The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Voting as an Act of Community: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

Women in academic dress marching in a suffrage parade in New York City, 1910.Women in academic dress marching in a suffrage parade in New York City, 1910. Source: Schlesinger Library; Photographer: Jessie Tarbox BealsOne hundred years ago today, the 19th Amendment was ratified in the U.S., granting women the right to vote. This anniversary is something to celebrate, and a time to look back with pride on how much women have accomplished. The fact that it falls this year – in the midst of a global pandemic, a reckoning with systemic racism, and arguably the most consequential election season of our lifetimes – also feels significant. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to reflect on what these times have taught us about the meaning of voting, and what we should keep in mind as November approaches.

This year in particular, we are reminded that voting is not just a personal act. It is an act of community, of stepping into the public sphere, of showing that you care about what happens to those around you. If the pandemic has had any positive impact, it is that we have seen how connected we are to each other. Many of us have adopted new habits that acknowledge this connection: picking up groceries for neighbors, putting signs in our windows to thank essential workers, wearing masks. Voting is another way of showing that we are all in this together.

We are also more aware this year of the ways in which, despite our deep interconnectedness, our society is not yet one in which every person has the same rights and opportunities. The protests spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others have brought this inequality to the forefront. And the inequality extends to voting. Though white women gained the right to vote in 1920, African American women, Latina women, Native women, and Asian American women have been forced to continue to fight for that right long afterwards.

Even today, voter suppression efforts in many parts of the U.S. mean that if you are a person of color, a student, elderly, or a person with a disability, you are more likely to encounter obstacles to vote: limited polling stations that result in long lines, names left off voter rolls, onerous voter ID requirements. These voter suppression tactics are not new, but we’re likely to face a barrage of them this fall.

It’s clear, then, that the struggle to ensure every person’s right to vote is far from over, 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed. This struggle will require not only our votes, but our activism: educating ourselves about our rights, keeping election protection hotlines on speed dial, and supporting advocacy organizations that battle voter suppression. It’s critical that we reach beyond ourselves to focus on our communities. Can we share information about how to obtain mail-in ballots and ensure they are counted? Can we ask our elected officials to support legislation that expands the right to vote? We can all find a way to help, no matter how small.

So this November, we must vote like our lives depend on it – because they do. The women who spent 75 years fighting for the 19th Amendment knew that their lives depended on it, too. It’s true every election season, but it feels especially true this year.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Guest — Carolyn Sue Weeks
Thomas Sowell's wonderful new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies clearly lays out the opposition by the teachers' union and th... Read More
Tuesday, 18 August 2020 17:21
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What’s Next: Coming Together

Layli MaparyanSince voting this morning, all I have been able to think about is the next four years. Without even knowing yet who is going to win, my mind has already jumped ahead. What do we want the next four years to be like? What can we do to make them be the way we want them to be? The negativity of the last 18 months has been excruciating, and I know it doesn’t represent the best of who we are. I want better for all of us!

Indeed, as executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, whose mission is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing, these concerns have been at the forefront of my thinking. How can we ensure that the times that lie ahead lead us closer to these ideals?

Today we plant the seeds of the next four years with our thoughts, emotions, and actions. It is more important today than ever that we consciously start thinking about what we’d like our nation and our culture to be like, that we work as hard as we can to generate the good feelings we know are best for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the country, and that we take actions immediately that move us in the right direction. We can start doing this even before the polls close, just as soon as we have cast our ballot – because these actions will be relevant no matter who wins.

What will you do to move our country in a positive direction, to heal the divide?

I’m starting with a post-election community unity block party in my neighborhood. I’m inviting the people I see every day – and a few I’ve yet to see, since I’m new to my neighborhood – to my home for an evening of fellowship and food with my family. I’ve let everyone know that it doesn’t matter how you voted, where you worship, whom you love, or where you come from – I just want us to come together in the spirit of friendship and community. My hope is that we will affirm each other as neighbors, discover through conversation the wonders of our diversity, and deepen our sense of connection, concern, and shared destiny. Maybe you can do something like this on the block where you live, too.

Over time, I am going to make a point to reach out to people whose political views differ from my own (even though I am non-partisan by choice, due to my Bahá’í faith, I do hold political views!) and find ways to connect, talk, and share – over lunch, in a joint endeavor, through our kids, in our places of worship or community service – in any way I can find.

To heal our nation in these times, I feel certain that enlarging the circle of people that we can call friends and enlarging the circle of people who know that we care about their wellbeing and happiness will help shift the tides. I believe that, if all of us did this – even with one or two people – we would heal this great divide in no time. Are you up to the challenge??

Let me know what you decide to do. Let’s not retreat into our enclaves of comfortable sameness. Let’s instead enlarge our sense of community and welcome new people in until our nation is one big circle – or many small overlapping circles – of inclusion. The leadership we need doesn’t just come from the White House – it comes from within our hearts.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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