Jo Anne Agrimson, Co-President of Fillmore County League of Women Voters, shows her support for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). (Photo by Renee Bergstrom)
Four generations of advocating for equal rights
Area supporters of this country’s stalled Equal Rights Amendment are on the move in 2024 to encourage its adoption; their efforts range from providing information to local residents and talking to area lawmakers, to participating in events at the State Capitol, including a February 12th legislative rally.
FILLMORE COUNTY — The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has a long and complicated history and, even though it has met ratification requirements, it has still not been ratified as the 28th Amendment. This proposed amendment to the United States Constitution states 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.”
“The Equal Rights Amendment is known as ‘the most popular proposed amendment to the Constitution’,” according to Jo Anne Agrimson, Co-President of the Fillmore County League of Women Voters, “It guarantees equal rights under the law for all people in jobs, legal settlements and all areas of society.
“Unfortunately,” she continues, “too many women in the work force are still paid as though they don’t need or deserve the same pay or benefits as men. I would hope the women in my family would be recognized for their abilities and would be treated just as the men would be in the workplace and in the courts.”
The ERA has now reached a point where the great-granddaughters of original supporters are still ‘marching for equality’—and while this drawn-out struggle has continued for more than 100 years, the League of Women Voters (LWV), in partnership with ERA Minnesota, is not ready to give up.
A Timeline That Started During Prohibition
Let’s start with a timeline that has spanned four generations of women (graphic by Julie Fryer):
Minnesota became the 26th state to ratify the ERA in 1973. Since then, advocates have continued pushing the issue forward at a federal level and encouraging including a similar equal rights amendment in the state constitution. In 2014, former state legislator Betty Folliard, founded ERA Minnesota to organize both efforts.
In 2019, the Minnesota State House approved two measures: to urge the U.S. Congress to remove the ratification deadline and to offer Minnesota voters the chance to vote for an Equal Rights Amendment to its own state Constitution. Neither measure passed the Minnesota Legislature.
In 2023, both were introduced again. The state’s federal resolution passed, but the legislature ran out of time before the session ended to pass the second state-centered bill.
Advocates expect this issue to be revisited during the 2024 Minnesota Legislative session which is why they are planning a State Capitol rally on February 12th .
Adding an Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution requires a bill to pass both the House and the Senate, then go before voters on a statewide ballot.
If the amendment wins the majority of the popular vote, it automatically amends the Constitution. Depending on the timing of upcoming legislation, voters may see this amendment on their 2024 or 2026 ballots.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For decades, the Fillmore County League of Women Voters has worked on voting access; election education and administration; and other important civic rights issues. And now its members are putting the full weight of their organization behind this renewed ERA effort.
In November 2023, Fillmore County LWV hosted a gathering at the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain where 20 or so local folks attended to learn more about the upcoming ERA legislative efforts.
At the meeting, Rochester LWV member Amy Caucutt shared information on the need for both the federal and state versions to pass or be ratified. She detailed how this effort is decades in the making and urged listeners to think of their granddaughters’ futures.
“Even today, we (women) have not reached true equality and we can’t stop now,” says LWV member Delia Bell. “Please contact your representatives and senators. Tell them how you feel about equality. Demand something more.”
The group plans to attend the upcoming ERA Minnesota rally on February 12th in the State Capitol Rotunda. Beginning at 10:00 a.m., which coincides with the opening of the 2024 Legislative session, the event is expected to draw supporters from all over the state along with national and local speakers who will urge legislators to make this issue a top 2024 priority.
Fillmore County LWV is organizing transportation to take supporters to the event; details are available on its Facebook page.
If the Minnesota Legislature passes this proposed Constitutional amendment, the LWV and ERA will shift their work to creating awareness of the subsequent public ballot measure and education on how to vote on the issue (in particular, how leaving the box unchecked counts as a ‘No vote’ on the amendment). It could finds its way to a statewide ballot as early as 2024.
Election Year Plans for Fillmore County.
As always, an election year–especially a presidential election year–brings extra work to LWV Chapters and this particularly contentious year is no different.
The organization itself has chapters across the country, all with the mission to encourage informed and active participation in government.
They work on a non-partisan basis to increase understanding of public policy issues and advocate for many broad policies including protecting access to the ballot box and improving women’s rights.
“We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate,” according to the League’s mission statement. “We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy.”
During Minnesota’s 2023 legislative session, major changes were made to state voting laws and the LWV is ready to spread the word on issues such as restored felon voting rights and preregistration for voters 16 years or older.
Thanks to a core group of dedicated local volunteers, Fillmore County League President Jo Anne Agrimson tells us that, in addition to normal election year duties, they have 2024 plans for candidate forums; a county scorecard featuring Fillmore County leaders; and speakers on topics such as teen homelessness.
League members will also continue to work on growing the organization in each township and expanding membership to include a wide range of ages.
Agrimson goes on to share, “Our hope is that anyone interested in joining the LWV recognizes that we are a nonpartisan organization that welcomes the talents and knowledge each one brings to the table (including men!).
“Our mission,” she says,”is to educate citizens about the importance of voting, to register new voters, and to help all voters understand issues in Fillmore County and greater Minnesota as they choose political leaders at every level.
“No one of our members has all the answers: we seek to learn as much about issues as we can,”Agrimson continues. “All members bring their individual lived experiences to our organization, enabling us to learn from one another how to make Fillmore County an even better place to work and live.”
The LWV steering committee meets monthly and anyone interested in joining can email Jo Anne Agrimson for more information. Details on club events, volunteer opportunities, and carpooling to the upcoming ERA gathering in St. Paul can be found on the Fillmore County LWV Facebook page.
Julie Fryer is a marketing and writing consultant who helps small businesses navigate the world of ecommerce. She lives in Chatfield and is an avid gardener, sugarmaker, and camper with a full bookshelf of to-be-read books.