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It's been a long time coming — the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which gives women equal rights in the U.S. Constitution — and certainly no one expected the Old Dominion to be the deciding state — but this may be the year. And Virginia just may the tipping point for this much contested amendment.

Feminists, get your party hats ready. When the Virginia General Assembly convenes on January 9, it will do so for the 400th time. While most of the decisions made this session only impact the lives of Virginians, one issue will have the nation's focus. During the session, there will be a bipartisan push for Virginia to be the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, solidifying it in the United States' Constitution.

The demand for gender equality in the United States is over a century old. Forces like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns cut their teeth for equal rights in England, where they saw firsthand the animosity that woman's suffragists faced. These freedom fighters would bring that battle to the lawmakers in the United States.

Paul and Burns were founders of the National Woman's Party, which lobbied for and helped earn the right to vote for women in 1920. But, the right to vote did not mean that women were treated as equals, and Paul understood that. The National Woman's Party no longer lobbies in Congress and converted to an educational nonprofit in 1997. If you go to its website and look at the page for their newest exhibit called Standing Together, you will see this quote from Alice Paul, "It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won."

"It really began to resonate"
By Nefari Steele

The Equal Right Amendment Bus Tour arrived at Virginia State University the evening of November 12th, igniting a fire under me to be more proactive than ever before.

As I sat down in the basement of Foster Hall, I was introduced to a 101-year-old veteran who was asked to speak as an ally to the ERA Bus Tour and the work being done to ratify the amendment. He spoke of the plights of his sisters and of other African American women over the years, who had faced adversity for desiring equality. He had borne witness to over a century of disservice.

It was in that moment that it really began to resonate, that even 100 years after the Women's Suffrage Movement and 50 years after the end of the civil rights movement, that the rights of minority women were still being dangled over our heads like something optional, rather than owed.

The legislators soon arrived, and Delegate Carroll Foy spoke on her personal experience with facing gender discrimination and the hurdles she had to leap in order to obtain the position she has acquired today.

Seeing these women like Senator Dance, Senator McClellan, Delegate Foy, and Delegate Aird speak of these injustices they too have faced, even now in office, speaks volumes to the type of experiences that the broader spectrum of black and brown women endure every day. You could feel the stoic energy in the room as they discussed these matters. Too many of us had gone through similar instances of being hushed in wake of our oppression.

The event further compelled me to take the reins on the matter locally, raising awareness to my peers and the surrounding community. Many students are not even aware of the potential affect this amendment could have on our careers and various other aspects of our personal lives. If Virginia gets on board as the 38th state to support the ratification in the next session, they will be on the "right side of history" for once. All we need is the work of a union of "many dedicated women and a few good men".

Nefari Steele is a student at Virginia State University.

Alice Paul understood that the fight for equality was not over and drafted the Equal Rights Amendment with another suffragist named Crystal Eastman, in 1922. The amendment was introduced to congress in 1923. It would be reintroduced every year until it was ratified by Congress in 1972. But it was ratified with a stipulation that it needs to be passed within seven years. During that period, only 35 of the necessary 38 states ratified. The deadline was extended until June of 1982. With no states passing the amendment during that extension, the amendment was thought dead. Kelsey Millay, the Interpretation and Digital Media Manager for the National Woman's Party, in Washington D.C. says passing amendments with a time limit is unusual and may have been moot.

For example, the Madison Amendment was not fully ratified until 202 years after it was first introduced. The amendment ensured that any raise or decrease in pay for congress will not take effect until the next term of office starts. Three-fourths of the states did not ratify the amendment and it fell by the wayside until 1982, when a political science student at the University of Texas-Austin, named George Watson, wrote a paper stating that the amendment was not passed with a time limit and was still eligible to be ratified.

After receiving a grade of "C," on the paper, Watson would retaliate by fervently writing lawmakers around the country at the state-level, and in 1992, Michigan became the 38th state to pass, ratifying the amendment.

The passing of the 27th amendment would be one of the core arguments for another college paper, written in 1997 by graduates at the T.C. Williams School of Law in Richmond, Virginia. The paper argued that the Equal Rights Amendment was still legally viable before the states for ratification.

"The time limit is not legally enforceable," said Sheryl Herndon, an attorney in Midlothian, Virginia, and one of coauthors of the paper. "The time limit, I believe, is in the proposing clause."

The time limit was not on the body of the amendment, so the time limit was extraneous or suggesting language.

"I think if the time limit had been in the body, that that would be binding. You can't change the text of the amendment without going through legislative channels," said Herndon.

DeForrest Ballou is a student editor attending VCU.