On August 18, it will have been a century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
While this definitely will not be the last time I talk about this huge moment in American history, there is an important correlation to recent events worth noting.
People often credit the lawmakers and President Woodrow Wilson with this huge feat of “giving” women the right to vote, but in fact women were not given the right to vote.
They fought long and hard.
By protesting, lobbying and even getting arrested to bring attention to the injustice occurring in the United States of America. The America that boosted democracy and freedom and yet still excluded roughly 50% of its voting population from partaking in any aspect of the political decision-making process.
For example, in 1917 activist Alice Paul was sentenced to jail for seven months after protesting for the right to vote. There, she organized a hunger strike in protest. In response doctors threatened to send Paul to an insane asylum and force-fed her raw eggs through a tube. Her resistance caused the newspapers to account her treatment and as a result garnered public sympathy and support for suffrage.
Women were not gifted the right to vote, they fought tooth and nail.
Even after August 1920, women did not vote in large numbers. It was easy to blame them for a deficiency of civic spirit, and many people did. But there were structural forces at work. For example, local election officials often regarded the influx of new voters as a burden and imposed poll taxes and literacy tests. Black women, in particular, faced obstacles that made voting risky and difficult, if not impossible.
I think this is important to remember when looking at the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protests force change in our democracy; they have been proven effective, like in the suffrage movement.
So I encourage you to pay attention to what is happening with the current public discourse around Black Lives Matter. Because these discussions today will eventually affect policy tomorrow.
Many people thought the women’s vote protests were silly and unnecessary, but can you imagine a society without equal voting rights today? (Some argue we aren't even quite there yet, but that's an article for another day.)
This movement is vital and important. But the work doesn’t stop here. Get educated and stay involved.
Because if you are in support of the brutal force being taken on protesters, or are anything else than outraged that Breonna Taylor’s murderers have yet to be arrested, history will not be kind to you.
Kaylee Sheppard is a graduate student in the Accelerated Master in Public Policy program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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