When Women Won the Vote: America Then and Now. : ThyBlackMan

Sunday, September 15, 2019

When Women Won the Vote: America Then and Now.

June 10, 2019 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) One hundred years ago this month Congress passed a Joint Resolution leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote.  Then, as now, arguments raged as to whether expanding the franchise was beneficial or harmful to the republic.

Then:  Arguments for and against extending voting rights to women ranged from the silly to the sinister.  Among the more silly against, for instance, was the argument that giving women the right to vote would “imperil female fertility.”  Among the more sinister in favor, were arguments like the one put forward by Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee who said on the senate floor, “Any person who wants white supremacy in the South cannot better guarantee it than by enactment of this equal-suffrage resolution.”  The calculus was that white women would generally vote white: which proved to be the case when 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Others argued against granting women the right to vote because it would also enfranchise black women, as the 15th Amendment did for black men after the Civil War.  Senator Joseph Ransdell of Louisiana sought to assuage their fears by saying, “the situation as to negro women can be handled as has been done with negro men for the past twenty-five years” where poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses had all but prevented black men from voting.  Some of the arguments were downright devious.  Senator James Vardaman of Mississippi proposed a scheme to add white women to the voting rolls and then repeal the 15th Amendment, thus “barring all negroes from the politics of America.”

Despite the silly, sinister and devious arguments for and against, the 19th Amendment was ratified by the States a year later finally bringing universal suffrage to our country.

Now:  One hundred years later we are again engaged in debates about who gets to vote, how and when.  Voter suppression in various forms – voter I.D. laws, voter purges and closing polling stations in minority communities – has been widespread.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has given outsized influence to the role of money in politics and the “smoking gun” documents recently discovered in the court case being argued about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census has proven conclusively that the goal of adding the question was to suppress the Hispanic vote, while bolstering the share a white votes cast.

Meanwhile, H.R.1, passed by the House in this session of congress, seeks to expand voter participation by reducing the influence of so-called “dark money”, expanding early voting and making Election Day a federal holiday.  Mitch McConnell, the self-described “Grim Reaper”, has gone on record saying that all of these efforts are bound for the “legislative graveyard” as long as he is Majority Leader in the Senate.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

There are some new and potentially more dangerous threats to our democracy than those faced earlier and they are the twin phenomena of social media and foreign interference.  Every investigation of the 2016 presidential election has concluded that the Russians interfered in a “systematic and widespread” fashion, as Bob Mueller said, and they used social media extensively to suppress black voter turnout.  And every indication is they are looking at interfering again in 2020.

In one of the more bizarre plots uncovered, associates of Yevgeny Progozkin, the man Mueller indicted for running the Russian “troll farm”, are said to be looking to stir up more racial resentment ahead of the 2020 elections.  This time, they are discussing sending some African-Americans to Africa for “combat prep and training in sabotage” as well as targeting ex-felons for “participation in civil disobedience actions.”  The goal is to further “destabilize the internal situation in the U.S.”  They think this is possible because of the “deepened conflicts in American society” caused by Trump’s election.  As far-fetched as this sounds, it would be a mistake to underestimate the damage a few misguided “brothers” could cause by engaging in acts of domestic terrorism.  They will not be treated as lightly as the murderous acts we have seen committed by white nationalists and, in this current racially polarized climate, could easily result in accusations of “collective guilt” where we are all deemed “national security threats.”  Can’t happen here?  Tell it to Japanese-Americans.

The Constitution was ratified in 1787 and it took one hundred and thirty-three years before all Americans had the right to vote.  In the face of talk about repealing birth-right citizenship and other voting restrictions, let it be understood we have come too far to retreat even an inch in the fight to maintain and expand voting rights.  This is especially true for African-Americans, whose ancestors literally bled and died to obtain and maintain this right.  If you don’t vote, you will betray the hard-fought legacy of freedom passed down to us.  I believe what is meant when it is said, “By their level of participation, people get the government they deserve.”

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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