All Rights reserved
In March of 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) -- a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of sex -- passed the U.S. Senate after already clearing the House months earlier. It had even earned the backing of then-President Richard Nixon along the way. All that remained was for a minimum of 38 states to ratify the legislation for it to become a constitutional amendment.
To date, the ERA has not been published into the Constitution, despite the ability of Congress to act.
Beyond a powerful cabal of faceless operatives pulling the strings in Washington to block the ERA, it was a nationwide network of anti-feminist activists that successfully condemned the amendment to legislative purgatory to this day. They acted with both urgency and patience to block progress with a public pressure campaign and the cultivation of a quiet coalition behind the scenes. It's the exact approach that tends to work in a democracy.
As the new Broadway play POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive closes its audience-celebrated run this month, a production we were both a part of, we reflect on the striking parallels between a story built around the women working behind the scenes to keep our country from descending into pure patriarchal anarchy, and the harrowing everyday experience of women at work. For the actors and everyone involved in the show audiences, it's been an emotional journey as we've watched Roe v. Wade fall during the show's run and felt hyper-aware of POTUS' evolving impact on audiences as the world beyond the stage-doors continues to shift. There were nights when the curtain fell, and the cast simply stood together on stage and wept together.
Even though this show is written and performed to make people laugh, everyone associated with it understands that audiences step out of the venue to face unconscionable realities. Gender pay-gaps, pregnancy discrimination, and reproductive tyranny and the constant threat of violence. Far from laughing matters.
POTUS's ability to weave together the hilariously absurd with the terrifyingly real and poignant experiences of women across sexuality, race, and identity has made it a frighteningly timely piece and a reminder of how activism can be energized by the arts.
For those of us who are active in feminist politics and the fight for gender, LGBTQ, and identity-based equality, there is a profound sense of demoralization and heartbreak reverberating through the movement right now. Meanwhile, opponents of reproductive freedom don't seem to be pausing to celebrate. They seem to be redoubling their efforts to build momentum and codify this victory in as many states as possible. The recent ballot victory for abortions rights in conservative Kansas is a potentially heartening sign though, for what progressives, independents, libertarians and moderate Republicans can accomplish if we work together.
The challenge we face now is also an opportunity if we harness the acute frustration and passion we feel today into tactical strategy played out over a long game. We need to retake state legislatures with local politicians who actually reflect the will of the people. We need to back legal cases in key states to chip away at the legitimacy of this abhorrent, new legal precedent. The solutions we need won't come quickly. The continued fight to ratify the ERA is proof enough that victories can be fleeting -- but will almost always fall to those acting with both urgency and patience. Passion and meticulous planning.
It's painstaking, thankless work with no assurance we'll land exactly where we desire. But that's exactly the type of winding journey that has led activists to successful outcomes time and again. Roe v. Wade wasn't a lightning strike. Nor was the civil rights movement, the end of Jim Crow, the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality, or our eventual success in ratifying the ERA. These were the results of meticulous, decades-long efforts to change minds through culture, media, and grassroots organizing, to mobilize voters in local elections and focus on court appointments at every level of government. By the time these movements reached legislatures or the courts, the people's perspectives had shifted and the groundwork for change had been laid.
As unfair as it feels in this moment, that very same work must begin anew. There is no time to pause and lick our wounds, and all the reason in the world to get right back to work fighting for legislation, legal challenges and candidates who support gender equality. Whether our place in the movement is on stage -- helping audiences explore difficult truths through dynamic storytelling, or on the frontlines of the political fight to reclaim and defend our rights at all costs -- the curtain is rising on a new production. And we all have roles to play.
Lea DeLaria, who is a comedian, actress, and jazz singer, is best known for her role on Orange is the New Black. Zakiya Thomas is the president and CEO of the ERA Coalition/ Fund for Women's Equality. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.