Missouri Women United – march in Jefferson City on April 27th (April 15, 2013)
Activists for women’s rights gathered in Jefferson City today for a march and rally at the Capitol. Over seventy-five individuals braved the cold rain and wind to show support for the Equal Rights Amendment, women’s rights and to hear speakers. Former state Representative Deleta Williams, a sponsor of the ERA in the General Assembly in the 90s, was the keynote speaker.
Former state Representative Deleta Williams (D) speaking at the Missouri Women United march in Jefferson City on April 27, 2013.
The remarks of Representative Deleta Williams (D), as prepared:
Deleta Williams: On a warm but a very sad day, Oct. 20, 2000, I walked with my fellow legislators, state officials, and other dignitaries, including President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Hillary and Tipper, from the governor’s mansion to the spot where we stand today, to attend the funeral of an outstanding and beloved Governor Mel Carnahan. At that service, his daughter, Robin, gave a very moving eulogy and told us that on cold mornings, as her dad left their Rolla farm home, he always said, “Don’t let the fire go out.”
As I thought about my remarks for today, it occurred to me that you are a very challenging group to speak to. I thought, “What can I possibly say to this group that would be beneficial? They know well the issues or they would not be attending the rally. They understand the importance and the urgency of the issues — or they would not be attending the rally.”
So I decided to reflect on some, certainly not all, who have refused to let the fire go out on women’s rights as I believe inspiration can be gotten from others experiences.
Certainly first and foremost, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucretta Mott and the women of their day, who worked tirelessly, from 1867 to 1920 to gain the right for women to vote. And in so doing they endured hunger strikes, time in jail and even death in that struggle. Today, 93 years later, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, remains the only right guaranteed to women in the U.S. Constitution. These women of yesteryear did not let the fire go out….
….When I became a member of the Missouri House, Representative Sue Shear was the sponsor of the ERA, during what was referred to as the second wave of the ratification process after having been in the trenches during the first wave. She was an outstanding legislator who championed many other pieces of progressive legislation. I remember vividly a morning session of the House when Speaker Gaw had arranged a tribute to Suzy, as she was fondly called, by placing the Equal Rights Amendment on the calendar for that day, making arrangements for a speaker and preparing a House Resolution honoring her 36 years as a member of the House. Rep. Shear had cancer and was hospitalized in St. Louis. The call was made and a frail voice came over the phone “Mr. Speaker”. Speaker Gaw replied — ”For what reason does the lady from the 83rd District wish to be recognized?” And Suzy replied, “Mr Speaker, I move that the ERA be adopted.” Then she proceeded to speak, briefly but passionately, about the merits of the ERA. Unfortunately, this time of honoring Representative Shear became the lowest point of my legislative experience, and of many others who witnessed what happened, when Representative Vicky Hartzler, now Congresswoman Hartzler, who by the way recently voted no on the Violence Against Women Act, stood on the House floor and engaged Representative Shear in a contentious and what seemed to be a never ending debate on the evils of the ERA. Not long afterward Representative Shear passed away. But she had literally kept the fire burning on ERA to the last days of her life.
Soon after the death of Rep. Shear, I attended a BPW [Business and Professional Women] legislative workshop held across the way at the Capitol Plaza. I had been in Jefferson City all week and the last thing I wanted to do was to go back on Saturday. However, I could not say no to my good friend and supporter, Marie Hyatt, another first waver and so she and I went as representatives of the of the Warrensburg BPW.
We broke out in small groups to talk about ERA. From where I was sitting I could hear the conversation from a nearby table and heard someone say, “Maybe Representative Williams would sponsor the ERA”. It had never entered my mind that I would take up what Rep. Shear had done for so many years. I had not been in the trenches during the first wave and was totally unprepared for this task. But finally, I walked over to the table and said “I am Rep. Williams and I will sponsor the ERA.” My legislative assistant, Marie Gladbach, was elated when I told her on Monday morning what we were going to be doing. She had been involved in the first wave also.
During the time when I sponsored the ERA, I discovered that many women, and especially the younger women, thought they already had equal rights and they could not see the need to have these rights included in the Constitution. As we watch now, almost daily, we see these rights, that so many take for granted, being limited, unfunded or underfunded and even in some instances eliminated. Hopefully more and more people and especially the young women see the need for inclusion in Constitution as the only guarantee to these rights. Organizations like those involved in this rally, and BPW, AAUW and others play a key part in keeping the fire from going out.
Passing ERA in the Missouri legislature in the 90’s was challenging and our motto was, “If their minds can’t be changed, change their faces”. As you well know, this has not happened and the number and the resolve of the opposition has grown stronger and stronger. It is incumbent upon all of us here today to work diligently in the next election and however many elections it takes to changed these faces to women’s rights friendly faces.
Senator Justus, with SR 6 and Representative Morgan, HR 36, and their co-sponsors are to be commended for their resolve, in a very difficult environment, to keeping the fire from going out.
Women and I want to thank the men in attendance here today and other men who have been supporters over the years. Every man has or had a mother, most have a wife and many have daughters. And so, why would men not want to support the efforts against the assault of reproductive rights, the threat to women in the areas of education, equal pay for equal work, voter suppression and crimes against women?
The first thing on the agenda each day in the House is the approval of the journal from the previous session. One year the Republican members of the house became upset about something and decided that they would vote against approving the journal until their issue was addressed. There were, at that time, enough Democrats in the House to approve the journal without the votes of the Republicans, so it became rather routine until one day when Representative Mike Shilling, a male and supporter of women’s rights, convinced enough Democratic supporters of ERA, who were upset with ERA not being placed on the calendar, to not show up for the vote to approve the journal. Well, with Republicans voting no and twelve Democrats absent, the votes were not there to approve the journal and business in the House came to a standstill. House leadership met with the group of twelve and agreed to place ERA on the calendar, assuring floor debate and a vote, which failed as expected, but was viewed as positive from the standpoint of keeping the issue of ERA on the front burner.
Thanks to the men and to Representative Mike Schilling for their help in keeping the fire from going out.
Recently, I attended a lecture by Lilly Ledbetter on the campus of UCM. You will recall that she took her wage discrimination case all the way to the Supreme Court where she lost because of the statute of limitations. In a dramatic moment, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench urging Lilly to fight back– and fight she did, becoming the namesake of President Obama’s first official piece of legislation. Today she is a tireless advocate for change, traveling the country to urge women and minorities to claim their civil rights. Her compelling story is told in the book Grace and Grit. Lilly is certainly doing her part in keeping the fire from going out and we can all take inspiration from her efforts.
Last but now least, I want to recognize Mary Mosley and congratulate her on receiving the Alice Paul award. She is extremely deserving of this award. I wish I knew how many miles she has walked in the halls of the capitol in support of progressive issues. She and Shirley Breeze, working together diligently, were my mentors, my teachers and my inspiration. I say thank you for your efforts in keeping the fire from going out.
In closing I would like to share this: Life is like bike riding; it would be good to enjoy the occasional chance to sit back and coast along for a short while, but remember, that in general, if you don’t keep pedaling, it won’t be long until you fall down.
At the start of the march.
On the street, joining the march.
On the Capitol grounds.
Michelle Trupiano, Missouri Lobbyist and Public Policy Manager for Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri, addressed the rally.
Supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.
A novel concept – equal pay for equal work.
A young activist.
Unite Women Missouri March 4/28/12 – video (May 7, 2012)
We Are Women March 4.28.12 – Susan Montee (D) and Courtney Cole (D) (April 19, 2012)