ALL EYES ON THE PRIZE. ONE STATE TO 38.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL’s Successful on the Ground Strategy in Virginia Secured the 38th State with the #iScream4Equality Campaign
Between August and November of 2019, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL embarked upon an extensive campaign to organize and raise awareness of the need to pass the ERA in Virginia.
Knowing that Virginia could be (and ultimately became) the 38th state to ratify the Amendment, #iScream4Equality stands out as one of EQUAL MEANS EQUAL’s most successful campaigns.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL had spent four years on the ground in Virginia, to no avail. Efforts to advance a ratification bill were blocked by lawmakers who refused to allow the ERA out of committee and put the Amendment onto the floor for a vote, despite clear support from a majority of Virginians. EME knew that in order to ratify the Federal ERA, we would need to flip the State of Virginia in order to get a “yes” vote in their State houses.
On August 3, 2019, EME made the following announcement:
Virginia is ground zero for the ERA. It’s as simple as that. We simply must change the Leadership in the House of Delegates in Virginia this November in order to ensure a full vote on ERA in January of 2020. We can do this! We must do this. We WILL do this. EQUAL MEANS EQUAL and VARatifyERA have an exciting plan to do it – and it involves ice cream…!
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL is proud to announce our partnership with VARatifyERA in the #iScream4Equality campaign. We will launch with a press conference in Richmond, VA on August 26th and will be working to turn out the equality vote in key districts around the state through November 5th.
Without a change in leadership in the Virginia House of Delegates this November 5th, 2019, chances for a full vote on ERA in 2020 are slim to nil. But with a mere 3 or 4 seat flip, success for the ERA in Virginia’s next legislative session is practically assured.
Beginning on September 1st EQUAL MEANS EQUAL launched the #iScream4Equality Campaign and Ice Cream Tour across the state. We rented and wrapped a van that would subsequently travel the state giving out 500 free ice creams per day plus educational materials around the Equal Rights Amendment and Virginia’s special role in its passage.
We invited all our members to volunteer to take a trip to Virginia at some point between August 26th and November 5th to help in our efforts to get out the vote. We offered them a free place to stay and provided them with all the materials they would need to educate and inform the population.
Northern Virginia Magazine said: “One more state: Equal Means Equal is taking over Virginia in the name of the Equal Rights Amendment (click to read full article By Jennifer Zeleski).
Two things can surely make a portion of the United States population happy: free rent and ice cream. Add in advocacy for equal rights and, for some, you’ve got a plan. At least, Kamala Lopez does.
“Who doesn’t love ice cream?” she says with a laugh. The actress, filmmaker, activist and founder of the EQUAL MEANS EQUAL organization, kicked off the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, #IScream4Equality, in Virginia on Aug. 26.
But it’s about much more than everyone’s favorite summer dessert. “It’s unknown to people that the fate of the Equal Rights Amendment lies on Virginia,” says Lopez. “That’s why we’re coming in to talk to people, wherever they will listen, and let them know that this is in play for the country.”
Virginia is one of the 15 remaining states that has yet to approve the ERA. Could it be the one in 2019? It should be, says Lopez, but people have to vote to make it happen.
“We’re not in the business of telling people who to vote for,” says Lopez. “We just want people to vote, and we’re simply telling them that the fate of the ERA is in the hands of Virginia this November.”
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL subsequently rented a house in Suffolk County, Virginia, straddling two important Virginia districts (76 & 91). District 76 was represented by Delegate Chris Jones, described by The Virginian-Pilot as “…one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state.” Jones’ district became a focus of EME’s campaign due to several factors. His stature in the Virginia House of Delegates (as illustrated through his position as the House of Delegates Appropriations Chairman), and his opposition to the ERA (voting with the majority of his caucus to oppose a floorwide vote on the ERA in February 2019) were two reasons EME focused on District 76. In addition, Jones was the chief architect of a racially gerrymandered legislative map that weakened the clout of black voters in violation of the U.S. Constitution. This map was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. For these reasons, flipping District 76 became a priority for EME’s campaign.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL did the following:
1. EME reached out to the African-American community in Virginia, partnering with organizationsand holding events seeking to restore trust in voting. One of these successful events was at Hampton University, a historically-Black private research university.
2. EME was also determined to make certain that Virginians understood that women’s equality on the basis of sex was on the ballot that November.
“We will not stop, we will not quit, we will not be quiet until every
American has the federal legal right to equality regardless of sex.”
Throughout the months before the election, with at least six volunteers per day to meet and educate the public, we tirelessly hit the road throughout the Old Dominion making the importance of the upcoming election understood.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL made our presence felt at events including football games, parades, college campuses, beaches, barbershops, laundromats and Walmart parking lots as well as canvassing, door knocking and educating the public on ERA and the upcoming local state elections through radio, newspapers, social media and advertisements. The EME House became a central meeting place where we hosted weekly Sunday dinners, Tuesday Post-carding and texting events and held screenings of Legalize Equality to educate Virginians on the urgency of their state elections in the context of the nation.
During the iScream4Equality campaign EQUAL MEANS EQUAL:
- Canvassed Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hampton Roads throughout September and October, handing out over 30,000 flyers, 10,000 buttons, 8,000 coasters.
- Put signs in the windows of 700 businesses and dorm rooms across the state.
- Hosted weekly Sunday dinners for stakeholders including: Black Votes Matter, Delta Sorority, American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters, Unitarian Church, The Pan Hellenic Council (representing the top 9 African American Sororities/Fraternities: “the Divine 9”)
- Hosted Tuesday Night Fellowship & Post-carding events each week; eventually sending out over 14,000 postcards and thousands of text messages statewide.
- Held a daily social media post countdown, the EME Equality Challenge to engage Virginian youth.
- Developed strong ties at top HBCU (Historically Black College or University) Hampton University with Dr. Jarris Louis Taylor, Director of the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute and Dr. M Elgersman Lee, professor of American History, where we presented and discussed the film Legalize Equality with their students on several occasions and were covered by the local television news.
- Attended and did educational outreach at the Outlaw Festival, the 5K Run for Ovarian Cancer, Friday Night high school football games, the Suffolk Peanut Parade, and Williamsburg Indivisible events.
- Volunteered at the Black Voters Matter Trap the Vote concert at the Norfolk Scope Arena to outreach and educate on the ERA.
- Distributed meals to the homeless in Suffolk and Norfolk.
- Helped with voter registration in marginalized communities.
Marie Albiges, State politics reporter for The Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot wrote:
“You never know who you’ll see at an EME party and at today’s dinner we were thrilled to be joined by a very special guest, Nathan Richardson. Nathan does one of the country’s best portrayals of Frederick Douglass and can be found in character around Virginia and frequently up at Seneca Falls, NY.
Today Nathan was with us as a local Suffolk native, not in costume, but still very much concerned about women’s equality (as was Frederick Douglass). His presence and insight was a highlight of the day.
Next Sunday there will be a dinner to honor local Panhellenic Councils from neighboring cities/towns.”
As our efforts intensified and spread throughout the state, there started to be strong pushback from the political establishment who were getting concerned that they might actually be ousted from public office, a prospect that they had heretofore not considered.
Republican Delegate Mark Cole (88th District), who was one of the main opponents of ERA along with Kirk Cox and Chris Jones (76th District) appeared before a crowd of about 150 people on the University of Mary Washington campus and misrepresented the facts surrounding the ERA, circulating a flyer titled “The Truth about the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification,” which was handed out after the candidates were positioned to begin the debate, so Democratic candidate Jess Foster was unable to read it or respond to the misinformation contained therein. She later responded, in part:
“The ERA Resolution that passed the Senate this year by a vote of 26 to 14 (with 7 Republicans supporting it) was sent to the House’s Privileges and Elections Committee for consideration. Ratification of a Constitutional Amendment requires the approval of the entire state legislature, not of just one chamber. Much like every year before, the ERA died in a 7:00 a.m. committee meeting that was placed on the calendar with less than 24 hours’ notice to the public. The scheduling was intentional and the fate of the resolution was predetermined by the GOP. Nonetheless, ERA advocates were able to organize and attend the committee meeting, including Foster, but they were not allowed to speak. The resolution failed to pass because the following Delegates voted to kill the Resolution: Ransone, Ingram, Fowler, and McGuire – all Republicans. Whatever their excuse, they made the decision to prevent the ERA Resolution from going to the full House for a vote. They bypassed the will of Virginians, who overwhelmingly support the ERA. All subsequent motions to revive the ERA died on party lines.
Cole’s position with respect to the ERA is, at best, misinformed, and at worst, intentionally misleading. Despite having the legal and factual information, he chooses to disregard scholarly articles that refer to actual cases and real law.
Furthermore, Cole expresses a number of concerns regarding unintended consequences like separate bathrooms and showers. Virginia’s Constitution has its own Equal Rights Amendment and none of these unintended consequences have come to bear. A white paper with no sources can hardly be trusted.
Why has the Virginia GOP made the ERA such a huge partisan issue? Most Virginians favor gender equality. Lawmakers across the country support the amendment, Democrats and Republicans alike. What’s the holdup, Virginia? Foster feels that if Cole truly believed in equality, “he would not be making up lies and excuses to avoid ratification of the ERA.” Foster is committed to equality across the board and hopes to unseat the anti-equality incumbent on November 5, 2019.”
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL pushed back even harder, focusing on Chris Jones, the twenty-one year incumbent in Suffolk. Jones was the second most powerful Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, fighting with four times the financial ammunition as the pro-ERA candidate, Clint Jenkins, an African American man, who was the first candidate to run against him. Suffolk becomes unlikely ground zero for ERA ratification.
“Lopez, a director, actress and activist from Los Angeles, and White, an artist and activist from New York, have spent the past two months in Suffolk — population 91,000 — stopping by laundromats, attending the local peanut festival and sitting in the stands at high school football games, hoping to pass along one message: On Tuesday, vote for Virginia candidates who support ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Lopez and White… set up shop in Suffolk, which is in the middle of a district whose representative has blocked the opportunity to ratify the ERA multiple times and now finds himself in a competitive race for the first time in years. A newly competitive district… Del. Chris Jones, 61, is one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state. A Republican, he’s represented the 76th House District that spans Suffolk for decades, first serving on Suffolk City Council in the 1990s.
For the first time in 14 years, he’s found himself facing a challenger after the district was redrawn, adding a few thousand new — mostly African American — voters.
Jones sits on the House Privileges and Elections committee, where the resolution to ratify the ERA died year after year, usually in a subcommittee meeting on a party-line vote. It passed in the Senate with bipartisan support.
Democrats have vowed to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA next year if they gain control of the General Assembly. They need to win two seats in the House and two in the Senate on Tuesday to become the majority party. “There is nothing radical about simple equality,” White said in an interview at the Suffolk Airbnb on Wednesday, reciting the 24 words she wants added to the constitution: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The iScream4Equality Campaign ended in the historic election of November 2019 where the Democratic Party won majorities in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, giving them control of both houses and the governor’s mansion in Virginia for the first time since 1994.
Northern Virginian Magazine, One more state: Equal Means Equal is taking over Virginia in the name of the Equal Rights Amendment:
Virginian Pilot, Suffolk becomes unlikely ground zero for ERA ratification:
Whitewall Magazine, Equal Means Equal: Kamala Lopez’s Decade-Long Method Strengthens with Art:
Natalie White’s Women’s Equality Day Speech August 26th, 2019 launching iScream4Equality:
Video of EME outreach with Black Voters Matter, September 26, 2019:
iScream4Equality Truck Visits Hampton University 13 News Now, October 10, 2019,:
Student Created Media from Legalize Equality Screening & Discussion at the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute, October 19, 2019:
Kamala Lopez speaks at the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute
Candidate Sheila Bynum-Coleman speaks at Suffrage Centennial Celebration
EME President Kamala Lopez speaks at Suffrage Centennial Celebration