On this day: Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat
December 01, 2023
By Meaghan Kiely, Policy and Partnerships Intern
Growing up as a girl who was always fascinated by government and politics, of course I read all of those “Who/What Was” historical children's books. You know, the ones with the caricature of whatever historical figure or event they talked about on the cover. They had almost every person and date that the American education system deemed appropriate for kids to learn about, usually in the typical euro-centric rhetoric. (I can’t wait for their January 6th copy!) Needless to say, when I should've been running around trying on my mother’s makeup and sabotaging my brother's toys, I was more concerned with Betsy Ross and what the word "suffrage" meant. As I grew up I developed a much better and mature understanding of what drew me towards the federal government and movements sparked by the people to make the government into the representative entity it was written out to be.
Judging from the fact that as soon as I was home from playdates I pulled out my “nerd” books, one would be correct in assuming I was the unsuspected know-it-all in every social studies, history, and government class. I honestly used to think it was funny when in the middle of class, I could correct a teacher or elaborate on details that no other kid knew about, always earning extra brownie points and getting myself added to the teacher’s pet’s bad side. However, once I began at the College of William and Mary—a school known for its intertwinement with the origins of our nation and our government—it became much less funny when there were peers who stared at me with a blank face when I talked about things regarding campaign finance laws, landmark Supreme Court decisions, and women’s rights, including the ERA.
Of course I knew that as a woman whose passion is constitutional law, I would probably know more about litigation for women’s rights than someone else in the government department more concerned with International Relations. But to not know what the ERA stands for? I didn’t realize how little people with such an impressive education knew about it. I mean, there’s a whole 15 minute scene in West Wing—every government student’s guilty pleasure show—dedicated to how a woman could be against the ERA. But to be at a school where there’s quite literally a movement for every fathomable issue and have zero conversation about the ERA was very eye opening to me. To be clear, this is not the fault of The College; this is an issue nationwide.
Once I began my internship for the ERA Coalition, I noticed even more how few people knew about this issue. I would say “ERA” and the three responses were: “What’s that?”, “Wasn’t that passed before we were born?”, or just a polite smile and a “Oh wow, that’s so great!”, which is code for “I have no idea what you’re talking about”. The only reason why I say this all without distaste is because each time I explained what it was, or what the current issue with Congress is, or what the Discharge Petition was, the reactions were always positive. Every single man and woman I talked to was fascinated by the reality of what is stopping the ERA from being published, and even more so by the implications of the amendment.
In my experience, it’s not just me who believes that the ERA is a net positive for the country. Everyone who I spoke to agreed. So why is it so hard to talk about? Why does no one seem to know what this is? Of course a simple answer to this is a lack of media coverage, but plenty of things are known and taught without being a headline on the main news networks. Perhaps a better question would be how do we as individuals change this predicament? It seems that it’s not just the girls who have a keen interest in women’s rights that care about this issue, it's the boys who read “Who Were the Wright Brothers” and “What Was WWII” and the future STEM kids who made fake volcanoes, too. They just don’t know it yet.
Meaghan is from Minneapolis and a junior government major at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She worked as a Policy and Partnerships intern for the ERA Coalition for the summer 2023 semester.