On International Women’s Day, Senator Ben Cardin Calls on U.S. Senate to Remove the Deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), lead sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 5 (S.J.Res. 5), which would remove the deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment, spoke on the floor of the Senate Thursday to commemorate International Women’s Day. Video of Senator Cardin can be downloaded here. His full remarks, as delivered, follow.
“I rise to recognize March as Women’s History Month, and today—March 8th—as International Women’s Day. Both at home and abroad, how a country treats its women is very much a barometer of its success. When women live without limitations on their ability to work, societies prosper. When women live without restrictions on their access to jobs, health care or justice, societies prosper. When women succeed, so do their families, their communities, and their countries.
“International Women’s Day reminds us that America’s global leadership starts with our progress here in the United States. Unfortunately, President Trump moved the United States in the wrong direction when he decided not just to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, but to expand it. The Global Gag Rule disqualifies international organizations from receiving U.S. family planning assistance if they use any non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services or even just counseling. What President Trump fails to realize is that access to the family planning services these organizations provide is one of the best tools we have to prevent abortions. When enforced, the Global Gag Rule has closed the doors on some of the most effective, lifesaving women’s health programs in developing countries. By reinstating and expanding the Global Gag Rule, President Trump is denying millions of women and their families’ access to critical health care services and endangering their lives and the lives of their children.
“International Women’s Day is an appropriate time to remind my Senate colleagues that we must end the Global Gag Rule once and for all.
“It was also recently reported that the State Department is removing references to women’s rights from this year’s Human Rights Report. Paging George Orwell. I’m troubled to learn that the Trump administration apparently doesn’t feel that women’s rights are important enough to include in our conversations on human rights.
“I was equally troubled to learn that Secretary Tillerson also removed gender equality integration from the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Foreign Affairs Manual is the chief document for instructing our foreign policy leadership on the best ways to integrate gender considerations into our diplomatic efforts. Abandoning that signals a reversal of decades’ worth of work in promoting global gender equality.
“The United States should be taking the lead on fostering an open and honest dialogue about women’s issues internationally—not silencing it. We are better than this. We must be better than this.
“Here at home, women have succeeded this past year in taking took control of the narrative on sexual harassment and they have forced deaf ears to listen. We are witnessing the rise of a new, more equitable social order, built on the raw grit and courage of women speaking out to say, ‘Me Too.’
“Hearing so many of our fellow Americans—mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends—retell and relive some of their most traumatic experiences has been deeply troubling, but it has also been a lesson in bravery, in tenacity, and in women’s unbreakable spirit.
“It is that bravery which we must now meet with our own, as individuals and collectively. If we witness harassment, we must be brave enough to intervene. If we are told about abuse, we must be brave enough to take decisive action. If we hear of gender discrimination, we must be brave enough to fight it, even when doing so is not politically expedient or popular. Scores of women have proven their moral strength. It’s time for us to demonstrate ours.
“This Women’s History Month, let us take a moment to reflect on the thousands and thousands of ‘Me Too’ stories that go untold or unheard.
“Let us recognize the single, working mother making barely more than minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to turn $5 into a meal for three. When her co-worker begins propositioning her, growing increasingly persistent and threatening with each attempt, there are no cameras and cable talk shows waiting to expose him. She bears the burden alone, often feeling forced to choose between enduring disparaging behavior at work or providing for her children at home.
“Let us recognize the college graduate working in an office, empowered and excited about the direction of her career. But in every meeting, her boss undermines her ideas, and one day, when they’re alone, questions her suggestively about her methods of birth control. Weeks later, his lewd remarks evolve into inappropriate physical conduct, and he tells her if she ever complains, he will ensure she never finds another job in her chosen profession.
“Let us recognize the immigrant woman working hard at her new job in her new home, motivated to become part of the American Dream. Her male coworkers call her by disparaging names, and suggest openly to their supervisor that she should make less than they do, in the event she ever becomes pregnant and ‘costs the company money’. She begins to fear both for her job and for herself, but to quit would mean to lose the new life she has so painstakingly built.
“For an untold number of women, these stories are painfully familiar. The ‘Me Too’ movement has proven that sexual harassment and discrimination know no age and no income level. These experiences are felt by all women, of all backgrounds, and so it is up to every man to combat it. Sexual harassment is about power. It’s about harassers and authority figures feeling emboldened by being able to behave however they want—whenever they want—with impunity.
“So let us destroy that sense of impunity.
“If this behavior is about exerting a twisted kind of power, let us arm women with the most powerful tool in our legal system: the U.S. Constitution. Let us, finally, pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
“The ERA is barely longer than a Tweet, but it would finally give women full and equal protection under the Constitution. Section 1 of the ERA states, quite simply, that ‘Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.’
“When Congress proposed the ERA in 1972, it provided that the measure had to be ratified by three-fourths of the States—38 States—within seven years. This deadline was later extended to 10 years by a joint resolution, but ultimately only 35 out of 38 States had ratified the ERA when the deadline expired in 1982. Note that the deadline wasn’t contained in the amendment itself; the deadline was in the text of the joint resolution.
“Article V of the Constitution contains no time limits for the ratification of amendments, so the ERA deadline is arbitrary. To put the matter in context, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits Congressional pay raises without an intervening election, was ratified in 1992, 203 years after it was first proposed.
“The Senate should vote to remove the ERA deadline immediately, and every State in our union that has not yet taken up its consideration should do so without any further delay.
“Nevada became the 36th State to ratify the amendment last March, leaving the ERA only 2 States short of the required three-fourths of the States threshold under the Constitution if the deadline were to be abolished.
“I think many—perhaps most—Americans would be shocked to learn that our Constitution has no provision expressly prohibiting gender discrimination.
“The ERA would incorporate a ban on gender-based discrimination, explicitly written or otherwise, into the Constitution. It could change outcomes in unequal pay cases by requiring the Supreme Court to use the higher standard of ‘strict scrutiny’ when assessing those cases—the same standard used in racial and religious discrimination cases.
“Just as important, it would provide a constitutional basis for claims of gender-based violence, and give Congress the constitutional basis to pass a law giving women victimized by gender-based violence legal recourse in federal courts.
“In a 2011 interview, the late Justice Antonin Scalia summed up the need for an Equal Rights Amendment best. He said, ‘Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.’
“So I ask my Senate colleagues this question most sincerely: are we willing to do what must be done to prohibit gender discrimination in the Constitution?
“Progress has no autopilot feature. We must be its agents. We must be its champions. And when we wake up each day to the loud and growing chorus of women saying ‘me too,’ how can we deny them a legal tool as powerful and important as their own country’s constitution?
“The people being affected by systemic gender inequality are our constituents. They are our wives, our daughters, and our granddaughters. They are American citizens and human beings who deserve basic respect and equality.
“We are capable of so much more than lip service. We are capable of celebrating Women’s History Month by making history. I call on this Senate to remove the deadline on passing the Equal Rights Amendment and show American women that we are the leaders; that we were sent here, and we will take action.
“Let us prove we will use our voices when silence becomes complicity, and that we will use our votes when our values need defending.
“Women deserve to see that their Nation’s founding document values them and treats them in a fashion equal to men. They are right to expect that gender equality should be an explicit, basic principle of our society.
“Let us all work together to get this done. Women’s rights are human rights. And human rights are not, and never should be, a partisan issue.”
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Black (Immigrant) Lives Matter
“As we move forward in dialogue and action, as we question the legitimacy of documents, policies, and practices that render some bodies legal and others “alien.” We must also push ourselves to acknowledge and address the intersections of immigrant identities. Over the past decade, as the immigrant rights movement in our country has expanded, our understanding of immigration has narrowed to the non-Black, Latino experience.”
—Opal Tometi, Black Alliance for Just Immigration,
“Why The Black Immigrant Experience is Central to Lasting Social Change,”
State of Black America 2017
We are long overdue for a discussion about immigration as it relates to Black immigrants, particularly at this moment as the current presidential administration clamors to end legal protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and congressional leaders lurch from one proposed bipartisan solution to another in search of a permanent legislative fix. To be sure, to live in this country as an undocumented person is to live a life overshadowed by fear, but combine that fear with the harsh realities of race in our nation and you have a volatile mix.
The numbers are troubling—and telling. Black immigrants make up a small percentage of DACA recipients. They are an estimated 12,000 of 700,000 recipients, and comprise less than 10% of all our nation’s entire immigrant population, but at 21%, they are predictably overrepresented in deportation proceedings as a result of criminal convictions, and according to the deputy director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the same yawning disparity holds true for detention rates. BAJI’s State of Black Immigrants report estimates that “one out of every five noncitizens facing deportation on criminal grounds before the Executive Office for Immigration Review is Black.”
While undocumented Black immigrants share a universal story of migration, struggle, and survival, they must also contend with the heightened risk of social vulnerability commonly tied to race in our nation. As we enter the proverbial ring to fight for the civil and human rights of those brought to this country as children, recognize no other home, and as President Obama once noted, are “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” we must ensure that solutions that benefit one immigrant community do not derail the opportunities of another. Therefore, the stories and voices of Black immigrants must remain top-of-mind and relevant throughout this debate.
The Trump administration recently left the fate of these 700,000 undocumented immigrants in the hands of the Supreme Court. A decision to allow the Trump administration to end the DACA program—which currently shields those young men and women from deportation—would have resulted in the near immediate loss of that protection. The added travesty for Black immigrants is that over-policing in their communities and increased engagement with the criminal justice system would have increased their risk of deportation. But in a widely expected setback, the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s request to hear the case. While the court’s decision offers a timely lifeline to DACA recipients, who faced the imminent expiration of the program’s legal protections, the reprieve is temporary.
The disturbing language said to come from the White House claiming that Nigerians live in huts, that all Haitians have AIDS, or that Africans should return to their slur-worthy countries, would evidence a disdain for immigrants who come from majority Black countries. Various proposed congressional resolutions have highlighted the urgency of amplifying the experiences of Black immigrants. There are bipartisan proposals on the table that offer a permanent fix for DACA recipients and DREAMers (undocumented immigrants who are eligible, but have not applied for DACA), in exchange for ending established channels to legal immigration such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), protections for immigrants who come from countries experiencing environmental or social upheaval, the visa diversity lottery program, and family-based immigration programs—some of the very programs that created and create legal pathways for Black immigration.
We are stronger together. The immigrants’ rights movement needs to be inclusive and incorporate the realities of its diverse constituencies. Now is the time for rights groups, advocates, and allies to begin to specifically look at and address the complicated needs and reality of Black undocumented immigrants whose stories and voices are rarely heard above prevailing media narratives. It is time to affirm that their lives matter, too.
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A 50 Year Plea Persists
“In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded that America was heading toward ‘two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.’ Today, America’s communities are experiencing increasing racial tensions and inequality, working-class resentment over the unfulfilled American Dream, white supremacy violence, toxic inaction in Washington, and the decline of the nation’s example around the world.”
This quote is an introduction to Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report, a newly released update on just how far our nation still has to go to fulfill the Kerner Report’s goals. The original report was released February 29, 1968 by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to study the causes of the “racial disorders” that had erupted across the country during the summer of 1967, resulting in weeks of devastating rioting, violence, and deaths. The “long, hot summer” of 1967 followed earlier riots during the summers of 1964, 1965, and 1966 and left many Americans terrified that violence would continue to escalate with no end and no solutions. But the Kerner Commission, as the National Advisory Commission came to be called after its Chair Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., did not believe our country was doomed to a permanent cycle of rioting and racial division. Its report determined that ending the violence needed to start by acknowledging the persistent American truth at its root: we were a divided society, still separate, still unequal.
The 1968 report offered specific recommendations, many focused on creating economic opportunity for Black citizens imprisoned in concentrated segregated poverty. Others addressed the need to hire and train more diverse police forces. An entire section was devoted to education with special concern about the poor reading and math skills and low graduation and employment rates of millions of Black students stuck in predominantly Black, poor, and unequal schools. The 1968 Kerner Report concluded that all of its proposed solutions were not just doable, but essential: “It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens—urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group … These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance, but they neither probe deeper nor demand more than the problems which called them forth. There can be no higher priority for national action and no higher claim on the nation’s conscience.”
But Healing Our Divided Society shows that despite progress in many areas over the last fifty years, we still have not completed the urgent business of making the promises of American democracy good for all and the call for sustained national action must continue. The new report, co-edited by former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, the only surviving member of the original Kerner Commission, and Alan Curtis, CEO of the Milton Eisenhower Foundation, includes chapters by scholars and policy experts seeking to chart our nation’s course forward.
In a chapter on America’s ongoing struggles to change the odds for all children, I shared my deep disappointment that even as our nation becomes much more racially and ethnically diverse, children of color, especially Black children, remain so far behind their White peers. Growing inequality exacerbates the racial divide as very large disparities in family median income, wages and family wealth stunt opportunity for children. Nearly one in five children is poor and nearly 70 percent of the almost 13.2 million poor children are children of color. The younger children are, the poorer they are, and Black children remain the poorest—most likely to be trapped in what the Kerner Report called the “prison of poverty” in our wealthy nation. Closing this indefensible and curable inequality gap and racial divide remains the major unfinished business of our nation and, I believe, the greatest threat to our national security and economic future.
On March 31, 1968, just a few weeks after the Kerner Commission released its Report and recommendations, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his last Sunday sermon before he was assassinated: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” Fifty years later the answer to that question is clear. We have never found the will to fully respond to the Kerner Commission’s urgent call, certainly heard again in the new report Healing Our Divided Society, for “massive and sustained” action.
Children have only one childhood, and it is right now for today’s children. We know much more today about what works, making it deeply shameful that we continue to tolerate political leaders in any party who choose not to invest adequately in critical services and just policies for all children and who refuse to end child poverty in order to give massive tax breaks to millionaires, billionaires and powerful corporations. Healing Our Divided Society is both a warning and a guide. We must finally find the will to ease the indefensible burdens of poverty and racism and fling open the doors of opportunity and hope to assure every child an equal chance to reach his or her God-given potential.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
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