Today, more than 166 million women live in the United States, and roughly 96 percent of them believe that women– who make up slightly over fifty percent of the nationwide population– are equal to men by law. This is untrue. As far back as the year 1848, when the first Women’s Rights Convention was held, there has been a demand for equality. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment– a move that would ensure equality between women and men and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, was introduced.
The amendment was passed forty-six years ago by Congress in 1972. After its passage, Congress handed it over to the states to be ratified–a process that can only occur if three-quarters of the country, or thirty-eight states approve. To date, fifteen states have yet to ratify the amendment, preventing women and women from legally being considered equal in the US. But, that could change in just a couple of weeks since Americans are now only one state shy from benefitting from the ERA. On November 5, 2019, the state of Virginia will serve as the country’s deciding factor.
“If you consider yourself a feminist, you need to put your skin in the game,” said Kamala Lopez, founder of the movement Equal Means Equal, created to educate Americans about the importance of equal rights under federal law for women and complete the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “You must care about this, and you must care about this right now,” Lopez said in an exclusive interview with Women’s eNews.
Lopez, originally from New York City, and her co-director, Natalie White, originally from West Virginia, temporarily moved to Virginia’s 76th district which consists of Suffolk, Norfolk and Chesapeake counties, to encourage every person eligible to vote to go to the polls.c“We’re hustling,” Lopez said
Within just one month of their stay, the pair reached thousands of local residents through daily community organization events. Each day, they hand out roughly five-hundred ice cream cones, gather dozens of people for happy hours and host dinners for voters on Sunday nights.
Members from local church communities and black sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta Inc. have sat with Lopez and White at the table to eat fried chicken, scalloped potatoes and pecan pie to discuss the potential and debunk the myths of the ERA. Their hope is that accurate information about the ERA and its national importance are circulated to as many micro-communities as possible before election day. “There were people who were hugging us and just started crying because we cared so much,” White said. “I was born and raised in Fairmount, WV so I know how things work in small towns like this where it feels like no one cares,” she added.
One woman in particular, who provided catering for the Sunday dinners, had shared that she was a victim of domestic violence, and watched as her two children had to remove knives from their father’s clenched hand. “She would be eavesdropping on our discussions,” Lopez recalled. “As [the caterer] learned more about the ERA and the empowerment it would give her and her family, she began feeling better.” For Lopez and White, hosting these discussions are vital because they believe misinformation is being circulated at this critical time.
For example, a debate between Democratic candidate Jess Foster of the 88th district and her opponent, Mark Cole, was held at the University of Mary Washington. Approximately one-hundred-fifty people were in attendance, but before the political battle commenced on stage Cole, who has served in the House of Delegates since 2002, had circulated a flyer titled “The Truth About the Equal Rights Amendment,” which suggested that the ERA was outdated and a new one should take its place–one that is geared towards the pro-life movement. “People are going to think that Cole is a proponent of the ERA,” Lopez said in response. “One of the things being circulated is that the ERA is an abortion bill,” White added. “We’re asking for equality, nothing more.”
When the ERA was passed in 1972, Congress had set a deadline of seven years–and later ten years–for thirty-eight states to approve the bill. By 1982, the US had thirty-five states on board, but as time progressed the bill became inactive and was replaced by a false notion that an amendment was already in place to protect women from gender-biased discrimination. Article II of the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, declares that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” However, the amendment was written at a time when women were considered second-class citizens with no legal right to vote. “Essentially, they are trying to rewrite the truth so that people won’t see its important and go out to vote,” White said. Lopez added, “But we are putting lives and jobs on hold just to fight for this.”
It’s a fight the pair decided to take on more than a decade ago. In the past few years, their efforts have gained traction. In 2016, White led a 250-mile march between New York City and Washington DC to raise awareness about the ERA. That same year, Equal Means Equal, released a documentary to inform the country about the impact the ERA would have. The film was awarded Best US Documentary Audience Award, Traverse City Film Festival (2016).
Since then, the momentum has been building. In 2017, Nevada ratified the ERA, followed by Illinois the following year in 2018.
Now, with only a few weeks left until voting day in Virginia, Lopez and White are continuing to spread awareness to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote will go to the polls. “We’re hoping that we can drive people to the polls, we’ve got two big vans and if people can’t get there, we will drive them there ourselves,” Lopez said.
“We’re as close to the finish line as never before,” she added. “We will not quit the game until we win the fight.”
Tatyana Turner is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
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As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.