Activists rallied in Uptown Normal and the Illinois State University Quad on Saturday to call on Illinois lawmakers to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in 1923 and works to guarantee equal rights to all regardless of sex. The ERA narrowly missed ratification in the 1970s, with Illinois being the only northern state failing to approve it. Thirty-eight states' approval are needed to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA fell short by two. Local activist hope Illinois and possibly Florida can be the states to step up.
Jodie Slothower, leader of the local Voices of Reason group, emceed the event and emphasized it as bipartisan. The event was organized by the ERA Illinois Coalition of Bloomington-Normal.
"I know we haven't had too many bipartisan rallies here in town," she said. "We need to cheer for Republicans and Democrats."
Democratic McLean County Clerk candidate Nikita Richards was the first to speak. She focused on the ongoing gender wage gap in the country.
"When we talk about equal pay, what is often left out of the conversation is that the wage gap is significantly worse for women of color," said Richards. "The ERA ratification that I envision discusses intersectionality and exhibits equal pay being equal across the spectrum."
Normal Town Council member Chemberly Cummings shared her personal experience with unequal pay for equal work. While the event brought at least 100 supporters, the vast majority of attendees were white women. Cummings said it is difficult to gauge why Bloomington-Normal's black community did not turn out.
"I don't know if it's because they don't believe we can make a change, or if they feel safer not being involved because their jobs could depend on it," said Cummings. "I am one of those people that will put it on the line every time because I believe it what I'm supporting."
Cummings also criticized the ERA for not addressing transgender issues.
"There are some things that I feel like we need to address when it comes to trans rights, when it comes to being treated fairly," said Cummings. "There's not one bill that covers all the issues we face. We will never have one thing that will encompass all that we face as individuals."
Republican McLean County Board member Josh Barnett voiced his support for the ERA, beginning his speech with remarks that left the audience silent.
"Normally, when I come and speak at events like this, I start off by saying something like, 'It's a pleasure to be here with all of you,'" said Barnett. "But the fact is that it's not a pleasure to be here this morning. It's not a pleasure that this wonderful piece of common-sense legislation is still not the law of the land."
At about 11:30 a.m., supporters marched to the ISU Quad through Uptown Normal and gathered next to the American flag near Schroeder Plaza. State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, was first to speak there.
"If there's anybody that's going to make sure the ERA gets pushed through the Illinois General Assembly, it's going to be state Rep. Lou Lang. He will take a couple good Republicans with him, and one of those will be, as long as there's no changes from what I see, will be Dan Brady."
Lang, a Democratic House leader from Skokie, gave the longest speech during the event.
"You all know that the society in which we live, while in many cases is better than what it was 30 years ago when people were trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, isn't what it ought to be," said Lang. "The dignity of this country and women requires that the United States Constitution respect both men and women across the board."
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael was the last to speak at the rally. She shared a personal anecdote with supporters about her experience with treatment in the workplace during the 1980s. Michael was hired as a broker at the Chicago Board of Trade as the only woman on a staff with all men.
"An outgoing man hired me. The secretary told me one day, 'Oh the new guy coming in, I think he's going to fire you,'" said Michael. "I go 'Why? I'm so nice.' And she responded 'No, he just doesn't like women. He doesn't think they should be brokers.' So the one thing that saved me from being fired as a woman was I got cancer. The HR person came to him and said, 'You can't fire a woman with cancer.'"
Michael joked, "He was so disappointed. Luckily, I survived my cancer and I still thinks he regrets that somehow."
Slothower, the emcee, said she plans to rally in Springfield to support the ERA. Nevada signed its support for the ERA in March of this year, becoming the 36th state to support it.
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