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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Flying with the vote on Women's Equality Day!

Today is Women's Equality Day! It honors the passing of the 19th Amendment which gave full voting rights to women. The right to vote did not come willingly to women or to African Americans. On August 26, 1920 women received the right to vote in the United States with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I just found this interesting tidbit about South Carolina. South Carolina did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 49 years later (1969) and certified the vote in 1973! Fortunately the 19th amendment passed when Tennessee was the 36th state to approve it.

African Americas were given the right to earlier, it wasn't until 1965 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that they could vote without paying the poll tax and taking a test to be able to vote.

That is why I was surprised to read that in 2004, 20 million unmarried women did not vote, and 15 million of that 20 were unregistered! Also, only 64% of voting age people actually voted. It was the highest turnout since 1992, when it was 68%!

My dad who took me to register to vote shortly after my 18th birthday in Wedowee, Alabama! Wedowee has not always been a friend to civil rights. I can remember the principal of my cousin's school saying that there will be no inter-racial dating at the prom in 1994. Although no resistance to marked my registering, I still felt chills as I imagined what others had gone through before me just so I could have no fear in simply walking in and registering. It took less than five minutes. I will forever be grateful for those men and women. I am also grateful for my dad for realizing that registering to vote was an important step in a young woman's life. One that would allow her voice to be heard. One that would force her to be counted even in Wedowee, Al. That is why I cannot image not voting.

I know that many people have flown in the face of stiff adversities so that I could have the right to vote. The right, which means that no one is doing me a favor by allowing me to vote. I also understand that with the right comes responsibility. The responsibility to vote in a way that I choose. I promise to take more time examining the candidates than I do in picking out my fantasy football line-up. This is much more important.

This year, take a stand. Register to vote if you haven't. Vote if you have. It is your birthright and it came from the blood of many who have flown high and mighty before us.


Joyce Walker said...

This was sent to me a few days ago.

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers, as they lived only 90 years ago.

It was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women, who made it so, were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.

Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and, knocked her out cold.

Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use--or don't use--my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.

The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history; social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party--remember to vote. History is being made.


doretha said...

Speaking of women and qualitiy, did you anyone see the women on stage last night during the first night of the Democratic National convention? Caroline Kennedy did a wonderful job and what about Michelle Obama? I was impressed with the introduction given by her brother who praised her for the accomplishments she made in HER OWN RIGHT, not as an attachment of her husband.

She did a great job of speaking. She was engaging and she focused mainly on her own story. We all know that she was there to support her husband, but it was nice to hear her story. She is very accomplished. She is an inspiration.

It was nice to hear that some of the anchors on CNN said that she will be a first lady like no other. They were discussing what she actually said and how she said it instead of what she was wearing!