Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport
By Lynn Branigan
I hope Marian Wright Edelman (civil rights activist, and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund), will forgive me for using her quote as my headline this month. Her words greatly inspire me as the November 8 mid-term election approaches.
I’m not going to use this space or my voice to suggest how you should vote. That decision is yours, and it is personal. But I will use whatever influence I might have to encourage you to vote. As I see it, voting is a right and a responsibility. Allow me to quote another icon, the late John Lewis, who said “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”
You can vote now if you are so inclined. Either by mail or in person. Our partners at #votingmaven reminded us that this past Friday (10/28), was national Vote Early Day, a nonpartisan movement of media companies, businesses, nonprofits, election administrators, and artists working to ensure all Americans have the tools to vote early. It was founded by MTV during the pandemic to help every voter know how, where, and when they can vote early.
There are early voting tools that will help you find your polling place. Check out www.votingmaven.org, www.voteearlyday.org/state-rules and www.gettothepolls.org for voting locations and guidelines. These sites will also help you find out where to vote if you choose to vote on election day.
As the CEO of an organization that exists to pave the way for more women to lead, the right to vote is profoundly important. Women were denied the right to vote in the US until 1920, when the persistent efforts of the women’s suffrage movement finally resulted in the 19th Amendment. Of course, the 19th Amendment did not guarantee any woman the vote. Women – especially women of color – would continue to face a maze of state laws—based on age, citizenship, residency, mental competence, and more—that systematically prevented us from voting.
Historians will confirm that while many Black women in the north were able, with the 19th Amendment, to cast their vote, much of the country practiced suppression tactics like literacy tests, poll taxes, voter ID requirements, and intimidation to block Black voters. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that Black women’s right to vote was truly protected by law.
It wasn’t until 1929 that “literate” Latinx women were allowed to vote. However, literacy tests remained an effective means of keeping some Hispanic and other women of color from voting long after the federal amendment was passed. It took a 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act to expand voting access to women who primarily speak languages other than English.
Native-born Asian Americans already had U.S. citizenship in 1920, but first-generation Asian Americans did not, so were excluded from voting until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allowed them to gain citizenship – more than three decades after the 19th Amendment.
For Native American women, it wasn’t until the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924 that American-born Native women were able to gain citizenship. However, as recently as 1962, individual states still prevented them from voting on contrived grounds, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and claims that residence on a reservation prohibited residency.
When I think about the courageous women (and male) warriors who fought for our right to go to the polls or complete an early ballot to cast a vote, I am in absolute awe. I’ll close with the words of Susan B. Anthony: Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”