Ninety-seven years ago this month, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution — also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment — was ratified. Women finally won the vote on Aug 26, 1920, after a highly personal, contentious and nonviolent movement to enfranchise one half of our population. It was an inspiring victory, though incomplete insofar as our sisters of color were still denied the vote in some areas up until the 1960s, or in other areas denied the convenience and safety of some of their “pinker” sisters. And when you think of the women of any color who confronted nonstop cruelty from violent husbands and bosses who wouldn’t allow them out of the house or field, the vote for women gets even smaller. It’s one thing to win rights and quite another to exercise those rights.
Ninety-seven years later, the number of women (and men) who vote is not nearly what it could be. Why would people be bothered to vote when it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether they do or not? Perhaps the three “Rs” will help to get people out. Not the classic “readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic,” but rights, responsibilities and reasons to vote. We must also challenge the other three Rs: resignation, under-representation and right-wing ideology.
Rights: The right to vote didn’t just happen; it came about in phases for women and for men. The first country on the planet where women won the vote was New Zealand. Women in the US won the right to vote starting at the local level, with Wyoming becoming the first state to enfranchise women for statewide voting in 1872. However, even in 2017 women in Saudi Arabia don’t have voting rights, except in some municipal races. Women in Vatican City may never vote if the Catholic Church maintains its gender apartheid regarding the priesthood.
Responsibility: This gets tricky. I believe every citizen has the responsibility to vote, even though I’d like to encourage people I don’t agree with to stay home! I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the main concern I have with women using their vote is that in all too many households, women have far too much responsibility. Voting in the current system requires more than just casting a ballot. The ability to leave work or home duties on a voting day is harder than it should be. Too many women have jobs in or outside the home that don’t allow for paid leave or time to go vote, or don’t have child-care or transportation. These are often the women who have the most to lose by not voting.
The Reason: We need parents with limited options, people who need family planning, people in “out groups” and all sorts of underrepresented people to vote for people who are not currently in elected positions because their constituency did not turn out. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we live in an apartheid-like culture, a Jim and Jane Crow-like society. Of course, apartheid in South Africa was far more violent and dramatic, causing divestment movements on campuses and with countries creating sanctions against the South African regime. We do not (yet) have sufficient moral outrage regarding our own income, racial and gender inequalities that many of us had for South African apartheid.
As a delegate attending two United Nations world conferences, I was often the only voice speaking up for the absentees: people who could not afford to take off work or family time for such conferences. I am not a parent and I was fortunate enough to get financial backing to attend these expensive events. But it was easy to see who was missing, since the majority of the voices were white, wealthy and presumably straight people over 60. Their life concerns, while certainly valid, did not reflect practical day-to-day concerns of regular folks with families. The same is true of Congress. I hope the sight of an exclusively white male committee talking about reproductive rights makes you ill, because it’s unsustainable and not workable for the majority of us! I pray that the current committee gutting voting rights, again comprised of all wealthy white people, motivates you to say, “Where’s that voter registration form?”
We need to declare a Voter Registration holiday and Aug. 26, the anniversary of women’s suffrage in the US, is the perfect day to do that. We also need national election voting days to be declared federal holidays.
Go to the library or the post office and grab a bunch of registration forms and hand them out like dollar bills. Of course, the irony is that the people whose votes we need to get out are the ones with the least amount of time to even read this column, let alone get out and register, then vote.
Let’s rehabilitate hope with another three Rs: Registration, Revolution and Resistance to poop-for-brains guy in the White House with phony orange hair and compulsive tweeting syndrome!
Join our suffrage celebration from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena, 160 N. Oakland Ave. You’ll get to see the short documentary “Inez Milholland: Forward Into Light” and my feature-length documentary “Beauty Bites Beast.” Admission is free. Ample free parking is available behind the club. Enter the parking lot from the west side of Madison Avenue, two driveways south of Walnut Street.
Contact Ellen at snortland.com