22222222The rising voices: the role of youth in ERA advocacy
By Gloria Jiang
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been a topic of discussion and debate for nearly a century. Despite the long history, the amendment has yet to be ratified and added to the U.S. Constitution. However, a new generation of advocates, who have spent their lives in a world vastly different from that of their predecessors, are bringing fresh energy to this enduring battle. This blog post will explore the significant and growing role of American youth in the ERA advocacy, while also giving voice to their inner thoughts and motivations for becoming part of this struggle.
The Formation of Youth-led Organizations
The advocacy for the ERA often begins in academic and real-life settings, where students are exposed to issues of gender inequality in both history books and current society. Informed by their own experiences and academic resources, young people start to organize student groups, spearhead petitions, and create campus-wide or even national-wide campaigns to educate and mobilize their peers. Youth-led organizations are becoming common fixtures nowadays. These groups offer platforms where young people can learn about the ERA, discuss its significant implications, and plan activities to raise awareness.
Born from an 19-year-old activist, Generation Ratify is a youth-driven initiative aimed at securing the ratification of the ERA and furthering gender equality in the United States. The organization’s goal is to assemble a nationwide network of young individuals championing an intersectional feminist movement that fights for the complete equality of young women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Their contributions to the ERA struggle have been multi-faceted. They have established 12,000+ organizing bases in all 50 states, organized various grassroots initiatives including 65+ virtual educational workshops to inform people about the importance of the ERA. They have also trained 300+ young people and mobilized to lobby and send 30,500+ messages to legislators on the local, state, and federal levels.
Youth and Political Engagement: The Protests
The significance and influence of Generation Ratify cannot be overstated. By mobilizing younger generations, it is creating a new wave of activists who are educated, passionate, and eager to enact change. Their work is crucial not only for policy reform but also for shifting societal attitudes about gender equality.
In late July 2022, as the Supreme Court’s reversal of abortion rights sank in among Americans on Friday, a group of young activists from Generation Ratify gathered outside the White House, illuminating the night with letters spelling out “ERA NOW,” advocating for the nearly century-old push to include the ERA in the U.S. Constitution. Over a period of three days in Washington,, the group combined lobbying efforts with public protests, holding homemade signs that explicitly connected the ERA to reproductive rights. One sign read, “Defend Abortion = ERA NOW,” while another declared, “ABORTION SAVES LIVES!”
Through the protest, the organization claimed that the ERA is essential for ensuring reproductive autonomy, and this fundamental human right should be grounded in the framework of constitutional equality, spotlighting the organization’s bold approach to interlinking gender equality and reproductive rights.
The young activists of Generation Ratify continued to amplify their message through radical protests. On 17 August 2023, a group of activists occupied Constitution Avenue, a key road in Washington, without obtaining any official permit. During peak traffic hours, they assembled near the National Archives building. The group, which included members as young as 14, equipped their megaphone and boldly stepped into the street’s eight lanes. They then displayed their eye-catching banner, which loudly proclaimed: “WE DEMAND #ERANOW” and “PUT US IN THE CONSTITUTION,” pressing the national archivist to officially publish the ERA as the 28th Amendment.
During the gathering, the members of the organizations gave out a booklet to people walking through the area that detailed the history of the ERA, its current status, and approaches to participate in the push for constitutional equality. The activists aimed to continue seeking new supporters and spreading awareness about the importance of ERA and gender equality.
Hearing About Youths’ Inner Thoughts
Young activists often feel a sense of urgency about their future and are less willing to accept long-standing inequalities. They bring fresh perspectives and energy to engage peers and bring attention to their causes. This news article from WMC provides us with precious information on youth leaders’ inner thoughts.
The organization’s executive director, Couture, recalled attending various meetings and protests where he was noticeably the youngest participant. He noted the absence of dedicated platforms for engaging youth in ERA advocacy, which often led to younger people losing their interest and involvement over time.
Ella Duncan-High, set to become the national organizing director of the organization at 18, further commented that traditional organizations led by adults frequently overlook the contributions of younger people, thus limiting their involvement in more established settings.
Nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Montgomery, who played a role in orchestrating the street protest for Generation Ratify, offered her own narrative. Having grown up in a single-parent home alongside her mother and two sisters, she has faced multiple types of discrimination in her life. Moreover, as a survivor of sexual assault, she underscores the immediate necessity for measures like the ERA to critically assess whom society and governmental systems are safeguarding or failing to protect.
The fight for the ERA is far from over, but there is no denying the fresh perspective and tireless energy that young people bring to this cause. American youth are making it clear that they are not merely the leaders of tomorrow but the change-makers of today.
The ratification and publication of the ERA have never been this close. As we look towards a more equitable future, it is inspiring to see the next generation already hard at work, ensuring that future is not just a possibility, but a guarantee.
Check out our conversation with Aarush Santoshi from Generation Ratify on our Equality Talks podcast!