Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, the Walk to School, and the Right to Vote

This morning I walked my daughter to school, and her thoughts were all about the election. R would like to see a woman elected president, and I hope that someday she will, but this morning I spoke to her about choosing a candidate not just by gender or race or belief system, but because of that person's qualifications and goals. As I was talking about intelligence and experience, R patted her chest and said "Heart. Someone with a good heart." I had to agree that all the native intelligence and political savvy in the world just doesn't matter if the person is not kind and determined to do the best things to help and care for the people in this country and its neighbors. R liked the idea that the country is made of the people all around us, that she IS this country.

She was also amazed when we got to her school at all the red, white and blue signs posted in the lawn.

"Were these here yesterday!?"

At the time our country was established, voting rights, though not dictated by the Constitution or federal law, were held by white men of property.

Before the Civil War some northern states extended the right to vote to free black men. In 1870 the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right vote for all men.

"Votes for women were first seriously proposed in the United States in July, 1848, at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. One woman who attended that convention was Charlotte Woodward. She was nineteen at the time. In 1920, when women finally won the vote throughout the nation, Charlotte Woodward was the only participant in the 1848 Convention who was still alive to cast her vote. Eighty-one years old, she cast her vote proudly." (by Jone Johnson Lewis)

The women who marched on Washington and worked through education and peaceful demonstration to win the right to vote for themselves and their daughters were often reviled and tortured. A group of these suffragettes, arrested for "obstructing sidewalk traffic", were imprisoned, chained, left hanging in chains from bars overnight, beaten, choked, fed gruel crawling with worms and force fed with tubes shoved down their throats by their jailers when they refused to eat it. All because they wanted the right to cast their vote.

They don't teach us these things in school. The Women's Suffrage Movement and quest for women's rights are glossed over, treated as not so serious as the fight against unfair stamp taxes or the Civil Rights movement, and the torture inflicted on these women completely ignored.

I voted on Thursday, and I'm such a sloppy sentimentalist at times, when I cast my ballot I got a little choked up. Then I walked out of our neighborhood community center and watched a small bent woman make her slow way with her cane and tiny steps to the door to cast her vote. And I thought of both my grandmothers, one who never learned to drive and whose mobility was limited after her husband died, who walked or carpooled to work the elections until she was no longer able, and my grandma who would have been 90 and is missing her first election ever this year, even though, or maybe because, they were born into a world where women were not allowed to vote.

So, moms and teachers, nurses and office workers, women doctors and women CEOs today take that 30 minutes out of your busy schedule, put off the laundry, trip to the grocery store or one last brief to file and go out and claim your hard-purchased right to vote. And if you have to decide between voting and getting your daughter to her dance class or soccer practice, just for today let her skip and take her with you to the polls, let her see you cast your ballot and tell her about the women who went through so much, less than 90 years ago, to insure that you, and that your daughter will be able to vote.


Annette said...

Interesting and great post, thanks for sharing!

Mary Buek said...

Anita, what a good post for election day. Ninety years is not that long in the big scheme of things, is it? Thos suffragettes were tough, as were all the other women who came before us, and we need to make sure that those who come after us appreciate their efforts and continue the hard work.