On August 26, Arizona women will celebrate women’s right to vote. Women will commemorate the sacrifices and perseverance of those who fought 50 years to secure for women the right to vote. Women stood in pouring rain and freezing snow. They were beaten, jailed, went on hunger strikes, were force-fed and called crazy for wanting to vote. The women experienced harsh conditions in prison with poor sanitation, infested food, and dreadful facilities.
Early fighters such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth passed the torch on to other women such as Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. Anthony never lived to vote legally; she had been arrested for voting before the 19th Amendment passed. Paul never lived to see the ERA passed – indeed it’s not passed yet – but in spite of violence and abuse, betrayals and reversals, the women never wavered in their dedication because the movement was not just for them. It was for the future – for us.
Arizona women will celebrate the right to vote on August 26 because in the 96 years that women have had the vote, the worst fears of the opposition in the 1800s have come true – women vote differently. The gender gap has been apparent since 1980 and was decisive for the presidential victories of Clinton and Obama. It is expected that this election will produce the largest gap yet.
Voter-suppression efforts, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder, re-districting shenanigans and the gridlock in Congress has, as intended, discouraged many from voting. Arizona is in the top third of states with women representatives in the state Legislature, but there has been no improvement since 2004. In spite of that, Arizona ranks 46th for the number of women registered (59.3%) and 43rd for the number who actually vote (46.8%) – a very low turnout indeed.
But women, like African-Americans, bought the vote at a high price. Today Baby Boomers and African-Americans vote at the highest rates because they understand the price paid and the value of constant civil rights agitation.
Women of all ages need to understand the significance of their vote to elect the first woman president, a final vindication for the arrests, beatings, force-feedings, and prison endured by women who fought for the right to vote.
In Phoenix, the celebration takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Central High School. The event, hosted by a coalition of women’s groups, is expected to draw an audience of at least 600. For information and tickets, see www.facebook.com/votes4womenaz/, Twitter is @votes4womenaz
Dianne Post is a Phoenix attorney and advocate for gender equality.