Today is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote—in theory.
In 1973 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 to mark the conclusion of a massive, peaceful, civil rights movement by women that began in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. I write about this event in my first book, A Shocking & Unnatural Incident. The annual observance of Women’s Equality Day also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality.
The 19th amendment, however, did not guarantee all women the right to vote. Non-white women— black, Latina, Asian—still had mountains to climb. For decades, women of color fought legalized, prejudicial practices that kept them from casting ballots. Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker were among women who spoke up loudly and helped secure the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which, among other things, gave not only black women, but Latina women protection from poll and literacy taxes.
Black women voters demonstrated their power last year, when 98 percent of them voted for Doug Jones, giving him the Alabama Senate seat instead of Roy Moore, a Republican judge accused of molesting young women.
For Asian women, it’s been a different story.
“Suffrage was a great first step, but the reality is when it was first passed there was still the Chinese Exclusion Act,” said Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote, a national nonpartisan group that mobilizes Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to vote. “In terms of our rights to become citizens, it was actually really hard for this population to even take the first step to even be citizens, let alone to actually register and go vote.”
Chen’s group works to help Asian Americans understand that voting is their right. APIAVote gets them registered and to the voting booth, often leveraging Asian American mothers and grandmothers to use their position in their families to educate relatives on the importance of voting.
Voting is a powerful tool. All Americans have the right—and responsibility—to use it.