On August 19th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified as part of the U.S. constitution, allowing women the right to vote for the first time. It reads, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
The women who championed this amendment, known was “Suffragettes,” walked a treacherous and violent path, filled with torture and death. The term originally was defined as “a woman who ought to have more sense.” Later it came to take on a positive meaning associated with action, disruption and the demand to be heard, no matter the consequences. And there were heavy consequences. A woman who fought for equal voting rights were dubbed “fanatics” and were humiliated in unflattering postcards, cartoons and other forms of propaganda as male bystanders threw stones and rotten eggs at them while they marched. Women were pushed to the ground, groped, punched in the face, imprisoned, sexually assaulted and force fed with rubber tubes stuffed down their throats when they went on hunger strikes. They were bloodied and bullied which led to illness and even death and still, they continued to fight for their rights. For our rights.
These intrepid women of all classes and races sacrificed their dignity, their jobs, their marriages, lost their children and in some cases, their lives. And still, they kept moving forward with one-pointed focus. The American “Suffragette” movement started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a mother of four, and Quaker abolitionist, Loretta Mott. Emmeline Pankhurst, another leader of the movement, said, “The condition of our sex is so deplorable, (that word sounds familiar), it is our duty to break the law in order to call attention to the reasons why we do.” It’s important to note that African American males won the right to vote in 1870 while Black women were forced to wait almost five decades after the 19th amendment was passed before they could safely go to the polls. And often not so safely.
Let’s remember the names of these courageous advocates. Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Parkhurst, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Loretta Mott, Alice Paul, Lucy Stone, Ida B. Wells, Frances Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Hallie Quinn Brown and so many others. When we mark our ballots in November, 2020, we stand on the shoulders of these women whose lives were shattered as they fought to be recognized and counted. They did it for themselves and they did it for us.
With this in mind, I can’t fathom how any woman in the United States or any other country would not go the polls to cast her vote and declare her rights in this society. To honor her sisters who fought so hard to be recognized as whole and viable human beings. When my mother was 94, she stood in line with her walker to vote for Barack Obama. With a nod to her, I cast my vote with pride and appreciation for every election, large or small, and especially this one.
If you are a woman and you think your vote will count and make a difference, go and vote. If you think your vote won’t count, go and vote anyway to honor your ancestors who made it possible for you to show up at the polls. If you’re a man, go and vote to preserve and support our democracy and to support women everywhere. Action will save us. Complacency will kill us.
There is no valid excuse not to vote. We need to vote because we can have a say in our democracy. We need to vote because it’s a weapon we can wield without hurting ourselves or anyone else. Above all else, we need to vote because we can, and that in itself is a good enough reason.