Hours before Women’s March, a call for new constitutional equal rights


WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the nation’s capitol on Saturday, a sea of pink stretched as far as the eye could see.

An estimated half a million people — many donning knit pink “pussyhats” — descended on Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March, in coordination with marches all across the world. But hours before the march, around 8 a.m., the Capitol’s streets were still clear enough to walk.

Street vendors packed up their “Make America Great Again” wares into vans and hurriedly unpacked pink-colored hats and buttons.

In a congressional office off Independence Avenue, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D- Hillsborough, tried to focus the day’s political will by drumming up support for a constitutional amendment to sanctify women’s rights.

It’s Speier’s aim to see the Equal Rights Amendment ratified by Congress in 2017.

An hour before they’d join the massive protest outside, at least 300 Women’s March participants attended Speier’s rally inside the Rayburn House Office Building.

“E-R-A! E-R-A! E-R-A!” they chanted.

Despite the current fervor, the effort to ratify the ERA has been stymied since 1923, when it was first introduced in Congress. But Speier believes political blowback from President Donald Trump’s election — the same blowback that spurred the massive Women’s March — may make the ERA a reality.

“We’ve awakened a giant in this country” she told the crowd, “or should I say, a giantess.”

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D- Hillsborough, hosted a rally inside the Rayburn House Office Building prior to Saturday's Women's March in Washington, D.C. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D- Hillsborough, hosted a rally inside the Rayburn House Office Building prior to Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Though the political rally was held in D.C., three teenagers from San Mateo were among those shouting for justice: Shweta Ashokraj, 16, Claire Mason, 15, and Michele Danigelis, 15.

The girls agreed that even these early moments of the Women’s March were an antidote to the despair they felt during Trump’s inauguration.

“I was crying [at the inauguration],” Ashokraj said, noting she heard boos and jeers from the crowd when Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke of equality.

Mason said those moments, in particular, were “appalling.”

Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would not just lift these teenagers spirits, however. In a practical sense, it would set a legal standard by which other laws to protect women could be applied.

For example, Ret. Col. Don Christensen told the crowd at the rally the ERA could help push for stronger rules to stem sexaul assault in the military.

Though one in 20 people in the military are sexually assaulted, according to Christensen, women are targeted far more often: One in four women in the military are sexually assaulted in combat zones, he said.
One veteran in the audience faced that firsthand.

Capt. Katie Robinson, who served the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan as an chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare officer, told me she was assaulted during her tour of duty.

Though she was glad to see Christensen standing in solidarity with women, the out lesbian veteran believed a woman should be spearheading that effort.

A man shouldn’t be needed to make other men listen to women’s issues, Robinson said, a problem that may have exacerbated her assault by a fellow officer overseas. When she reported the assault to her commanding officer, Robinson said he informed her assailant that she had reported him.

Instead of protecting her from her assailant, Robinsons’ commanding officer then warned her to “carry a knife” and to be careful about where she went out at night.

This left her to fear not only combat, but rest.

“You’re worried about your enemy and about your brother beside you,” Robinson reflected.

For a time, the experience robbed her of her agency. Though it may seem hard to fathom as a civilian, Robinson found inspiration in the war zone of Afghanistan.

“Fighting for other women”, she said, “that gave me strength.”

By the time Robinson left Speier’s rally, the streets resembled rivers of people, streaming from every possible side street to swell in unison at the Capitol.

Robinson smiled at the sight.

“Aren’t you glad you came?” she asked.

She then stepped out from a congressional office onto the streets for the Women’s March, which had only just begun.

Robinson lent her strength, one woman among hundreds of thousands.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Follow along for daily reports straight from Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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