Civia Tamarkin on the ERA in AZ

Civia Tamarkin is the President of the National Council of Jewish Women Arizona and an organizer who has assisted the ERA Task Force in Arizona. A former CNN executive, she is also the director of Birthright: A War Story, a documentary film that focuses on the women who have become casualties of the Right’s forty-year effort to restrict and eventually outlaw abortion services in America. More details on the film can be found at https://www.birthrightfilm.com/birthrightfilm.

The Revolution (Relaunch): So tell us about the Equal Rights Amendment. What does everyone need to know?

Civia Tamarkin: The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights and protection under the law regardless of sex.  So there was an attempt to pass an amendment to change that back in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul. That amendment went nowhere. In 1943, it was renamed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and it states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged anywhere in the United States because of sex. Although it was introduced in every session of Congress, it languished until the late 1960s when the second-wave feminist movement embraced it along with the civil rights and reproductive rights movements, and the amendment passed both houses of Congress in 1972.  But 38 states were required to ratify it and unfortunately, by the extended deadline of June 1982, the amendment fell short by three states.

Then, two years ago, there was a robust renewed effort with the emergence of the Me Too movement, the increasing focus on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace and pay inequities despite the Equal Pay Act. Certainly, the election of Donald Trump, the Republican Congress and the fear of a conservative Supreme Court fueled the campaign to resurrect the ERA. Nevada and then Illinois became the 36th and 37th states to ratify. We only need one more state.

TRR: Many people thought this year that the 38th state would be Arizona. What happened?

CT: Dianne Post and the ERA Task Force have been working steadfastly for years, but yes, this looked like the year. The Democrats had picked up seats in November 2018 and there were Republican senators co-sponsoring the bill:  Heather Carter (AZ-LD1), Kate Brophy McGee (AZ-LD28), Michelle Ugenti-Rita (AZ LD-23) and Tyler Pace (AZ-LD25) So everyone was really hopeful. 

However, the bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where chairman Sen. Eddie Farnsworth refused to give it a hearing, while in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers would not even assign it to a committee. The strategy at that point was to try to bring it to a floor vote. That’s why we held the symbolic 38-mile march and rally, mobilized people and filled the Senate and House galleries. The plan was to pressure the legislature to hold a floor vote which would require a suspension of the rules governing voting procedure.

And then, to everyone’s shock, the Republican senators who co-sponsored the bill voted against the rules change. Carter didn’t show up for the vote; Brophy McGee hid under the gallery so we would not see her vote; Ugenti-Rita and Pace voted against it.

So it died because of the betrayal of the very people who had cosponsored the bill. They got to say, hey, I’m pro-ERA; I’m just against suspending the rules.

Of course, it really died because legislators caved to lobbying that was a throwback to another era.  When Phyllis Schlafly crusaded against the ERA in the 1970s, she brought state legislators freshly-baked bread and apple pie to remind them what would be lost if housewives became the equals of their husbands. This go-around, Cathi Harrod, the president of the Center for Arizona Policy, passed out home-baked cinnamon buns to all the legislators the day we were pushing for a floor vote. And the buns came with notes from “women who oppose the ERA.” So their strategy is to appeal to this old-fashioned homemaker image, to conflate the ERA with abortion and to argue that women are already protected by the 14th amendment, which they are not.

RR: Does that mean the effort is thwarted? Are there plans afoot for the next session?

CT: No one’s giving up. The effort continues to build. There’s an Indivisible group from Sedona urging city and town councils to pass resolutions in favor of the ERA, for instance. We also are focused on the business community and mobilizing to get businesses to sign letters supporting the ERA and acknowledging that equal rights for women benefit their businesses and the economic development of the state. And we’re considering a boycott of businesses that refuse to sign.

RR: What sort of political lobbying efforts do you think the Task Force will initiate?

CT: I can’t speak for the Task Force but there are varied thoughts.  One is to keep building community support for the ERA but wait to take back both houses of the Arizona legislature in 2020 rather than chance another loss. On the other hand, there are some legislators whose seats are at risk and they may think supporting the ERA might help them win re-election.

RR: What do you think supporters should be preparing to do in order to help during the coming session?

CT: We need volunteers to spread across the state to create awareness, rally business and community leaders and grassroots support.  Governor Ducey has made economic development the mainstay of his administration, though unfortunately he’s done so to the detriment of public education funding. But we want to show him that Arizona becoming the 38th and final state to ratify to ERA will have a positive impact on growth. If the business leaders of this state convince him the ERA is beneficial, it’s unlikely he will ignore them.

Photograph by Matthew Davin