ERA protests: they were there
June 10th, 2018
UPDATED 6/10. “Better late than never,” says Chicago political activist Marilyn Katz about Illinois becoming the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. “More important–it’s an indication of the power potential of women today. ERA is no longer a ceiling, but the floor on which to build.”
Katz is pictured, above, during an organizing event in the late 1970s for passage of the ERA.
Following are more stories from Chicago-area women who were there. Do you have a story? Send it in a comment, below.
Rebecca Sive was an Illinois consultant to the National Women’s Political Caucus for the ERA ratification campaign.
As part of that, Sive organized and promoted celebrities who traveled to Illinois to support the ERA ratification campaign. Actress Marlo Thomas headlined a fundraiser that was chaired by the late columnist Ann Landers at the then-Ambassador East Hotel.
And Actress Carol Burnett even traveled to Springfield. She talks about the ERA movement in this video.
Sive said Burnett “was about the nicest, friendliest person I’ve ever met, in any context. And, she was a trooper.” After the ERA event, a public-relations executive for Burnett offered Sive a job. “I missed my chance at Hollywood!” she said.
ESive remained active in women’s causes in Chicago.
Most recently, she’s written a soon-to-be-published book, “Vote Her In: Your Guide to Electing Our First Woman President (Agate Publishing, October 2018). She also wrote “Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House.”
Wendy Cohen, a policy adviser on women’s issues in the Illinois Attorney General’s office, was a college student at Drake University when Illinois was working to pass the ERA.
Finals were coming up and her parents, who lived in Wilmette, had all but told her to not even think about going to protest in Springfield for the vote.
Cohen went anyway.
“That’s back before cell phones when you only talked to your family once a week,” she recalled. So they didn’t know that Cohen took a bus to protest along with thousands of other young people.
Later, after the Legislature failed to pass the ERA, her father half-joked, “Maybe if you had been here.”
That’s when Cohen fessed up.
Chicago attorney Tina Tchen did, too. She’s the former aide to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama who also headed up the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Tchen grew up in Ohio, where she crossed paths with Chicago’s first lady, Amy Rule. After college (Harvard) and before law school (Northwestern), Tchen came to Illinois to fight for the ERA.
“I learned about organizing and women’s issues” during that time, she told me recently, giving credit to former NOW president Ellie Smeal.
Tchen recalled demonstrations that turned “the sleepy town of Springfield” on its head.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan remembers, it too, including protesters who chained themselves to the capital.
Back then, Madigan was a high school teenager tagging along with her step-dad, House Speaker Mike Madigan, watch lawmakers vote on the ERA.
With its passage, Lisa Madigan said, “It’s overdue.”