My aunt died Friday, less than two weeks after learning she had cancer. In between her diagnosis and her passing, she voted.
Born just a few years after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, my aunt never took her voting rights for granted. She was always involved in politics – as the wife of a politician, as a mother raising six civic-minded children, with her up-to-the-minute, well-informed political views. For years, she greeted newcomers to her town with voter registration cards. On Tuesday, I will cast my ballot in her honor and I ask that all of you ladies get to the polls in honor of the women who came before us.
A woman’s right to vote was hard won. Starting with the Seneca Falls Convention on July 19, 1848, many, many women organized, protested, collaborated, and yes, fought for equal rights. We know the names Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. We should also remember women like Lucy Burns, Dorla Lewis and Alice Cosu who on November 14, 1917 were jailed and badly beaten by wardens at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, after they picketed the White House.
These women made incredible sacrifices so that other women could achieve equality. They earned a great victory on August 20, 1920 when the 19th Amendment was signed into law. But the work didn’t end there. As Susan B. Anthony said, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
While women have made great strides since 1920, we have a long way to go to reach true equality. This election cycle we’ve seen candidates vow to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. We watched as all-male panels convened to discuss contraception. We’ve witnessed too many attempts to legislate our reproductive rights. We’ve listened in disbelief as male politicians tried to define “forcible rape,” “legitimate rape,” and then grossly misstated facts about pregnancy. We know women make up only 17 percent of Congress, a number that declined in 2010 for the first time in 30 years. We also know a record number of women are running this year.
My aunt, may she rest in peace; her work is done. Our work continues. So whether we are sick, tired, busy, on deadline or without childcare; we can’t let that stop us from casting a ballot. This Tuesday, vote, for the ladies who came before us and the ladies who will follow.