While this is Jimmie Cochran Pratt’s third year as co-president of the ERA-NC Alliance, she’s now serving with a new co-president, as of January 2023: Teri Walley. Walley took Lori Bunton’s spot after Bunton met her term limit.
These women have done countless hours of work to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment – and let it be noted that this is volunteer work. While they’re voted in and have term periods, they are not paid for their numerous contributions.
Women AdvaNCe interviewed the pair to get a better idea of the passion behind their dedication as well as their plans for the ERA-NC Alliance this year. (Spoiler: The plans are big and exciting!)
What made you want to serve as co-president?
Cochran Pratt: Originally I stepped up to the vacancy in mid-year because the position needed someone with experience in Alliance efforts, and I had been serving as the vice president for fundraising since 2018.
Another consideration was the Alliance had been working under COVID restraints, and we were adapting well to virtual meetings via Zoom technology, and I found I could do most of what is required from my home.
I’m visually impaired from a stroke and cannot drive (getting to Raleigh on a regular basis for ERA legislative purposes would have been very difficult) but can do most things at my desktop and on the phone.
Another reason I accepted the position originally is that the ERA-NC Alliance operates on hope and expectations of publication of the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With the election of President Joe Biden in 2020, we were confident he would request the National Archivist to publish the ERA straightaway because he promised to do so in his campaign. Unfortunately, that action has not happened and we do not understand the reasons why, but we know publication will happen soon, and I wanted to be involved with the ERA-NC Alliance when it did happen. I have been dedicated to the ERA movement since 1972 and [am] not ready to give up on what is fair and right for the women of this country.
Walley: It was a natural progression for me, after serving as vice president of public relations for four years. I watched and learned from Lori and Jimmie. After Lori reached her term limit, I felt I could be a strong partner with Jimmie.
I’ve always been a strong supporter of women’s rights, but my “aha” moment came in 2017. I was getting ready to attend the Women’s March in D.C., and I asked my (feminist, politically savvy, then-college senior) daughter, “Hey, I’m getting an ERA t-shirt, would you like one?” She said, “What’s the ERA?” I knew right then I had to step up.
What kind of work and projects are you most excited to do this year and in the future with the ERA-NC Alliance?
Cochran Pratt: We anticipate 2023 will be a big, successful year for the Alliance. First, we just held a press conference in Raleigh on March 8 to acknowledge International Women’s Day, [the] 100th Anniversary of the introduction of the ERA by Alice Paul, as well as announcing the results of a poll conducted with Meredith College Poll to explore N.C. voter opinions on the Equal Rights Amendment, perceptions of discrimination.
Also in the press conference, Representative Julie von Haefen and Senator Natalie Murdock introduced NC Adopt ERA in the NCGA to ratify the ERA. House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 231. All Democrat representatives and senators co-sponsor these bills. A ratification bill for the ERA has been introduced in the NCGA for the several sessions, only to remain in the Committee on Rules with no floor vote in either chamber.
With an enthusiastic group of Alliance members as well as League of Women Voters volunteers, we delivered packets to each and every legislator with a copy of the bill, questions and answers about the ERA, ERA YES buttons, and a pouch of ERA M&M’s!
Also this year, we will be introducing a comprehensive review of the NC General Statutes (NCGS) to examine whether any statutes are inconsistent with the terms of the ERA and identify any gender-specific terms contained in the NCGS text. The review was a pro-bono project by Winston & Strawn, LLP, an international law firm based in Chicago, Illinois, and several NC lawyers with specific areas of expertise, including Campbell University Law School and others.
The Alliance will be working with lead organization North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys on this project.
Walley: Agree with Jimmie. 2023 is huge. It’s been exactly 100 years since Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman wrote the ERA and got it introduced in Congress. And 175 years since Lucretia Mott proposed it at Seneca Falls in 1848. We’re through waiting.
We’re planning a big 100th anniversary commemoration event for July. Alice and Crystal proposed the ERA on July 21, 1923. Planning is in the works so we’re not ready to announce that yet. We’ve tackled the federal ERA with our ratification bills, as Jimmie said. And we’re bringing out our statute review, carried out by Winston & Strawn.
As I’m sure you know, the federal ERA is in a holding pattern. So we’ve turned our sights to North Carolina. We’re beginning to lay the groundwork for an amendment to our North Carolina Constitution that would give equal rights to not only women, but many other marginalized citizens of our state. A new amendment will take a lot of effort and a lot of folks to bring about. But we’re determined — if we can’t protect every American woman, then we will at least protect North Carolina women.
How can people help your efforts?
Cochran Pratt: The text of the ERA is 24 words: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Also vitally important is contacting our U.S. Senators to vote “yes” on Senate Joint Resolution 4 dropping any time limits on the ERA, which has met all of the requirements for amendments as outlined in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Senator Thom Tillis: https://www.tillis.senate.gov
Senator Ted Budd: https://www.budd.senate.gov
Walley: Join us! All of these efforts take (wo)manpower. If everyone takes on a small role, we can advance women’s equality faster. We’re a volunteer outfit. A person’s time – even a limited amount – is the biggest help. [Our website is] ERA-NC.org.
Beyond that, strike up conversations with everyone you run across. This is not a “feminist” issue or even a woman’s issue. The ERA will make life better for everyone. We have collaborated with The Fibre Studio, for example, to create a unique yarn for knitters called, “Equal Rights for All, Y’all.” We sold out at the recent Carolina Fiber Fest in Raleigh, and sparked many, many conversations, especially among young women, who, like my daughter, asked, “What’s the
ERA?” As our collaboration showed, you don’t have to be in a feminist silo to care about women’s equality!
Anything else you’d like to add or promote?
Cochran Pratt: For the entire year of 2023, the Alliance will be acknowledging the introduction of the ERA by Alice Paul.
Both Teri Walley and I, co-presidents of the ERA-NC Alliance, will be speakers at the LWVNC Annual Meeting [on] May 19-21, 2023 in Charlotte.
Saturday, August 26 will be Women’s (In)Equality Day. Plans for the day are forthcoming.
Walley: 2023 is a major milestone. We wish we could call it a “celebration,” and are hopeful that it may become one, instead of [a] commemoration, before the year is out.
In addition to the events Jimmie named, look for a 100th anniversary commemoration event in July. Look for another in December, when the 1923 U.S. House and Senate first voted on the ERA. Also, keep your eyes on the current U.S. House and Senate. We expect a floor vote, lifting the 1982 deadline and acknowledging the ERA as the 28th Amendment, before March is over.
Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied Public Relations in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She’s passionate about mental health, body positivity, relationships, Halloween, and Dad jokes.