Happy Women's Equality Day!
Today is the 86th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted American women the right to vote. It took women activists 72 years to win the federal right to vote, and it was a hard battle, filled with many setbacks and contentious disagreements about ideology and strategy.
There is no doubt that suffrage is a powerful right. I admit that I still get kind of choked up when I’m inside the voting booth and think about how many people in the past – and still today – fight for the right that I take for granted. But I also sometimes feel cynical about what electoral politics can accomplish, and look back with some nostalgia on the time when women could believe that having the right to vote would bring true equality.
In 1970, feminist activists commemorated the 50th anniversary of the suffrage amendment with a huge parade down Fifth Avenue in NY City. The march was part of a series of actions spearheaded by Betty Friedan called “Women’s Strike for Equality,” which demonstrated feminists’ realization that tactics other than voting would be necessary to achieve their aims. The Strike demanded free abortion on demand, free 24-hour community controlled child care centers, and equal opportunity in jobs and education – rights that, for the most part, we still do not have, 36 years later.
In 1971, Bella Abzug led Congress to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. So how should we celebrate this holiday?
The lessons I take from the suffrage movement are: 1). Change takes a long time, and we have to keep our eyes on the prize. 2). There’s no one right way to pursue social change – it’s good to work on many fronts, but best not to waste too much energy fighting over these different strategies. 3). Electoral politics are extremely powerful. A good way to celebrate is to register to vote if you aren’t registered already, so you’ll be ready to exercise this right in the November elections. 4). Electoral politics are not the only way to make change. If it were, we never would have won the right to vote in the first place. So we need to keep being creative.
How else should we celebrate Women’s Equality Day and what issues do you think we should focus on to fully realize equality?