By Naomi Randolph
Do you remember the first time you voted? I do! I was 18 years old and it was a presidential election. I was absolutely ecstatic and filled with anticipation and civic pride. You see, my community had stressed the importance of civic engagement my entire life. Voting was not only a civic responsibility, it was also a rite of passage. I now had the opportunity to engage in deeper discussions at the dinner table and my opinions about current affairs suddenly became more valuable, because I had earned a place at the table of civic accountability. My 18-year-old self was in awe of the power that voting would give me in this new world of adulthood. However, in all of that wonder I did not consider the level of sacrifice – both personal and collective – that had been expended, so this idealistic 18-year-old African American woman could cast her vote, offer her opinion, and help shape the trajectory of the country’s political future.
Tomorrow as a nation we are recognizing and celebrating Women’s Equality Day. Before you brush past this date on your calendar, this day commemorates the passage of the 19 th amendment to the United States Constitution which “granted” the right to vote to women.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on the account of sex.”
These 27 words were a result of generations of struggle by women and some men to bring a “more perfect union “into being. Prior to 1920 most of citizens of the United States were marginalized, unable to actively impact their own political destiny. In August of 1920 all of that changed- for some women. Unfortunately, women of color and first nation’s women still faced “outsider” status in the electoral processes. .
The 19th amendment passed in 1920 but the work of coalition-building and struggle to make it a reality began decades prior. The amendment came to be because of people who were willing to fight for something that they would never personally benefit from.
Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815- 1902) Stanton was a premier leader in the suffrage movement. She along with others organized the Seneca Falls Convention and penned the Declaration of Sentiments. Stanton along with Susan B. Anthony also archived the Suffrage movement for future generations.
Women like Maria Stewart (1803-1879) Stewart was an African American abolitionist and feminist. Stewart is credited with being the first African American woman to speak publicly in defense of women’s rights. Stewart implored women to break free from stifling gender definitions and reach their fullest potential
And then there were the men, like William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Redmond, and Frederick Douglass, all abolitionist and supporters of the suffrage movement. Garrison and Redmond refused to be seated as delegates at the World Anti- Slavery Convention in London when they realized that the female members of the delegation had been excluded because of their gender. Frederick Douglass used his renowned newspaper the North Star to publicize the Seneca Falls Convention and attached the slogan “Right is on no Sex” to the papers identity.
The suffrage foremothers and forefathers laid the foundation for the 19th h Amendment. In 1971 Congress passed a joint resolution designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day. A portion of the the proclamation reads thusly “whereas, the women of the United States have been treated as second class citizens…whereas the women of the United States have united to assure that the rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex…whereas the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the certification of the 19th amendment, as a symbol of the continued fight for equal rights. This final portion of the proclamation resonates with me most in this season. The amendment was just the beginning. When we examine our current political landscape there is much to celebrate. The men and women who assembled at Seneca Falls could not have imagined the rise of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Senator Elizabeth Dole, Congresswoman Eva Clayton,Governor Beverly Perdue or Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. They could have only hoped that their diligent efforts would create a society where the words “We the people of the United States in order form a more perfect union truly included all the people.
As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day and exalt the success of the suffrage movement we must also cast an analytical eye at the current standards of equality in all areas of society. Equality must be achieved in our workplaces, political institutions, academic institutions and places of worship.
Yes, I will celebrate today while I simultaneously stand in solidarity with those that still find themselves outside the margins of equity and justice. I believe our union is made more perfect when we afford all of our citizens the space to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Happy Women’s Equality Day!
The unfinished business for women’s equality is, of course, putting the Equal Rights Amendment into the US Constitution. Join the ERA-NC Alliance; see http://www.era-nc.org for information.