rights blessed both; times that contracted rights dashed hopes and opportunities for both.The advancement of either women or African-Americans brings a backlash from fears of displacement, especially during economic contractions. This backlash is more severe in geographies containing large percentages of African-Americans, leaving a minority of white men. No Deep South state ratified the Equal Vote Amendment; none has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. At times the two movements have clashed and, sadly, competed. (See How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women. They have been strongest when working together.

Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment

Let's dispel two myths. First, most Americans think that the US leads the world in positive social and economic indicators for women. In fact, the US is 45th--and slipping. Second, most Americans think that women have equal rights grounded in the US Constitution. They do not, as Justice Scalia pointed out in 2010.

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Why Aren't American Women's Rights Guaranteed by Law? - 2017 Newsweek article

What women have depended upon is statutory or changeable law from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. That law is still on the books but key parts are increasingly unenforceable; a law is only as good as its enforcement.

Let's take the equal pay law as an example. During World War II, there was an agency proposal to pay women equally in order to recruit Rosie the Riveter and her companion workers into nontraditional jobs. The war ended before it was implemented, but the idea became law in 1963, and was bolstered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2007, the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruled against Lily Ledbetter's equal pay case. After 20 years of work, she learned that she had been paid thousands less than men in her job. The degree of the current Supreme Court's hostility can be judged from their reasoning: that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within 6 months of the first unequal paycheck, despite the fact that she had no way of knowing her unfair treatment. Two years later, Congress "restored" the Equal Pay law. However, in a 2011 case brought against Wal-Mart for unequal pay and promotion, the Court said that the plaintiffs had to prove "intention" to discriminate, a virtually impossible bar.

The same type of on-and-off-again cycle has happened with discrimination against pregnancy and equal opportunity in education and sports, but if a plaintiff has to prove intention, the law is a hollow shell.

An Equal Rights Amendment would provide a permanent and high standard ("strict scrutiny" in legal terms) for judging sex discrimination. It would shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the opposition.

The years since the early Civil Rights laws like Equal Pay that helped women greatly have proven how quickly these advancements can be eliminated in all but name. That's why the permanence and strength of the ERA is needed.

A recent podcast, in strong language, explains the current need for the ERA and the stage of ratification.

We have compiled a general list of videos, websites, and resources that highlight both the history of the ERA and the re-invigorated advocacy efforts today.


City Council Passes Apology for Slavery

On June 19, 2018, the Charleston City Council passed a resolution which apologized for the city's role in slavery and promised mitigation of the lingering effects of slavery. The preamble to the resolution reads:

RECOGNIZING, DENOUNCING AND APOLOGIZING ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF CHARLESTON FOR THE ATROCITIES INFLICTED BY THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY AND COMMITTING TO CONTINUE TO PURSUE INITIATIVES THAT HONOR THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THOSE WHO WERE ENSLAVED AND THAT ASSIST IN AMELIORATING REMAINING VESTIGES OF SLAVERY.

Reading for Racial Justice

The Charleston League designed a bookmark that provides partial but essential background for understanding today's racial justice issues. Feel free to download, print, or share.

Bookmark Side 1 | Bookmark Side 2

Other resources:

Recent Social Justice events

Film on race and incarceration
Screening of 13th and LWV Panel Discussion: This powerful film about race, justice, and mass incarceration was followed by a panel discussion led by the Charleston LWV and including Lisa Brock, Dr. Stacey Patton, and Susan Dunn.

Above, Michael B. Moore, IAAM President and CEO, spoke about the coming International African American Museum for the 2016 LWV Annual Meeting. This new museum contributes to an awareness as expressed in the words of Dr. Jeffery P. Robinson, Deputy ACLU Director: To heal our racial wounds, we must honor the history that began at Gadsden's Wharf.

LWV members hold MLK banner
Members of the Charleston area League of Women Voters honor participating in the annual Martin Luther King parade, January 2018.

Present and Future Leaguers participated in the Unity March for the Mother Emanuel 2017 Commemoration.