July 4th is upon us. Independence Day. I don’t think I’m celebrating this year. I grew in the American public schools where I dutifully stood daily and recited. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But having millions and millions of school children recite that sentence over and over and over for generations doesn’t make it so.
I came of age in the 1970s. While the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first drafted in 1923, it was in 1972 that the wording was approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The amendment says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
It’s a pretty straight forward statement, but I remember people going buck nutty over it. They were jumping to some wild conclusions like men and women would be required to use the same bathrooms. However, the bottom line is that too many people (pronounced men) were afraid of women being treated equally. Among the things that women could NOT do in the 1970’s were:
- Get a credit card (until 1974)
- Keep her job if she was pregnant (until 1978)
- Report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace (it wasn’t recognized as a real thing until 1977 and not against the law until 1980)
- Run the Boston Marathon (until 1972)
- Refuse to have sex with her husband (started changing in the mid 70s but not fully recognized as marital rape until 1993)
Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment lobbied and marched. They organized rallies, picketed, went on hunger strikes, and committed acts of civil disobedience. They made a great deal of progress. However, the Equal Rights Amendment is still not the law of the land. It has been passed in the necessary 38 states but the timeline needs to be extended by Congress. Today, in 2022, it is legal to deny me many things that I would consider my rights in this country such as privacy, health care, personal liberty, and safety. It is a common practice to continue to do so.
When I graduated from college I went into the job market. During interviews it was still common for a woman to be asked if she planned to get pregnant in the next ___ years. Women learned to answer questions about pregnancy and where they saw themselves in ten years very carefully, because if there was mention of marriage and family, they would likely not be hired.
I took a job working as a sales representative for a food broker. I called on retail stores and wholesalers who supplied those stores. One day the boss sent out a memo to everyone notifying us that comparing salary would result in termination. This memo came just after a day where we were all in a meeting and a co-worker placed his check where I couldn’t help but see it. He had started a couple months after me. We were the same age. We had the same education, both with degrees that had nothing to do with what our job entailed. We each had related experience in the industry but not in doing what we were hired to do. And we were hired to do the exact same job. The only difference was that he made substantially more than me. I always assumed that my boss had noticed the check laying on the table between us and knew I had seen it. That memo made it so that if I questioned the difference, I would be fired.
Somewhere along the line, I thought that there would be a change. I thought that we had seen some successes of women in the corporate world and the political world. But every time we see one step forward, there is a backlash. Bigots going extreme. There is now the same thing happening in other areas where frightened people want to keep things the same or even turn back time. The same thing happens to people of color. Without Barack Obama, there would never have been the current knee-jerk reactions of bigots flooding our country or the orange nightmare. There is a huge backlash against science – the pandemic, vaccines, climate change, environmental policies, and health care.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
In the last week the Supreme Court has obstructed the equal rights of many. They set America back at least decades by doing the bidding of one would-be tyrant! In their rulings, the jurists have said that laws can be passed restricting the health care, privacy, and lives of women but not restricting the guns used to kill children in an elementary school. They have said that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot protect the environment. To my mind what they have done is create a list of things that are most important, that America holds as priorities.
- First there is money. We can’t enact environmental laws without businesses having to alter the way they do things. That would cost money and corporate America doesn’t want to spend the money now to protect the quality of life for our children.
- Second there is money. We can’t stand up to the NRA because they fund too many of our politicians. (In fact I would go as far as to say that the NRA owns them.). We have to keep women subordinate or the money will not continue to flow maintaining the status quo.
- In third place we have guns. Doesn’t matter how many mass shootings we have because Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire. Doesn’t matter how many children die in American schools. Doesn’t matter how many children are traumatized after seeing their classmates killed and after doing active shooter drills. Doesn’t matter how many people die attending a concert, going for groceries, at the movies, dancing in a club, or on our streets.
- Fourth is preserving the white patriarchy. Control women. Keep them as second class citizens. Make people of color into the enemy when they take to the streets seeking equality. Keep all of the “other” in subordinate positions in society so the status quo continues.
- The fifth involves controlling the narrative and the truth be damned. We now have people in power who are perfectly comfortable saying on January 7th that the country had come under attack on the 6th only to later maintain that you couldn’t have distinguished that crowd from any tourist group on an ordinary day (like we didn’t all see it on our televisions). Groups have no trouble making up lies that kill an innocent pizza shop owner’s business with their conspiracy theories or slandering people knowing full well that they are lying. Even Supreme Court Justices see no problem in being influenced by conspiracy theorists who tried to prevent the peaceful transition of power and then issuing statements that are beyond the norm. We have “alternate facts.” NO. They are lies.
- The final one I’m going to mention is conflating politics and religion. The separation of church and state is disappearing. I’m horrified by the number of people maintaining Christian Nationalism as either Christian or patriotic. Hate groups are not Christian.
So what is not on the list of things that are important in the United States of America? Our children. Citizens who are women. Citizens who are people of color. Citizens who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Safety. Truth. Honor. Freedom of religion.
I can’t celebrate that.