A few years back, we traveled to San Diego in August. We stayed in a B n’ B near Balboa Park. Being on East Coast time, we helped open the local coffee shop, where we noticed a poster for a Women’s Suffrage parade and swing dance, in the park that weekend. We arranged our touring for the day to catch the parade of flappers and dapperly suited women and men, along with antique cars. With placards for Women’s Right to Vote, and flyers for the dinner-dance, we had a date for the night. The buffet dinner was tasty and the jazz hot and swinging. The party emphasized more of the flaunting & thwarting of the 1920’s prohibition, rather than the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
When I think of the 1840’s in the colonial world and emerging nations, the social issue I think of is slavery. Women’s suffrage I think of originating out of the later 19th century. But, the movement started in 1848 when two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, from the USA attended a conference on abolition in London, but were denied time to speech, because they were women. They returned to Seneca Falls, New York and organized the Women’s Rights Convention. While their objectives broadly covered civil, economic, and domestic rights for women, the movement took on women’s right to vote as a tangible change to struggle for. Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote in the 1872 election, arguing that under the 14th Amendment included her as a citizen. When Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah joined the USA, they gave women the franchise to vote in state and local elections. President Woodrow Wilson initially scoffed at Alice Paul’s Silent Sentinals protests in Washington, D. C. in the early 20th century, but acquiesced and signed the 19th Amendment, August 18th, 1920.
The amendment’s phrasing is remarkably simple (I have edited out all the legal stuff about dates and in this congress, etc): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged the United States on account of sex.” That last clause “on account of sex” brings out an irony: while attempting to be inclusive, by offering voting rights to genetically half of society, it also initiated the phrasing that so divides us today because of special interest group identification. “On account of sex”, had added attachment of “race”, “religion”, “sexual orientation”, with “family constellation”, “genetic composition”, “unborn status”, “economic status”, “education opportunity”, “species affiliation”, “food preferences”, etc. lining up for consideration. While various groups claim to represent the rights of each niche affiliation, they emphasize the group’s inherent value with the implication that they deserve some appropriation of resources. There is little unity of the greater citizenry, when many factions vie for power and position.
How do these themes of inclusion and special interest division relate to voting? In my conspiracy theory, incumbent politicians and politic parties in general do not really want broad voter activity on election day. Apathetic or annoyed citizens tend to stay away from the polls. When this occurs, the stalwart voters of that party tend to win the election because they show up. Special interest groups tend to fragment the voters, as they congregate into this or that camp, without a larger view of how to govern our society. I am not surprised that our current presidential election cycle rhetoric is so vicious. Both parties are pulled further toward their extreme views. There are fewer areas of common interest and compromise. Meanwhile, all the special interest group, and now Super-PAC negative advertising, promote more apathy and annoyance with the political process.
As we head into the Republican and Democrat Conventions (yawn… don’t we already know each party’s positions? We even know both VP’s… what is left for interest?), how many are already leaning toward voting with the majority (i.e. the majority of citizens who do not vote)? The women of the suffrage movement protested for 72 years before being granted the right to vote. After 98 more years, how many of us are about to give up this right?
At the Women’s Suffrage dinner-dance, we sat at a table with total strangers. Part way through the night, the woman across the table mentioned that this was the first public outing she had taken since her husband died a couple of years earlier. What a metaphor: to re-enter society at an event about women having rights to decide about their lives.
The table is set. Will you pull up a chair and vote to participate on election day?