Pilgrimage across the USA for the ERA
by Helene Swanson
Each step I take brings me closer to fulfilling my promise to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s a promise I made a decade ago to my late mother-in-law, the Rev. Katrina Swanson. (Katrina was one of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” the first group of women to be ordained as priests in these modern times in the U.S.) A promise made by my husband and me to her in her last year of life. A promise, indeed a vow, and now a dream moving to reality we will resurrect and see enacted the Equal Rights Amendment.
As I look east at the snow-capped Sierras that I am soon to cross, I am reminded of my favorite lines from the poem “Snowflakes” by Linda A. Copp:
Snowflakes spill from heaven’s hand
Lovely and chaste like smooth white sand.
Each day I awaken and anxiously check to see if this is a good day to hike the trail over the mountain pass to Lake Tahoe, and then onward to Carson City, capital of Nevada, the first state I’ll pass through of the 15 that have yet to ratify the ERA. I have put my pilgrimage for justice across the United States in God’s hands. God is in charge—not me. And the doors that God has been opening over the last several years are simply amazing.
When Toby Blome, a women’s rights activist and Code Pink member, learned that I was to be stuck in the rain, sleet, and snow of a much needed winter storm in northern California, she reached out to her network. Since then I have been staying with a new-found friend, Marida Martin, in her lovely home in Placerville, waiting for the storm to blow over. Toby readily shared her radio spot on KPFA with me on March 8, International Women’s Day, when I launched my walk across the U.S.A. for the ERA. On that glorious day, I was joined by many women from a number of different organizations each representing their cause united under the Katrina’s Dream umbrella. We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge together, demonstrating that women are uniting, moving humankind forward to as we have done since creation.
After Nevada, I will press on, on foot, into neighboring Utah, the second of the 15 states dragging their feet on ratifying the ERA. Then, over the coming months, I will make my way through Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. The end of the pilgrimage comes on March 8, 2015, after a year of walking, when I will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., advocating the ERA cause to the elected representatives and senators who are our servants. Standing beside me, many I hope in person, many, many more in spirit, will be the thousands who have supported me during this long, long walk.
In a sense, my journey began to unfold the night in 2005 when a hurricane bearing Katrina’s name hit the city of New Orleans. We Swansons found the signs to be prophetic, for as Katrina died, a hurricane was showing the world just how difficult life is for women, people of color, and those who are economically disadvantaged. Days after Katrina’s death we founded Katrina’s Dream in her memory.
My husband, William Swanson, was in the process of formalizing his call to ordination when he was called home to God’s kingdom this past May 3, 2013. His passing to God’s realm is a moment in time I go to in my mind daily on this pilgrimage, a moment I go to for comfort and reassurance. On the day of William’s death, our brother Jesus’s message that God’s mansion has many rooms hit home for me. I realized that our acts here are adorning the unfolding framework of the City of God.
We are called to rebuild this planet we have been given, and a first step is to ensure that women here and abroad are restored to their rightful place alongside men. For us in the United States that means adopting the Equal Rights Amendment. A study described in a 2013 Shriver Report found that one in three Americans live below the poverty line, the majority in households headed by a woman. Why must there be a constitutional amendment? Take a look again at the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision in which Supreme Court Justice Scalia ruled that the rights of women are not protected under the U.S. Constitution.
I did not come to the Christian faith easily, although now I am proud to call myself a “kickin’ and screamin’” Episcopalian. When I met my husband I was no longer attending church, but found solace as a student in studying philosophy, the occult, and other religious materials. William, however, was a cradle Episcopalian and his profound faith in God opened the doors of my heart to see the truth and the light and love in Christ. This pilgrimage I’m on is a working out of my response to God’s call. I walk with a double purpose:
● to assure those with whom I speak that the Episcopal Church is a place where people are welcome to come and explore their relationship with and in God, and
● to be part of ushering in an age of legal gender equality.
There’s much, much more about the pilgrimage and the work of Katrina’s Dream on our website www.katrinasdream.org . Please visit us there, and see the link to the General Convention 2009 endorsement of the ERA! And please join me, at least in spirit, as I continue walking east in the months ahead.