Oberlin Council takes a stance on the ERA, declares racism a health crisis

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JASON HAWK
EDITOR

OBERLIN — Leave it to the Girl Scouts to get the job done.

They lobbied Oberlin City Council on Monday to put pressure on Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, urging them to help finally enshrining the rights of women in the U.S. Constitution.

That’s right — believe it or not, the Constitution still doesn’t erase sexual discrimination in 2020.

Even the Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the Civil War, didn’t put all citizens on equal footing, and the Supreme Court has held that it doesn’t grant full equality to all people on the basis of sex.

Members of Troop 50439 are pushing hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification.

Ohio was among those that signed, but the deadline for the required 38 states to get on board lapsed in 1982.

Thirty-eight years later, Virginia signed on Jan. 27 and tipped the balance, the last ratification needed to update the Constitution. Most of the holdouts are Southern states, along with Utah and Arizona.

But unless the deadline is removed by a vote of the Senate, the ERA remains stalled.

Local Girl Scouts said they studied heroic women from American history, such as Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, and dug into tough issues such as stopping violence against women and girls.

They also made their own suffragette sashes, and learned about the history of the women’s voting rights movement in Oberlin.

Their plea was heard — City Council adopted a resolution backing Senate Joint Resolution 79, introduced in January to finally get the job done.

Council wasn’t done. In a night of heavy topics, it also declared racism a public health crisis.

The unanimous vote followed similar ones by officials in Elyria and Lorain, as well as the Lorain County commissioners.

Oberlin Councilwoman Elizabeth Meadows said she hopes the statements are heard in Columbus and push state officials to address racism, “not talk about it but to really get something done.”

Oberlin’s resolution notes that Black Americans make up 33 percent of incarcerations across the nation, despite making up only 12 percent of the population, and mourned the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by law enforcement.

It also highlighted the economic disparity facing Black families in the United States, which have a median net worth of around $17,000 compared to nearly $170,000 for white families.

“Racism has led to a lack of access to nutritious food, lack of economic security, high Type II diabetes rates, high obesity rates, and maternal mortality rates among the Black community, according to the 2016 Lorain County Local Conversations on Minority Health Report,” the resolution said.

It also held up African-Americans as a crucial part of Oberlin’s identity, while admitting the town’s Black population has faded away in recent decades.

Symbolically taking turns reading portions of the resolution, City Council members pledged to view all future ordinances through the lens of anti-racism, implement a social equity plan that tackles racial and economic gaps and to restore trust between police and other citizens.

They promised to facilitate equal access to education and job training programs, increase the affordable housing stock in town and ensure equitable hiring practices in city positions and contract assignments.

“Resolutions are nice, but they really don’t mean anything unless they are backed up by actions that make a difference,” said Councilman Ray English.

Officials also called upon the Ohio Legislature and Gov. Mike DeWine to join in fighting the public health emergency with money and other resources.