My grandmothers had told me they were thrilled when women were granted the right to vote. My mother’s mother said, “women unable to vote made no sense to me. It is such a privilege, so important. I would never miss it.”
My father’s mother said, “I cried the first time I voted. We matter. You’ll see.”
I saw. The first time I voted was November 7, 1972. My mother and I made a plan to vote together. It was a big deal. She changed from her brown sweater into a gold jacket, kicked off her white Tretorns worn for housework and slipped on new Pappagallo flats. “This is special,” she said. “To vote is an honor.”
I had learned about the 1920 Nineteenth Amendment in high school. We had studied how a voice is a vote, how a vote gives voice to choice, to what we believe, to what and whom we want. When I turned then-voting-age twenty-one, I didn’t remember much about women’s suffrage. Maybe I didn’t care as a teenager. I did remember how women had organized, fought, marched, rallied against dominant male forces which insisted on keeping a very old status quo. I didn’t remember names of the brave, bright, resolute women who stepped up, who spoke up, to make the right change for generations of future women, to empower us.
It was a sign of something significant, something of pride, when my mother asked, “What will you wear?” So, to vote, to carry out this awesome freedom, we dressed up. I took off my blue jeans, pulled on a plaid skirt and we drove to vote. Curious, I wondered whether other voters or poll workers would notice or care about our outfits, but there was something about wearing them that celebrated how vital voting was.
Entering, I heard whispers, saw lines of people. With some I could see only their feet in the individual voting booths along the walls, most of their upper bodies hidden by a red, white and blue striped canvas, men in work boots or penny loafers, women in high heels or boat shoes. I, like my grandmother, teared up. I thought, “not everyone in the world is allowed to do this.”
A gray-haired woman handed me a large piece of paper. I walked to the small cubicle, used one arm to swish back the flag-colored drape, placed the ballot on the short metal shelf. My hand shook as I held the black marker, making sure, as I colored, to mark inside the little circles. I stepped out of the booth, and dropped my completed ballot into the oval slit on the top of a wooden ballot box. I looked to my mother and said, “That was so cool. We live here, in this country. We get to do this.”
And now, in 2020, I think, “we must do this.” Yes, voting is a privilege, a right, an honor, worthy of tears in gratitude for a democratic republic. It is also, I have come to know, a duty, a responsibility, an obligation. As post-teenagers, we must care. Voting is our job if we want any part of decision-making, if we want any part of what happens here. I am grateful to the suffragettes, grateful to Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said, “women belong in places where decisions are being made.” We all belong. Please vote. Make a plan. It’s a big deal. Vote as you are, in mud-splashed khakis and layered t-shirts, slippers or a three-piece suit. It’s the voting that matters. Just do it.
Right on, Sister!