This piece was written by Aviva Dove-Viebahn for Ms. magazine.
In the sweltering heat of a midday desert sun, a delegation of women’s rights activists and leaders gathered in front of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Phoenix field office. Their goal? To deliver thousands of letters, postcards and petitions from Arizona and across the country imploring the senator to align with her fellow progressives and help end or reform the filibuster—a necessary step so the Senate can move forward on a vote to remove the time limit on the Equal Rights Amendment.
All told, 15,000 letters and postcards gathered by Feminist Majority and the Women’s March Foundation will be delivered to Sinema.
To underscore the importance of this request, longtime civil rights, labor and feminist leader Dolores Huerta, traveled all the way from California—joining local ERA activists—to personally knock on Sinema’s office door and speak to the gathered delegation about the urgency of this moment.
“Senator Kyrsten Sinema was once a clear progressive voice for equal rights,” said Huerta, a founding board member of Feminist Majority, “but now, she is one of the few senators who hang in the balance of making or breaking an end to the filibuster to clear the way for constitutional rights for women and voting rights for all Americans.”
“I drove all the way from California to be here today to join with the Phoenix leaders of the ERA and voting rights, and local activists with Feminist Majority and Women’s March,” Huerta reiterated to Ms., “because we know how important this is and we are depending on Sinema to be our champion. She’s always been a champion of women’s rights, but now is a moment of truth.”
Indeed, one of the recurring discussions among those gathered was holding Sinema accountable to her constituents. Many of those in attendance supported Sinema’s Senate campaign and are now frustrated that she isn’t following through on the progressive platform that helped get her into office.
Emiliana Guereca, co-founder of Women’s March Los Angeles and executive director of Women’s March LA Foundation, told Ms., “How long can women wait to be equal in the Constitution? [Sinema] has a responsibility to her constituents. As a Latina, I made sure that Latinos were out here, that Latinas were out here, canvassing and helping get her elected, because we know the important role that she plays in equality for women.”
But it’s not enough to be elected, Guereca said, or to be a woman in office. Sinema needs to demonstrate “the democratic values that we elected her on. … She ran as a progressive, so we are holding her accountable to that.”
Arizona attorney and reproductive rights advocate Julie Gunnigle urged the senator to be courageous during the press conference: “Courage is contagious, and we need more courageous people in this moment. We need our senator to be courageous in this moment, too.”
Dianne Post, chair of the ERA Task Force AZ and an international human rights attorney, urgently called on Sinema to remember the women who came before her, and to honor their legacy: “My big disappointment here today is that Kyrsten Sinema is where she is because of the work of women for hundreds of years.”
“Women who fought for the right to own property, to go to school, to vote, to keep our own earnings, to get a credit card, to control our own bodies, and even to wear pants. She sits where she is today because of those women and these women,” said Post, gesturing at the gathered supporters.
Gunnigle, too, expressed dissatisfaction with Sinema, “as someone who knocked on doors, who organized for her, and who worked her tail off to get her elected.” However, the message she hopes Sinema receives is an “aspirational” message, one of hope.“She has the opportunity in this moment to be a hero and to get things done and she’s not living up to that,” Gunnigle told Ms. The delivery of the 15,000 letters and postcards then is “an offer, more than anything else, to be on the right side of history.”
The history of the ERA and the struggle to finally embed equal rights for women into the U.S. Constitution is a long and complicated one. Huerta and many others have been fighting for its ratification for decades. Huerta certainly never thought it would take this long, comparing it to the extended battle for women’s suffrage in the U.S. over a century ago.
Organizer and activist Sarah Bradshaw, who works with both Feminist Majority and the Women’s March Foundation and also traveled from Los Angeles to help deliver the letters to Sinema, thinks it’s about time for the ERA’s ratification.
“I have been fighting for this since it first tried to pass,” she said. “We’ve got to get this done in my lifetime. My daughter is now older than I was when this was passed in Massachusetts [where I grew up], and I’m infuriated. Our lives would be different now. Her future would be different if we’d passed this when we should have, but we’re still here, we’re not going away, and we’re not going to stop.”
As an emphatic reminder of both the imperative nature of the ERA and its widespread effects across race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and generation, several children were also part of the delegation. Arizona local and one of Sinema’s constituents, Natacha Chavez, brought her children, 7 and 10; they are the grandchildren of Cesar Chavez and have already seen their fair share of activist work, an important facet of their education, according to their mother.
“If this passes,” Chavez told Ms., “this will be their future.” She added, “We already instill these types of values [equal rights] in our household,” but they need to be codified as the “law of the land.”
As these supporters, ranging in age from 7 to Huerta’s 91, brought the 15,000 letters and postcards to Sinema’s office, both an urgency and a sense of hope settled over the delegation.
“The filibuster has been used to allow ‘conservatives’ to deny equal rights to women and minorities for decades,” said Guereca. “Those minorities are the same people who elected Senator Kyrsten Sinema and are now imploring she support reforming the filibuster so the Equal Rights Amendment can be added to the Constitution.”
This is a moment of reckoning—will Senator Sinema stand by her progressive platform and the people who helped vote her into office and follow through?