Today is Women’s Equality Day, which was designated in 1971 to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1912, giving some women the right to vote. The amendment was introduced in Congress all the way back in 1878, which means it took more than 30 years to convince male legislators that women were capable of voting. That’s absurd, right? But that timespan only serves as a good reminder that we should celebrate Women’s Equality Day wholeheartedly every time is comes around, just to show how important our right to vote is to us.
Remember, only SOME women got the right to vote in 1912.
Black women and men were still barred, in the sneakiest ways possible, from voting, sort of like how anti-choice advocates use TRAP laws to surreptitiously outlaw abortion. For example, in order to vote, people were forced to pay a special tax or pass a literacy test, which was pretty much impossible for many in the black community, given that they were banned from schools and higher-paying jobs. In 1926, a group of women were actually beaten at a polling place in Alabama while simply registering to vote.
Native Americans, of all people, were barred citizenship until 1924, but even after that many couldn’t vote because states still controlled voting laws. Asians, of any descent, weren’t granted the right to apply for citizenship until 1952. Filipino men, for example, had to serve for three years in the military in order to earn the right to vote up until then, which means the women were definitely out of luck. Violence and intimidation at polling places were also common all over the country.
So the celebration of the 19th Amendment is important, but it’s even more important to remember that the country has a long history of marginalizing groups of people based on race and gender when it comes to voting. Even today, for example, Donald Trump and many Republican lawmakers support voter ID laws, which work to prevent people of color and poor people from voting. Gerrymandering, which is the practice of mapping out voting districts, often takes voting power away from black communities, even if they do get into a polling place.
To say the least, this holiday is a complicated one. But there are ways to celebrate Women’s Equality Day to make sure peoples’ right to vote and voting power is never compromised again.
1Register to vote.
If you’re not registered to vote, do that now. If you are registered, post a link to your local voting registration pages and encourage your friends and family to vote. You can even register to vote on Twitter. Seriously, do it. Think about this scary stat: Only 59% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 election, according to the United States Election Project. That’s pretty high, but not high enough. Other countries, like Belgium, have 87% of eligible voters showing up on election day. Imagine the difference it would make if more people registered AND showed up on Election Day in the U.S.
2Support female candidates.
More women in office means more legislation that favors women! You can get involved with EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice, female candidates. Or donate to She Should Run, which helps recruit female candidates. LatinasRepresent and Higher Heights are also worth donating to in the name of more women of color in government. Look up your local reps and see if there are female candidates running for city council, or a district judge candidate you can support. Big decisions get made at ALL levels of government, and we all know that when women are in charge, things get done right.
3Run for office yourself.
Actually, She Should Run is a very cool organization in that it makes running for office simple. Okay, not simplesimple, but the group helps take away a lot of the guesswork. You can nominate yourself for office, even if you’re not really sure if you’d like to run right away, but might want to within the next 10 years or so, or nominate another woman. When women support women, amazing things happen.
4Call out voter suppression when you see it.
When your state introduces voter ID laws or signature matching rules, get out and march in protest. Write to your representatives and call your senators to tell them that you are in no way down with racist gerrymandering practices. Fight for same-day registration and fair polling place hours so that everyone can have a chance to vote when the time comes. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union so that it can continue to fight states with unconstitutional voting procedures.
5Help undocumented immigrants.
If you look at the history of voting rights, people of color and new immigrants (and even Native Americans!) were denied the right to vote or faced ridiculous barriers to cast a ballot. Today, immigrants and refugees still don’t have a voice, even though the current administration is working on creating policies that directly affect them. Support organizations that protect and stand up for immigrants and refugees. They can’t vote, but you can vote in favor of their interests, at least.
6Get informed about felons’ rights.
According to the Brennan Center, 6 million Americans aren’t allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction, even though 4.7 million of them live in our neighborhoods. Getting felons the right to vote is complicated, depending on your politics, but think about the fact that denying felons a right to vote disproportionately affects minorities. One in 13 voting-age African Americans has lost their right to vote because of this rule, which is four times the rate of any other racial group. Each state is different: In Nebraska, for example, a bill was recently passed to restore felons’ voting rights immediately upon completion of their time in prison. Six million people could make a huge difference.
There are tons of ways to celebrate Women’s Equality Day, but the most important one of all is to know your history and how it informs the present.