In 1996, my seventh grade social studies teacher Diana Murray read the beginning lines of the Declaration of Independence to the class. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal—’
“What does that mean?” she asked. “Who’s equal?”
Silence. Cautiously, I half-raised my hand. “Rich, white men?”
As a young Filipina-American born to parents who emigrated to avoid political oppression, my father taught me what privilege and prejudice looks like. It can be confusing.
When I reflect back on that day in class, it reminds me that meaningful change happens through a long process punctuated by sudden shifts in the collective conscience. For those in need of a quick history refresher:
- The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress (read: not like our lame duck modern Congress) on July 4, 1776, announcing to the world that the 13 American colonies were no longer a part of the British Empire. In this document, America was born.
- Nearly 72 years later, after decades of campaigning by staunch activists, the 19th Amendment was adopted into law on Aug. 26, 1920, thereafter prohibiting our government from denying anyone the right to vote based on gender.
- 51 years after that, Congressmember Bella Abzug introduced a resolution asking Congress to commemorate that day thereafter as Women’s Equality Day.
August 26 marks a turning point in the history of the struggle for equal treatment of women and women’s rights, and it’s appropriate to ask this week: How far have we really come?
Every year, progressive women’s groups celebrate and observe Women’s Equality Day—not only to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment, but to also call attention to the ongoing movement toward full equality. This year, in particular, women’s organizations, elected officials and feminists—male and female—will focus on reviving the fight for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). At its core, the ERA declares that men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States.
Women matter. We make up more than half the electorate in our country, state, county and cities. Yet nearly 80 percent of our elected officials are men. The San Jose City Council has only two women among its eleven members (including the mayor), and there is a very real potential that San Jose will have only one female councilmember in January 2017. That’s quite a feat in what used to be known as the “Feminist Capital of the World,” the city that elected the first female mayor of any major American city.
Meanwhile, male lawmakers in state legislatures across the country are pushing bills that restrict women’s reproductive health, bodies, salaries and childcare decisions. When women’s advocacy groups bring policies to the table that could benefit society as a whole, their ideas are eviscerated. Yet repeated studies show that when women hold equal or majority control in a legislative body, the result is more progressive policy and more thoughtful governance.
While it is obviously a priority for women’s organizations to support and elect more women leaders, true equity will not exist until we as a society decide to be intentional about ending sexism and inequality.
In September, the Santa Clara Democratic Party Central Committee has the opportunity to adopt a resolution similar to the one Rep. Abzug wrote 43 years ago. Spearheaded by community leaders of all backgrounds and written and presented by Democratic Activists for Women Now (DAWN), the resolution calls on the county Democratic Party to create an executive board position dedicated to ensuring gender parity at all levels.
It may not be the ERA, but it’s an important step for our local political infrastructure, which so often objectifies and even demonizes women when it should be empowering them.
We call on our fellow women warriors—and male allies—to help this cause by speaking out, pushing back and refusing to stand idly by while a generation of future leaders is derailed by ignorance and arrogance.