Equal Means Equal: ERA Activist, Director Fights For Equality
It’s simple, right? Equal means equal. Unless it doesn’t.
Kamala Lopez, executive director of Equal Means Equal, a non-partisan initiative to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into law, has launched the Equality Pledge this month in concert with the National Women’s Political Caucus. She is a featured guest on Take The Lead’s Virtual Happy Hour September 12.
The Equality Pledge urges all those in the 13 unratified states to ask the upcoming midterm candidates of all parties to commit to voting yes on the ERA.
“The absence of the ERA is the first in a series of institutional injustices,” says Lopez, whose EME email campaign is aimed at constituents in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
With an October 1 deadline to sign the pledge, EME will publish a list of candidates who have signed and those who have not, in advance of the November midterm elections. Thirty-seven states have ratified the ERA. The Equal Rights Amendment was ratified in Nevada in March 2017 and in Illinois in May 2018. One more state is needed.
“When the 38th state is ratified, the ERA becomes law,” says Lopez, an award-winning actress, screenwriter, director and producer, and president of Heroica Films, which she founded in 1995.
Named one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century in 2012 by Women’s eNews, Lopez has also won the Latino Spirit Award for Achievement in Advocacy and Entertainment, and the 2016 Champion of Justice by Equal Rights Advocates.
The discussion of equality in our culture, workplaces, economy and what we can do about it all is the theme of “Pocketbooks, Policy and Power Tools: 3 Paths to Gender Parity,” this month’s Virtual Happy Hour, the monthly Take The Lead series that changes the narrative about women and leadership from problems to solutions.
Lopez will be a guest on the podcast, along with Johanna Zeilstra, CEO of Gender Fair. The event is co-hosted by Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead, and Reshma Gopaldas, vice president of video programming at SheKnows Media.
At the Virtual Happy Hour, you can hear from Lopez on what you can do to shake up the conversation around women’s equality and the immediate actions you can take to make the ERA a part of the Constitution. She will take on questions about an individual’s influence on public policy.
Both Lopez and Zeilstra are invested in a culture of equality for women and will share insights and strategies on the Virtual Happy Hour. Zeilstra is a global business strategist who has worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and JPMorgan Chase. As CEO of Gender Air, she offers strategies to use your buying power to influence how women are treated in the workplace. Zeilstra has worked with over a dozen client organizations, including Delta Air Lines, Industrial Bank of Japan, Philips, and Bank of America.
Zeilstra launched The Women’s Debate to encourage presidential candidates to focus on issues that specifically pertain to women during the 2016 presidential debates. In 2013, she helped launch Signature Leaders, a leadership development program for female executives of global corporations to increase female representation in the C-Suite. She runs the Women Entrepreneurs Network with more than 200 members and serves on several boards, including the CEO Forum.
“Equal Means Equal” is the 2016 film Lopez directed that examines real-life stories and precedent-setting legal cases, uncovering how outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system. The documentary won the Best U.S. Documentary Audience Award in 2016 at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival.
Born in New York to a Venezuelan-born father and South Indian-born mother, Lopez lived in New York until she was four. Her father, whom she calls “an original Madison Avenue Mad Man” was in the advertising business, and it was when she was 4 that he moved her and her family to Caracas, his home town in Venezuela. She began acting professionally there at 7 years old, and the family moved back to the New York when she was 14.
At Yale University, she studied acting and philosophy, and has a successful entertainment career in film, television and theater, working as an actor in over 30 feature films including “Born in East L.A.,” “Deep Cover,” “The Burning Season” (winner o Emmys, 3 Golden Globes and the Humanitas Prize), “Clear and Present Danger,” “Lightning Jack” and “I Heart Huckabees.”
Starring in more than 60 television shows including “Medium,” “24,” “Alias,” “NYPD Blue,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice,” and “21 Jump Street” (winner of the Imagen Award), Lopez also hosted the PBS series “Wired Science.”
Lopez directed her first film, “A Single Woman” in 2008 about the life of Jeannette Rankin, the first American woman elected to Congress, who was also a suffragist, peace activist and reformer. For the film, Lopez won the 2009 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 2013, her short Spanish-language film “Ese Beso” won the Jury Award at the Senorita Cinema Festival and the Audience Award at the Boyle Heights Latina Film Festival.
It was a showing of her film, “A Single Woman” in 2009 at the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art where by chance Lopez met a woman dressed up as Alice Paul, the suffragette, who would go to public events to call attention to the failure to ratify the ERA.
“I had this idea that people just forgot about the ERA and that it would be fast and easy to rectify this,” Lopez says.
That is why in 2009 Lopez began the ERA Education Project, creating multi-media PSA’s, video FAQ’s, social media campaigns, educational videos and sites, piloting curriculum and traveling around the country speaking to groups as well as students in colleges and high schools. After researching the issues surrounding the ERA, Lopez realized it was way more complicated than a lack of information.
“I am going to help get this ratified, that is my mission,” says Lopez whom the national civil rights group Equal Rights Advocates named a Champion of Justice.
Lopez is concentrating her efforts on making equal rights for women the law in this country. “The only way things happen is if one person picks something they feel is wrong and then they focus on it and be like a dog with a bone,” Lopez says. Interested volunteers can find out what they can to do to help here.
At the September 12 event, Lopez will be in conversation with hosts Feldt and Gopaldas. Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, will offer practical Power Tools to break down unconscious barriers to greater personal and professional success. She will share insights from her latest online course on how we think about power and get the skills you need for that next promotion or the job and life you want to create.
Former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, People Magazine has called Feldt “the voice of experience,” Glamour named her Woman of the Year, Forbes to their 40 over 40 list and Vanity Fair named her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers.”
Joining Feldt as co-host is Gopaldas, who has been creating video content with a focus on women’s rights and health for over 15 years. Her work has been featured on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, ABC, HuffPost, Jezebel, Fox and more. She heads video for SheKnows Media, which includes BlogHer, Stylecaster, Soaps.com, HelloFlo and SheKnows.com.
All four women leaders—Lopez, Zeilstra, Feldt and Gopaldas– will be sharing stories, strategies and insights on making gender equity a reality in the September 12 Virtual Happy Hour. They will discuss how to use the power of your purse to influence business and change organizational cultures; how to use the power of your voice to influence public policy; how to use the power of your intention and how to use your power to lead in your career and your life.
As Lopez says, “If you pick a purpose, your life will be more enjoyable.”
Register here for “Pocketbooks, Policy and Power Tools: 3 Paths to Gender Parity,” Take The Lead’s Virtual Happy Hour September 12, 6:30 p.m.-7:30 pm ET.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com