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Led by Grove Scholars, Roosevelt House Hosts First Campus Equal Rights Amendment Day

Led by Grove Scholars, Roosevelt House Hosts First Campus Equal Rights Amendment Day

Left to right: Carol Jenkins, Patricia Arquette, Gloria Steinem, Betty Dukes, Carolyn Maloney, and Jessica Neuwirth, with the Eva Kastan Grove Fellows

When the Eva Kasten Grove fellows met for the first time in February of 2017, they watched Equal Means Equal, an award winning documentary about the status of women in America – and found the film immediately galvanizing. This documentary, which director Kamala Lopez spent eight years making, presented them with a thorough examination of the many faces of sexism – economic, institutional, political, and personal. And not only did it show the problems of inequality, but it also presented a path towards a solution, by way of a Constitutional Amendment (originally conceived in 1923) that would explicitly guarantee rights to all citizens, regardless of gender: the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
The Grove fellows had all been chosen for their demonstrated achievement and aptitude for public service – but none of these five young women, all politically active and socially conscious, had ever heard of the ERA before. They were sure that if they were able to show other people Equal Means Equal, other audiences, particularly other students, would be just as invigorated and impassioned about passing the Amendment. But they wanted to expand their reach beyond their immediate circles. “We wanted to focus on places that weren’t urban centers or on the coasts, so we got schools in North Carolina, Kansas, Mississipi – we wanted to spread awareness to places outside of NYC that welcomed this conversation,” said Grove fellow Thamara Jean. “We wanted to all tune in at the same time and have a discussion about these issues, and what we could do together as students.”
So on April 21st, 2017, the fellows used the magic of livestream to unite with campuses across the nation, helping to launch the first ever Campus Equal Rights Amendment Day. This event, rapidly planned and executed within a two month span, was part of a close partnership between the fellows, Roosevelt House, and the Equal Rights Coalition, led by Jessica Neuwirth, author of Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment is Now. “We were really fortunate to have Jessica as our leader,” Thamara noted. “She believes that the way to learn about social activism is to be active.” So the Grove fellows learned by doing: how to deal with bureaucracy, how to publicize, how to organize, how to coordinate and connect.
They managed to gather not only multiple campuses, but a group of feminist icons to view and discuss the film alongside the students. Directly after screening the film that had so affected them months earlier, the five Grove Scholars presented a group of five women leaders and role models: journalist Carol Jenkins, Walmart-employee and activist Betty Duke, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, actress and equal-pay advocate Patricia Arquette, and feminist hero and self-described “wandering organizer” Gloria Steinem.
With this hub of feminist wisdom in one concentrated space, the fellows were ready with questions, both their own and ones they had gathered from their partner colleges around the country. For people who were unable to be physically present to ask their questions, there was twitter; they could reach the panelists using hashtag #askERAday, and then they could listen to the answers by tuning into the livestream footage – now available in archive.
The questions came in from Arizona, North Carolina, Washington, DC, and beyond. They ranged from queries about the fourth wave of feminism, to inquiries about inclusive language, to questions about best strategies for approaching social change on a local and state level. The panelists’ responses were enthusiastic and united; they were adamant that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment was the critical first step in combatting the sexism’s poisonous and pervasive presence. “You can’t fix much of anything until you fix this,” said Steinem. “It’s fundamental and basic.” The panelists stressed the importance of intersectionality, the inclusion of all underrepresented and maligned groups, and pointed out that controlling reproductive rights controls entire populations and economic structures.
The panelists encouraged students to use their energy, passion, and technological acumen to advance the cause. “You’re the ones who know how to do this,” said Arquette, famous for blasting open the issue of unequal pay in the entertainment industry when she won an Academy Award and fired off a passionate speech about compensation disparity instead of the typical litany of thank yous. Congresswoman Maloney, known as a high achieving bill-passer, urged young people to get involved in politics, ato lobby their senators and local representatives, and to support any legislation that supported women. Steinem had the final word, recognizing that while there is work to be done, there are many people eager and willing to do it. “The only way I can express how I feel about the huge number of young feminists now, women and men, way more than when I started, is that: I just had to wait for some of my friends to be born.”

As young people who want to create change in their communities, this was a unique opportunity to do hands on work in public policy; most entry level positions are unpaid internships, financially prohibitive for students who need to support themselves. Made possible through Grove funds, which are dedicated to perpetuating the legacy of Eva Kasten Grove and her family, this fellowship gave its recipients a way to pursue their passions within a framework – to start making a difference now, and to connect with other passionate change-makers.
Watch the livestream of the event here:

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