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One more state: Equal Means Equal is taking over Virginia in the name of the Equal Rights Amendment

The organization, led by actress and activist Kamala Lopez, is offering free ice cream to college students and the chance to stay in a Virginia home for up to two months, free of charge.

Equal Means Equal founder Kamala Lopez is leading a statewide initiative in Virginia for the potential passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Photo courtesy of Equal Means Equal)

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.”

Equal Means Equal is set to take its ice cream truck, fit with informative and educational volunteers, around to every college campus across the state prior to Election Day on Nov. 5, to inform voters about the state of the ERA in 2019.

In 2017 and 2018, Lopez led voting campaigns in several states across the country, with her efforts leading Nevada and Illinois to become the first states in nearly 50 years to approve the amendment on a state level. This made way for the opportunity of one more state (making 38 in total) to force the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and include an equal rights amendment for the first time in United States history.

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.

To learn more about the Equal Rights Amendment’s fate in Virginia prior to the 2019 election season, read Jesse Rifkin’s in-depth story from our September 2019 issue.

“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.”

So why not give out free ice cream to everyone, everywhere? College students are the campaign’s target audience, says Lopez, thanks to one of the organization’s biggest challenge: apathy.

“After I first found out that [women] did not have equal rights in this country and I started speaking up about it, I would go and speak at colleges around the country and students would say, ‘That was dealt with in the ’70s, so we’re all good.’ But that’s not right,” says Lopez. “If they don’t know about the reality of [the ERA], then how will they know they need to do something about it?”

The truck has stops planned for Virginia State University, Shenandoah University and the University of Virginia, just to name a few. But aside from college campus visits, Lopez and her team are also renting a house in Suffolk, Virginia, to conquer two of Virginia’s districts: 76 and 91, currently represented by republicans Chris Jones and Gordon Helsel, respectively.

The home will act as a temporary headquarters for the team and is offering a free stay to volunteers willing to help with the organization’s local efforts.

“Virginia Equality Warriors,” as the team is calling them, can stay in one of the home’s six beds or two couches for up to two months until Nov. 5, as long as they agree to knock on doors, canvas districts and educate Virginia residents about the ERA.

Lopez can’t promise that it will be easy, but she does believe it will be a fun and informative opportunity for people to engage in important discussions about equal rights.

“I am a little scared too,” says Lopez, when asked about being in a home that is open to volunteers, and making Equal Means Equal’s local presence and activism known. “Especially with what happened in Charlottesville [in August 2017], and as a woman of color. But I am more concerned with what we’ll face out there. I am totally comfortable with debate, I just want to avoid the extremely uncomfortable bullying and intimidation we might face.”

Lopez has been working to coordinate statewide efforts with Kati Hornung, campaign manager for VAratifyERA, and says she has a great deal of respect for all of the effort Horning has already put in. Lopez just wants to see results come November, and make even more voters aware of the ERA’s continuous uphill battle.

“[Women] were deliberately left out of the Constitution,” says Lopez. “It wasn’t an oversight. And now we have to fight because the Constitution is the foundation of America, and half of our nation has been deliberately excluded. Just give us equal rights. That’s all we want. It’s very basic and simple.”

Interested volunteers can sign up for the ice cream truck or to stay at the Equal Means Equal Suffolk home through the website.

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