Zoe Nicholson is used to playing the long game when it comes to women’s rights. The writer and activist is interviewed throughout Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.a new documentary about the fight for women’s rights 40 years after the hit 1980 film by Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda 9 to 5.
Known for being a key advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) – a proposed amendment to the US Constitution that would have struck down several state and federal laws that discriminate against women if passed – Nicholson declared to Filmmaker podcast how she stays motivated in the fight for equal rights for all genders in a conversation with Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. co-director Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, and Lane’s twin brother and producer, Larry Lane.
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Nicholson had some wise words of wisdom for those who defend pregnant women’s rights to their own bodies, many of whom have begun to feel desperate since Roe v. Wade was canceled earlier this week.
“Change comes and goes in waves,” she said. “All I have to say now to the 21 year old to the 18 year old who thinks it’s the end of the world, [is] this is how the world really works. It’s high surf, and you need a long board. That’s exactly how it works, and I stay motivated because I know it.
She also said, “Women have always had abortions. Cleopatra had an abortion. Women have used birth control for centuries. It only became illegal in recent history. And all they really wanted to do was make it harder and you know, kill women who couldn’t afford a good one.
She was also keen to include transgender, non-binary, and fluid communities.
“Roe was going to be the only way to completely untangle American women, and they did,” Nicholson said. “I also can’t help but say, in fact, we should now say ‘pregnant people’, because more people can be pregnant than women.”
His advice to fellow activists comes from decades of experience and a deep understanding of how American politics evolves and changes.
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“I was on the streets of Chicago in 1968, taking a billy club over the head of a guy on a horse in a uniform. I do it because that’s how I want to be, on the cutting edge of change” Nicholson said, “It moves through issues, and it moves through culture, and I also think the divine – that’s kind of a weird thing to say here – but the divine kind has held things up. Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. coming out in this quarter of 2022, for this old lady, seems like some kind of miracle… because this moment is the most perfect precise moment for this movie to come out.
Speaking of the divine, Nicholson also fought for church reform. She earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Quincy University in 1969.
“I left the Catholic Church for a simple reason: I wanted to be a priest and they wouldn’t let me,” she says. “I actually converted to Buddhism when I was 22 and am now a celibate Buddhist monk.”
Early in her career, she was also a high school teacher and later opened a women’s bookstore called The Magic Speller Bookstore in Newport Beach, California. Since then, she has written books including her memoirs, The Hungry Heart ~ A Women’s Fast for Justice, The passionate hearton his experiences with Buddhism, and The Engaged Heart ~ The Life of an Activist, which includes many of his speeches and photos from his life.
While advocating for the ERA in 1982—the deadline for ratifying the ERA that was extended by Congress and President Carter in 1978, and ultimately failed—Nicholson also met Phyllis Schlafly, the woman largely responsible for rallying conservative women against his passage. Schlafly argued that the proposed 28th Amendment would eliminate alimony for divorced women, end Social Security for widows, and result in the drafting of women into the military.
1982 was also the year Nicholson joined six women in Springfield, Illinois in a public 37-day fast to show support for the ERA.
“I don’t agree with Phyllis on anything, and I actually know her. I spent the whole summer with Phyllis in 1982,” Nicholson said. “Why did he fail in 1982 when he really asked the question? I can tell you why – because women are the cheapest labor in America. The second reason is that the money that shut down the ERA and funded the American Eagles, which is Phyllis’s group, was the health insurance industry. Women pay more and get less coverage. It’s all to do with money He always does and always will.
Main image: Zoe Nicholson pictured in Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.