In Tampa Bay, Athena Society continues fight to pass Equal Rights Amendment in Florida

The Athena Society formed in 1976 to support the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and improve the status of women.

Nearly five decades later, the Tampa Bay nonprofit continues to fight for the cause. On Wednesday, January 4, before a diverse audience of approximately 30 women gathered in a meeting room at the Westshore Yacht Club, Zakiya Thomas, President and CEO of the National ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality, delivered an impassioned exhortation for final passage of the ERA at an event organized and hosted by the Community Action Committee of the Athena Society.

With headquarters in Washington D.C., the National ERA Coalition is comprised of more than 280 national and local partner and supporter organizations across the country that represent millions of advocates.

Laying out a strategy to move the ERA toward final passage, Thomas urged the women in attendance to “talk to people outside your bubble.” She emphasized that speaking only to people who agree with you is not the way to change hearts and minds.

“The silos of the internet keep us apart, and then came COVID,” she said. “Talk to people in person.”

Congress originally passed the ERA back in 1972, but 3/4 of the states needed to ratify it for the Constitution to be amended. An initial deadline was extended to 1982. In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify, but decades after the deadline passed. Proponents of the legislation say Congress has the authority to extend the deadline again and make the ERA reality. Florida has not ratified the ERA. State Rep. Fentrice Driskell D-Tampa, the incoming House Democratic Leader, has previously filed a bill to ratify the ERA but it did not make it through the Legislature.

According to the National ERA Coalition website, the organization's goal is to amend the Constitution to ensure that one cannot be discriminated against because of one’s sex. The organization strategizes with states seeking ratification and works with legislators on the amendment and other ERA bills. The Coalition conducts research and has a team of legal scholars examining the next steps to a fully realized ERA.

During the January 4th event, the issue of attempting to get younger women more engaged was raised. An event organizer said some younger women she contacted about attending the event said they didn’t feel there was a need for the ERA anymore or believed it had already been passed. 

That observation was backed up by Thomas, who said the ERA Coalition’s research showed that 85% of people polled believed the ERA was already in place. Thomas ended her talk with words of encouragement.

“My goal tonight is to leave you with hope,” she said. “There is no deadline on equality.”

For more information, go to Athena Society and ERA Coalition.
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Read more articles by Pamela Varkony.

Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.