The opinions expressed in entries in the LC Blog are those of the author, not of Lawyers Club of San Diego.
In January, I volunteered to write a blog post about the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, a celebration of women finally “winning” the right to participate in the most fundamental act of basic governance in this country. I had some really cogent thoughts about this topic that have since evaporated with the fear and pain of the past three months. A worldwide pandemic, separation from our families and friends, illness and death, and then, another spate of senseless murders of black men and women by the police whose duty it is to protect all of us, and in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, by white vigilantes – frankly, it has been tough to focus.
But watching protesters take to the streets over the past three weeks, trying to make their voices heard, to make clear that the ongoing discrimination against people of color, not just by the police but the everyday injustices that harm them, will no longer be tolerated – that put some things in perspective.
The women’s suffrage movement began more than 60 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Years of organizing, reorganizing, and struggling seemed destined to go nowhere, as the men wielding power refused to consider the voice of women in this democracy… until the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade. On that day in March, thousands of women marched through Washington, D.C. to demand the U.S. Constitution be amended to allow women to vote. A huge crowd, around a half a million strong, came out to watch the parade, and it soon turned ugly. Angry men began to throw trash at the women, jeering at them, shouting insults and physically attacking the marchers. The police ignored the women’s cries for help, one was heard shouting, “If my wife were where you are I’d break her head!”
Reporters from newspapers around the country photographed these men, these police officers, abusing the women, belittling them, dragging them through the streets. Hundreds of women were injured in the fray.
And then, something happened.
The press coverage created outrage. That outrage led to a congressional investigation. That investigation led to the first congressional debate over a Constitutional amendment on the women’s vote in 26 years. Although it still took seven years to garner enough state support to pass the 19th Amendment, (and one state tried to change its mind after the fact), that protest moved the nation forward.
There are some who would like to rewrite history to imagine fundamental change in our country did not involve extreme disruption and sometimes violence. Freedom from British rule, the end of slavery, the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the gay rights movement – to name a few – have all involved unrest and, for some, the jarring disruption of their status quo. Women’s fight for suffrage was no different.
There has never been a more important time for women to use the power earned 100 years ago. There has never been a more fitting moment for white women to recognize how they have excluded women of color and LGBTQ folks in their fights for equity in the past, and to rectify that mistake.
In its 100th year, the women’s vote could make the difference between true leadership and change in a time of extreme tumult, or the continuation of a slide into authoritarian policies, the systemic attempt to erase our right to bodily autonomy, the continued systemic racism across the country, and the perpetuation of a system that has oppressed so many citizens for centuries. The 2020 election, our 100th year with the right to participate, is literally life or death.
Katherine (Kate) Lee Carey is Special Counsel with Cooley LLP, a Lawyers Club of San Diego Board Member and Co-Chair of the Leadership Development Committee, and serves on the Development Board of the California Innocence Project.