Campaign Wants to Close Gender Gap on Currency

Could a woman such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Rosa Parks grace the $20 bill?

Rosa Parks. Eleanor Roosevelt. Shirley Chisholm. These are just some of the 15 candidates put forward by "Women on 20s," a grassroots campaign seeking to have a notable woman grace the $20 bill. But just how likely is it that the ongoing viral campaign would impact the face of U.S. currency? According to analysts, the question isn't if, but when, the change will happen.

Founders Barbara Ortiz Howard and Susan Ades Stone launched the campaign website on Valentine's Day, highlighting a potential nominee each day until March 1 when the site's visitors were prompted to vote for their top three picks to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. On Monday, the site whittled the nominees down to the four finalists—Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Wilma Mankiller—and a second vote will take place. The site has garnered nearly 256,000 votes so far and even motivated celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Padma Lakshmi to lend their name to the cause. "Women are absent in our daily culture," said Ortiz Howard. "There is no bigger gender gap than the gap on our currency. By trying to close that gap maybe we can help close the gap with some others. We're hoping to stimulate the consciousness of people to step up in every area."

As for why the campaign targets $20, Ortiz Howard explained that Jackson's position is somewhat ironic as he allegedly hated paper money and opposed the central banking system. She noted that Jackson was also responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and his face on the currency is a grim reminder of that. Beyond that, featuring a woman on a piece of currency that people actually use is essential. Ortiz Howard recognizes that Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea have been featured on dollar coins but says it was unfortunate that the coins looked like quarters (they aren't used much). The year 2020 also marks the national centennial for women's right to vote.

The Secretary of the Treasury—currently Jack Lew—is responsible for currency design. The primary purpose of redesigning currency is to stay ahead of counterfeiting, according to a Treasury spokeswoman who declined to comment on the campaign. The Treasury, however, is working on modernizing our money and a redesign of the $10 bill.

Even without the explicit consent of the Treasury or the president, analysts believe the campaign has legs. "To some extent it's a matter of how long this campaign lives in social media," said Allen Adamson, North American chairman at brand consulting firm Landor Associates.

Brian Hardwick, messaging and activation lead at Enso, agreed. "Seizing this momentum with a grassroots movement will be a very effective way to get our leader's attention," he said. "This is what citizen lobbying looks like today, and without a doubt politicians will respond to real cultural pressure."

Amanda Hughes-Watkins, creative director at Kettle, has her doubts. "To get a bill signed to change currency is not as simple as some Kickstarter campaign," she noted. "This does a lot to raise awareness, to get people motivated to do whatever comes next to make this happen. But there probably needs to be additional elements."

Hughes-Watkins suggests the campaign founders organize a march or some other effort that would move the campaign offline.

In the end, though, Adamson noted that the decision to change the face of the $20 bill is inherently political. "It would be easy for President Obama to do it on his way out because he's not running for anything," he said. "It's certainly something that would be easier for a male president to do."

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