An illustrated postcard, magazine and billboard campaign that ran in the U.S. and England between the 1890’s and early 1900’s announced that women’s rights were dangerous, and letting women think for themselves could only result in a “nightmarish society?”
Women suffragists endured not only this derision, but also much harsher obstacles as well on the long and harrowing journey to gain the right to vote. Their accomplishments are being made more visible this month on the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The 19th Amendment was a major achievement, but it was not inclusive. It did not allow minority women to vote. It was not until 1965 that Black and brown women were granted the right to vote under the historic Voting Rights Act, which was put into place after years of protest as part of civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. This important act also sought voting protections for Black and brown men — who technically had the right to vote but were intimidated, threatened and often turned away from polls after being forced to take “literacy tests” or pay fees or fill out applications.
The Voting Rights Act sought to change all that. It was a force that opened doors and voting booths.
But since the turn of this century, voting rights have again been threatened, weakened and removed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in the years 2011–2012 alone, there were 27 measures that passed in 19 different states to make voting more difficult. These have included cuts to early voting, massive closing of polling places — particularly in communities of color — stricter ID laws, and shorter hours at polling places, making it difficult for working men and women.
More damage was to come.
With a change in leadership in the U.S., and the appointment of more conservative judges, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. The decision meant that jurisdictions no longer had to get federal preclearance for changes in voting procedures.
The nation’s track record on voting has many pockmarks.
A virtual slide show illustrating one fact a day on the suffragist movement, voting rights and voter suppression will be visible on social media during the month of August to spread the word about how voting rights have been squashed, belittled and belabored.
The slide show tribute was created by a group of union women educators from Long Island and Westchester County, to “honor our suffragist sisters” and share information meant to inspire action.
“If we don’t have women at the table, things don’t change. There are very real women’s issues that don’t get discussed,” said Leslie Rose, a second-grade teacher with the Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association and a member of NYSUT’s statewide Women’s Committee.
Rose collaborated on the project with other NYSUT women, including Aisha Cook, New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees; Cordelia Anthony, Farmingdale Federation of Teachers; and Rahana Schmalacker, Central Islip Teachers Association.
Rose said the women focused on highlighting the anniversary of the 19th Amendment by recognizing what the suffragists went through, and to amplify the dangers of voter suppression today.
Unions are busy working on campaigns, resolutions, and projects related to voting rights, and gearing up for phone banks to get people out to vote. The American Federation of Teachers, one of NYSUT’s two national affiliates, recently passed a comprehensive resolution calling for, among other items, the secure counting and casting of ballots, the right of voters to cast their ballots through vote by mail, if they so choose, with the provision of pre-paid postage for that purpose. It calls for the use of “hard copy” paper ballots that can be scanned electronically, the disconnecting of all voting machines from the internet and the auditing of paper ballots to ensure the accuracy of the final count; the ability of voters to use absentee ballots without having to provide an excuse; and the provision of extensive in-person early voting, including during weekends.
The National Education Association, also a NYSUT national affiliate, has set up programs to train educators on the early voting educator program; for digital community outreach; and for working at the polls.