Take what is yours, ladies
Sojourner Truth said “If women want rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” It looks like we will have to do just that.
August 26th is Women’s Equality Day across our nation. Not so much for the women of North Carolina. 94 years ago in 1920, women won the right to vote after decades of fighting for the 19th Amendment. Women of color had to fight within the fight, and then fight on to realize that right in full. It’s a bitter matter than, that North Carolina lawmakers sucker punched women after all these years. The recent Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) could reset the clock back to a time that no woman should ever have to relive, fighting for the right to vote. There’s a truth in the t-shirt, “I can’t believe I still have to fight this … shtuff.”
Moreover, the brutal reality is there is no Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women to hang on to in their fight not to be shoved back into a century of no voice, no person, nobody. While one class of voters defend themselves against the racially discriminative features of VIVA, leaning heavily on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, women have a quiet, constitutional ammo crisis on their hands. If these lawmakers succeed in breaching the perimeters of the 19th amendment to control your vote, then they control you. This threatening scenario is spreading to other states. These VIVA laws constitute a particularly insidious assault on women on several fronts with no ERA shield at the ready.
The VIVA assault didn’t just hit us with Jane Crow voter ID requirements, not that these requirements aren’t troublesome enough. In some previous elections, women shake out to be the demographic hardest hit on the ID requirements due to life issues like name changes. But, it’s a laundry list of hits. Hits on early voting, one-stop voting (same-day registration), provisional voting and the skewing of poll hours. How hard it cumulatively hits women remains a relatively unexplored question. Although the NC League of Women Voters is a plaintiff in the high profile VIVA case, the claims for relief speak overwhelmingly to the racial components. In fact, we see mountains of data being crunched and provided to the courts and media as to the racial impact. There appears to be a paucity of data being examined consistently on behalf of women, and a lesser call to action in response to the data we do have. There simply weren’t discernable voices speaking out on behalf of women’s voting rights in the days before and after VIVA passed. Certainly not on par with the voices of other demographics.
Even with reams of data screaming “sex discrimination” and raised voices, without the ERA, women do not have as comparably strong recourse as those seeking racial justice. In the VIVA lawsuit, the plaintiffs have invoked the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, not as their only shield, but a powerful one. The Supreme Court usually reviews intent to racially discriminate through a strict scrutiny lens. The state’s actions have to be justified by a compelling interest using the least restrictive measures necessary as race is protectively specified as a suspect class. However, these provisions will not guarantee women strict scrutiny. Sex is not even considered a suspect class. And the provisions have never been interpreted to grant equal rights on the basis of sex in the inclusive way it has on the basis of race. Strict scrutiny equals more winnable. Meanwhile, women languish, constantly fighting for more than intermediate scrutiny in court. A lower bar with a lesser standing equals more losable.
Accepting a lesser standing, we marginalize our own self-identity to a degree that is tolerated by no other demographic and to a point that although over half this nation identifies with the female experience; our lives, our liberties and our pursuit of happiness are not equally revered. Even in fusion oriented, intersectional discussions designed to build coalitions, women are getting solidarity, but not the needed collaborative partnerships.
Our foremothers fought fiercely to secure the voting rights now being threatened. They wanted the inalienable right to a self-determinate voice that the 15th Amendment afforded to men of every color, but denied to women of any color. Waiting for trickle down equality didn’t work then and it will not work now. We must refuse to be the eternal, intermediate class of citizen under the table hoping to feed on crumbs from legal victories that may be had by others. We will have the ERA, putting us into our own Constitution, enshrining the bedrock principle that equality of rights cannot be denied to women.
With the ERA, we will stop activist lawmakers and judiciaries from eroding our voting rights undercutting our ability to address every other issue of inequality on account of sex. We will swing back legally as hard as we have to, for as long as it takes. We will not go back. We have the right to exist equally as ourselves and to self-identify to self-preserve, as every other demographic in America has. We will, in the spirit of Sojourner Truth’s admonition, claim the rights to our own equality.
Marena Groll is a liberal feminist, former educator and life-long United Methodist. A native daughter, she holds high bar-b-que standards y’all.