The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
90 years ago today, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women throughout the United State the right to vote.
Having been born in the 1970s, it’s difficult for me to even conceive of not being allowed to vote. But when you think about it, 90 years is really not all that long ago. The history of the battle for women’s suffrage in the United States is both fascinating and depressing (and well chronicled in the excellent anthology One Woman, one vote: rediscovering the woman suffrage movement, available at the Oakland Public Library if you want to learn more about the subject), but mostly, it’s amazing to me when I think about the absolutely relentless persistence of these women involved in the movement.
But what’s even more awesome is what the leaders of the suffrage movement did after they got what they wanted. I mean, it would have been so easy to just celebrate their victory and put the years and years of pamphleting and lobbying behind them and just enjoy finally getting to relax. That’s totally what I would have done.
But they didn’t. Instead, they decided to channel their energy and the nationwide organization they had built up into making sure women used their hard won right to vote responsibly. And thus they transformed the National American Women Suffrage Association into the League of Women Voters. They engaged in exhaustive study of issues, lobbied for what they believed in, and mostly importantly, worked tirelessly to educate voters so that everyone could make the most informed possible decision when they went to the polls.
90 years later, voter education remains at the heart of the League’s mission. For the election approaching this November, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hear from candidates for Mayor if you want to. The race will be covered extensively in traditional media as well as blogs and other online publications. There will be forums all over the city organized by all sorts of different groups. For City Council races, you will also likely have several opportunities to see the candidates speak side by side, and you can expect at least some coverage in the local newspapers.
But the sad fact is that for many of the races on your November ballot, nobody cares. It matters a lot who you put on the BART Board and the AC Transit Board and the Peralta Community College Board, but unfortunately there is simply not enough interest in most down ballot races to justify very many forums or media attention.
But there is one group of people in Oakland who work tirelessly to ensure that voters have an opportunity to hear from everyone, and that’s the League of Women Voters. They don’t endorse candidates, but they make sure you have the opportunity to make an educated decision by organizing and televising forums for all those races nobody else can be bothered with. They produce the Easy Voter Guide so that everyone can understand the issues on their ballot and make informed decisions. They produce the wonderful Smart Voter website, where you can go anytime to compare all the candidates, side by side. They send people out to neighborhood meetings all over the city to explain the Pros and Cons of each ballot measure in clear and objective terms.
This work isn’t always the most exciting. But it incredibly valuable and essential to a well-functioning democracy. I am extremely proud to be a member of the League of Women Voters of Oakland, and if you aren’t one already I hope you will consider celebrating this day by becoming one. (Men are welcome too!)
If you’re already a member, you can always help support the League’s work in addition to your dues by making an additional donation. And if you really want to join the League but are being held back because the cost is prohibitive to you, you can always contact the League of Women Voters Oakland and inquire about our dues-assisted memberships.
So please, take a few moments today to appreciate the tireless work it took the guarantee women the ability to vote, consider honoring their legacy by joining the League and finally, enjoy my favorite song from Mary Poppins.
Well done, indeed, sister suffragette!