Tag Archives: Voting rights

Learning and Sharing Stories of the Suffrage Movement

The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.  ~ Carl Jung

The story of the Suffragette Movement is the story of resistance, persistence – and ultimate triumph.  The long struggle to ratify the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women’s right to vote is a uniquely American story worthy of retelling in these times.

The June 2019 centenary of passage of the 19th Amendment offers an opportunity for us to study the story of the Suffragettes in depth, to analyze and emulate the vision and tactics of the Movement.  This is a powerful story of American patriots who shared a vision and marshalled their talents, strength and unstinting hope to pursue a common purpose.

The centenary of their success, June 4, 2019, invites the nation to research the records, remember and retell the story.  There is time to honor the unstinting courage of the Suffragettes by doing a deep dive into the history of the Woman Suffraqe Movement — then sharing the stories with contemporaries and future generations.

Though it may seem like overkill, when tackling an historic issue of national scope a good place to start is with our nation’s repositories of recorded history –the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration.  Not the magnificent buildings in Washington, DC but the very accessible digital libraries that open the historic record to armchair searchers wherever they may be.   In recent times LC and the Archives have created digital repositories that breathe life into the story of the Suffragettes Movement.

Librarians and archivists responsible for preserving the record of the nation have taken a lead to harness digital technology to share the intellectual treasures of the nation.  They are committed to crafting useful tools that guide the remote searcher along the digital path to learning about the country’s legacy.  Their mission is to share the personal stories of real people whose recorded legacy is now accessible through digitized letters, scrapbooks, songs, photos, and diaries –  real life stories that share the thoughts and situations of those individuals and institutions that shaped this nation..

A couple of  starting points will guide the seeker’s path to the Suffragettes’ stories:

Library of Congress:

Though the physical Library of Congress is elegant it is beyond overwhelming; and yet a digital dive into the treasures is manageable. LC resources are even organized by grade/age level to suggest their appropriate audience, even  the youngest learner.  Some basic tips:

  • A good strategy is a dip into the primary documents digitized by LC – – it will inspire even the recalcitrant searcher to press on! Among the treasures are the files of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony as well as countless photos, letters, diaries that capture the stories, the images and voices of the suffragettes.   All that little stuff gives life to real people who worked for years to resist the human forces that impeded their struggle to reach a mighty goal. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/19thamendment.html
  • And here’s a great photographic complement to the primary documents collection. https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/076_vfw.html
  • For a timeline of American women’s road to assuring their voting rights, click here: https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/076_vfw_timeline.html

Each of these launch points will lead the searcher to treasure troves of stories waiting to be told.

National Archives:

The resources of the National Archives and the Library of Congress complement each other.   Staffers at the Archives  join  colleagues at LC in their commitment to expand digital access.  Of the many navigational tools here are some useful starting points:

These digital options for understanding the long struggle for passage of the 19th Amendment provide a logical first step on the research path; they offer a door to a world of stories!   The challenge is to realize and document this pivotal era in our nation’s history.  If we are to honor the labor and vision of the Suffragettes we must take to heart the priority for us to learn and tell the stories of the women and men who pressed on for decades to achieve what we now take for granted.  For us, the mission must be to study the true facts that capture the essence and describe the forces that emboldened the Suffragettes to speak truth to power for decades leading up to passage of the 19th Amendment.    The quest to learn, then tell, the stories deserves time, discussion, reflection.

Some other starting points:

For a really quick overview of the Suffragettes’ struggle, click here:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-passes-the-19th-amendment

For a broader view of American women’s rights, including but not limited to the Suffragette Movement, this Congressional publication provides a good overview.  http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/

For authoritative information regularly updated, these are major – and very helpful –  sources:

These are simply suggestions; resources and perspectives abound.  Exploring, then telling, the story of the Woman’s Movement offers a focus and a challenge to examine strategies that emboldened the Suffragettes to resist and persist.  We are not the first Americans to face a mighty challenge.  We have much to learn from those who set the pace a century ago:

When you walk with purpose you collide with destiny. Bertice Berry

 

 

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Register! Education! Vote! – Voters with disabilities face challenges

Far better late than never! Thanks to Minnesota’s Disability Justice project I have known for months that July 11-15 was National Disability Voter Registration Week. And I knew, too, that July 19 was the deadline to register for the primary elections.

The  good news is that Minnesota has voting day registration so it’s not too late for any resident to register – and there’s plenty of time to register in advance for the general election. Note that in addition to new voters, those who have moved, changed their name or not voted for four years are also required to register.

You’ll find more answers than you have questions here: http://vote.minneapolismn.gov/voters/REGISTER

To the present point, the time is now  to recognize the importance of everyone’s exercising the right to vote – with emphasis here on the challenges that face voters with physical or mental disabilities.  Fortunately, there are resources – print, online and human, at the ready to assist.

At the national level the REV UP! Campaign is the overall coordinator of the Registration Week activities.   REV UP! stands for Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!   That pretty well says it all – in an acronym (or a tweet)!  The REVUP! Campaign is a project of the American Association of People with Disabilities. (http://www.aapd.com/press-releases/aapd-announces-rev-campaign-making-disability-vote-count/) AAPD has compiled an excellent list of voter information-related resources specifically geared to people with disabilities. This election season they are making a serious effort to collaborate with faith groups to mobilize the disability vote and to encourage candidates to address issues of concern to the disabilities community. The AAPD website offers a host of tips and tools for getting out the vote and raising the issues with candidates. (http://wwwaapd.com)

At the state level, Minnesota Disability Justice (http://disabilityjustice.org) is equally engaged – and their website is also loaded with treasures. Their Justice Denied video (http://disabilityjustice.org/justice-denied/) is an excellent overview of the range of issues facing and resources accessible to people with disabilities. Here’s a link to the specific section on the right to vote – but it’s well worth taking time to view the entire video (http://disabilityjustice.org/right-to-vote)

The important thing is to bear in mind is that the time to take action is now – registration can be an overwhelming hurdle, and the closer we get to going to the polls, the more imposing the barriers can be – or seem. People with disabilities need support – sometimes physical, sometimes a ride, sometimes just encouragement to exercise their fundamental right to participate in the democratic process. We need their voices to be heard and their votes to be counted!

 

Voting Procedures Still on the Public Agenda at State and National Levels

Voter registration, an issue that some had optimistically assumed was resolved two decades ago by the  National Voter Registration Act  has emerged – no, erupted – as a major issue, a mighty weapon wielded by forces that are only too well aware that the place to stifle the democratic process is the voting booth.  Tinkering with the electoral process has taken various forms shaped to the vulnerability of the venue.   In Minnesota, the pressure point was the Voter ID Amendment to the State Constitution.  Originally portrayed as a benign detail the pernicious proposal was soundly trounced by the electorate in the last election.

An unintended consequence of that ill-fated rush to exclude has awakened Minnesotans to the importance of voters’ rights and inspired elected officials scrutinize the details with unaccustomed care.

The first legislative measures to take stage center are related proposals to allow early voting and to eliminate a requirement that people have a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot.   Thirty two states offer some form of early voting in which there is no requirement for a valid excuse.  In some cases the votes are counted immediately; in others votes are not tabulated until election day and voters have a chance to change their vote. Many Minnesotans consider early voting a non-issue since they have assumed that Minnesota has had early voting in place all along.

The proposal now before the state Legislature would allow Minnesota voters to vote up to 15 days before an election.  On-site registration would still be available following the same requirements as are currently in place for Election Day registration.  While opponents fear easy early voting gives too much power to parties and voter fraud, proponents of absentee voting argue that it is more convenient for voters and that it would shorten the lines on Election Day.  Governor Dayton has not weighed in except to be very clear about the fact that any decision will have to have bipartisan support.

With heightened awareness of the import of the electoral process per se, Minnesotans may be interested to learn more about what is happening in other states and at the national level.  The Brennan Center for Justice which has long studied voting practices recently produced a major proposal to “modernize voter registration and bring America’s election system into the 21st Century.”  The plan, known as the Voter Registration Modernization (VRM), is the centerpiece of the Voter Empowerment Act introduced last month by a raft of legislators and prominently mentioned in the President’s State of the Union Address.

Those who hatched their nefarious plans to skew the American electoral process by tinkering with the “details” may find that shining light on those details has illuminated the gaps in a system that is now enjoying unprecedented attention.

Minnesotans out-voted every state in the nation in the last election.  We captured the national headlines with defeat of the Voter ID Amendment, once on its way to easy passage.  We have reason to be proud of our record.  We have a concomitant responsibility to follow what is happening in the State Legislature and in Congress.  We know from experience what it takes to keep a collective eye on the electoral process — constant vigilance is the price of liberty.

Eroson of Voters’ Rights – A Slow Rising Tsunami


The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.   (Thomas Jefferson)

Over time the founding fathers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, felons who have paid their debt to society have placed great value on the hard won right to vote.  In the wake of the Voting Rights Act the electorate focused on exercising right rights;  good government groups and state officials  moved on, focusing on getting out the vote – voter registration drives, collaboration, poll watches, elimination of barriers ranging from the responsibility of employers to allow workers leave time to accommodations for language or physical impediments to voters’ exercise of their Constitutional right.

That was the calm before the storm.  Today we are experiencing a sea change in voter rights – actually not so much a visible tsunami as a mighty undercurrent that scoops up the debris of race and class – even age – discrimination.   Largely dispersed beneath the relative calm of the electoral process, voter suppression surfaces as “white caps” – primarily state-level initiatives that are, in fact, a determined drive to purge  those whose vote might stem the tide favored by the have’s.

In its waning days the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that places the Voter ID Amendment on the ballot for November.  In spite of valiant efforts on the part of good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, church groups, the AARP and the ACLU – even Jesse Ventura – the Amendment failed to set off storm warnings among the well-credentialed populace.   The subtle campaign to winnow voter ranks was maneuvered in large part by State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (IR Big Lake) whose years as Secretary State taught her just how to steer the voting process.

At this writing several groups (ACLU, LWV, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota) have petitioned the state Supreme Court to strike down the proposed Constitutional Amendment; the opponents argues on the semantic confusion that the ballot question falsely declares that the state will provide free ID to eligible voters.  Far more pernicious is the implicit presumption that the Amendment, if approved by the voters, will threaten hard-won voter rights such as same-day registration and possibly restrict voter registration initiatives.

Precedent abounds.  Aggressive limits in a host of states sound the alarm that voter suppression, clothed in the innocent garb of voter ID, is a driving and coordinated force.  Florida lives up to its justified reputation for election shenanigans, well-earned in the Gore-Bush debacle of 2008.  The ruckus in Florida swirls around the diabolical initiative to halt voter registration drives while 180,000 Floridians have learned from authorities that they are off the roles because they are not citizens.   Though Florida takes the lead in voter suppression it is a bellwether of national campaign that is well-organized, coordinated and financed.  At close view it looks a lot like a tsunami in slow motion.

In truth this is not about voter ID but “electorate cleansing.”  The effort is insidious, implicit, ubiquitous and amorphous.   A serious probe of the depths of the well-orchestrated campaign exposes Minnesota as more of a pawn than a player.  Showing an ID at the polls is not much of a bother for the have’s – until we see it as the tip of an iceberg that shuns the sunshine of an open process.

In Minnesota voter rights supporters can find countless refuges in the storm.  It is useful, if risky, to cite but a few;   — the state and local League of Women Voters have decades of experience and a local presence for voter information and support.  The Voter Participation Project sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits educates and promotes through their network of nonprofit organization. Faith communities are taking action across denomination lines to defend voters’ rights.

As always, the Secretary of State is the pivotal player in organizing and monitoring the electoral process.  Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will launch MCN’s 2012  “Promote the Vote” campaign on Wednesday, June 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North, St. Paul.  Free and open to all.