The long list of calls settled itself into the monotone of routine. “Hi, my name is Erik, and I’m calling for Jim Scheibel, your DFL candidate for Mayor of Saint Paul.” The 1989 election was going to be close, so Get Out The Vote (GOTV) calling to loyal Democrats was important. But just as I let the script propel my calls with their own momentum the soft gravely tone on the other end split the evening open.
“Oh, dear, you don’t have to remind me to vote. I’ve been voting ever since they let us.”
We’ve been “letting” women vote for 97 years, ever since Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment on August 26th, 1920 by just one vote. The anniversary of this landmark event, “Women’s Equality Day”, is a good time to reflect on how young and precarious this precious foundation of democracy is for half the population.
Voting is the basic, fundamental right that defines our nation. There is currently a debate as to whether voter fraud is rampant enough to require restrictions and IDs which make it more difficult or if that is inherently unconstitutional. It’s a tricky subject because there is no more basic foundation to our democratic republic.
It may seem surprising that less than a century ago fully half of the population was not allowed to exercise this basic right. The anniversary is worth noting every year, especially as we head into the centennial.
No one has specifically targeted women’s voting yet, so on this anniversary we are safe celebrating a victory that still remains unchallenged. But the principle of voting as a universal right of every citizen is very much under assault, and this is as good of a day to remember it as any. Voting has not always been viewed as a fundamental right for all persons, not by any possible read of history.
While Alice Paul stands out as the crusader that finally won the right to vote, beautifully documented in the movie “Iron Jawed Angels“. If you want to celebrate Women’s Equality Day, inviting friends over to view this movie is not a bad way to do it. Make popcorn. But the path to equality was long and hard, consuming the lives of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and even Frederick Douglass, to name a few crusaders who did not reach the promised land. The trail starts at the very beginning of our nation with the first attempts to legalize feminine ownership of property, with Abigail Adams.
The Founding Fathers didn’t listen to her, sadly.
Women’s rights was lost among many other issues that were hashed out through years of bickering and finally building consensus through compromise. The founders of the nation were able to anticipate many things that defined the great experiment that they were creating – and for many years it was viewed as an experiment. The national anthem, written under British assault in the War of 1812, contains many questions that reflect the nature of the insecurity of freedom long after our independence. “Does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Today we stand just one state short of finally verifying the Equal Rights Amendment. There are some issues related to the deadline that was put on it, but many think this is just a technicality. It may, finally, be time for it in the wake of the MeToo movement and the arrival of a new generation. It is a good amendment in that it is short and very to the point:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Will this pass yet? It may indeed. But it’s taken us a tremendously long time to get to this point. It would be wonderful to see the ERA come in time for the celebration of the first century of Women’s Suffrage. We can hope.