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Pictured Above: Supporters and opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982. From https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/102822

Virginia is a political beast of a state. Once the capital of the Confederacy and current home to the National Rifle Association, Virginia sports 13 lucky electoral votes (only two more than Arizona), and has served as a training ground for many organizers learning how to make a red state blue. When activists take a tobacco-growing, gun-toting Southern capital and organize it to recognize the humanity and equality of their citizens, they provide inspiration — and a proof of principle — to other organizers nationwide that the seemingly impossible is quite possible.

Effecting Change in Virginia

Virginia showed us what’s possible, and in 2020 Arizonans must remember that elections can be won or lost by just a few votes.

Last year around this time, in January 2019, the Virginia Senate refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Wielded by men and women who believe in patriarchy and voted to ensure that women were not seen or treated as equals under the law, that veto triggered a lot of grassroots passion, and the election season of 2019 in Virginia was lit! Voters wanting more visibility and representation in their democracy sent more women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates to the state Capitol than ever before, turning a once beet-red state into big ‘D’ Democratic blue.

And elections have consequences.

A year later, on January 15, 2020, Virginia legislators voted to ratify the ERA, solidifying that women are to be treated as equal under the law! They say all politics is local, and the ratification of the ERA in Virginia 48 years after its original passage by Congress is a case study in why every voter’s voice, and ensuring every vote is counted, is so important. Changing the makeup of the state Legislature to reflect the people of Virginia shows that seismic change can happen. Talking to neighbors, friends, and coworkers and asking them to vote is critical in making sure lawmakers make decisions that reflect The People.

And The People of the Commonwealth of Virginia were enthusiastically supportive of the ratification of the ERA. First passed by Congress in 1972, the ERA needed 38 states to ratify it for it to be added to the U.S. Constitution. By the time the last deadline rolled around, in 1982, only 35 states had ratified it, with just three more states to go. With the deadline long past, two more states — Nevada and Illinois — passed it in 2017 and 2018, with pressure mounting on lawmakers in many other holdout states to finally push the ERA past the finish line.

Thirty-eight years after the deadline, an unlikely hero – Virginia – became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, setting up more Constitutional considerations in explicitly stating that women are recognized and treated equally under the law.

And now Congress, and perhaps the Supreme Court, will have their say on the Congressional “deadline” attached to the ERA. There are no expiration dates or windows of time set out in the Constitution for the ratification of Constitutional amendments. So for Congress to strictly abide by a self-imposed deadline doesn’t seem to have much standing in the court of checks and balances. Most recently, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, known as the Madison Amendment, was ratified in 1992 after pending in state legislatures since 1789. While the Madison Amendment did not have a deadline associated with it, surely if the United States can wait 203 years for ratification of the 27th Amendment, waiting just 50 years for the ERA seems like a bargain!

What Does Virginia’s Victory Mean for Arizona?

Arizona, to be fair, is its own beast. State political leaders are polarized and, in some cases, have doubled down on hateful rhetoric and false claims. “The ERA will legalize abortion!” they cried, apparently not realizing that abortion is already legal (in varying degrees) in the United States; and, yes, if women are seen and treated as equal then they should make their own medical decisions. Arizona legislators had this same opportunity to ratify the ERA last session in 2019; however, patriarchy is not one to gracefully give way to the new kids on the block. Senate President Karen Fann refused to allow the ERA to make it to the Senate floor.

Even without Arizona, the ERA has made its way through the small ‘d’ democratic gauntlet of ratification; but this is a story about the power of local elections. Virginia showed us what’s possible, and in 2020 Arizonans must remember that elections can be won or lost by just a few votes; some are decided by a coin toss. As misinformation increases and voter suppression efforts are enacted at the ballot box, it’s more important than ever for supporters of the ERA, Planned Parenthood, gun safety, public education, equality, and economic justice to take action throughout the election season (not just on Election Day).

As the kids these days say, 2020 is going to be lit! Help light the way by joining us at PPAdvocatesAZ.org!

Tags: Virginia, ERA, equality, Arizona, national

About Kelley

Kelley is the Strategic Relations Officer for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kelley traveled to Virginia in late 2019 to work on state campaigns and help turn Virginia blue. After the news broke of Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Kelley shared some thoughts from last fall and reflected on where we’re heading into 2020.