Conference Forges Bold Equality Amendment Strategy
by Loretta A. Kane
"This weekend marks the kick-off of an historic campaign to take the action necessary to put women in the Constitution," NOW's President Patricia Ireland said after NOW members, meeting in Columbus, Ohio during the 1995 National NOW Conference, voted to renew the ongoing fight for women's constitutional equality. The members voted to embark upon a bold new strategy to ratify an expanded equality amendment.
An overwhelming majority of the conference delegates voted to build a campaign to ratify a Constitutional amendment which will eliminate discrimination based on sex, race, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnicity, national origin, color or indigence. The resolution also asserts that pregnancy discrimination would be prohibited and that equality of rights for women must include the absolute right to choose abortion. Broad in reach, the equality amendment would explicitly affirm the need for, and constitutionality of, affirmative action programs. The conference body also called for further study of age and disability as classes to be included in the struggle for Constitutional equality.
"Constitutional equality will be at the heart of every issue we work on until women hold our rightful place in the Constitution. NOW's expanded strategy makes it clear that we will not let our enemies divide us one against the other. Women and men from every background can stand and struggle together to ratify a new equality amendment and to end discrimination once and for all," Ireland said. "The equality amendment strategy is the vehicle we need to strengthen and expand our coalitions. It will be a catalyst for political change at all levels: legislative, electoral and Constitutional. This is the dawning of a new day for NOW and the feminist movement," Ireland said.
NOW activists have held focused discussions on the issue of Constitutional strategies since the 1993 National NOW Conference. During the last two years, the issue has been studied and debated at the chapter, state, regional and national levels. In January of this year, NOW leaders gathered for an ERA Strategy Summit to determine the meaning of a new amendment. NOW's ERA Legislative Intent Committee, chaired by Janet Canterbury, took the principles voted out of the NOW ERA Strategy Summit and continued to analyze and improve them for presentation to the body at this year's conference.
Those who participated in the conference spent much of their time discussing, reviewing and analyzing possible strategies. The conference began on Friday, July 21, with a three-part, day-long working group devoted to Constitutional strategies. On Saturday, July 22, it was addressed in a plenary session. During that session, there were reports from Constitutional scholars, a question and answer period, and statements from activists. There were also two separate Issue Hearings during which activists debated the merits of the new strategy. Finally, on Sunday, July 23, an entire three-hour plenary session was devoted to the issue.
During that session, members voted to take action on the expanded equality amendment. The body also voted to reaffirm NOW's commitment to lesbian rights by passing a resolution which mandates, " . . . that the Equal Rights Amendment must specifically include equal rights for everyone regardless of sexual orientation."
To implement the resolution, the National NOW Action Center will develop and distribute educational materials and action-organizing kits on this strategy. NOW will also convene meetings with its allies to develop a shared progressive agenda for the 1996 elections and to continue discussion of the equality amendment strategy. NOW will hold day-long education and action training sessions on this new strategy. The trainings will be held across the country in conjunction with NOW's regularly scheduled National Board meetings over the next two years. Finally, a committee will study the ramifications of -- and strategies for -- including age and disability in an equality amendment.
"After years of thoughtful discussion, study and review, we are ready to reach out to other progressive organizations and communities to solicit their input and support for this new Constitutional strategy," said Ireland. "While affirmative action and welfare have become politically incorrect in this Congress and many state legislatures, they are still morally imperative programs by feminist standards. This renewed campaign for Constitutional equality will be the vehicle we need to galvanize all progressive people into a unified coalition that will not only thwart the legislative attacks against women, but will be so broad that it will enable us to finally achieve our goal to include women in the Constitution," said Ireland.
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