Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Suffrage

Dear Daughter,

We're close to the 100th Anniversary of women's right to vote in this country.  One hundred years will seem like a long time to you.  When you get older, though, you'll realize it's not long at all.  If you subtract our ages, it's shocking to think that women were only voting for about 70 years before I was born.  That's just one lifetime.  That's nothing at all.

In one radio story I listened to today, the granddaughter of Alice Park - a California Suffragist - said her grandmother believed women voters would improve the world. They would never vote for war, for example.  In fact, it seems much of the fear over allowing women to vote was due to the fear that women would vote against things like the liquor industry.  We would be too powerful. We would vote for our interests.  But women won the vote anyway. In California, it was only by a margin of 4000 votes - an average of one vote per precinct.  That's a small number also and one that should help you recognize that, though rare, a single vote can matter because single votes are counted together and add up quickly.

When listening to small history reports like this one, I can't help but wonder what these Suffragist mothers of ours would think about current public policy and politics. Would they be shocked that so few members of Congress are women?  Would they be shocked that women - more likely to vote and voting in higher numbers - haven't elected more of their own? That we haven't received more consideration by our brothers in office?  What would they think of health care reform? Of women candidates saying obstetrical care shouldn't be covered by mandate?

Did the fears of the 1911 liquor companies come to pass? Or did they have nothing to fear at all by giving us the vote?
Remember this, my dearest daughter: some experiences are singularly female and thus you are innately better equipped to comment on those experiences and draft policy related to those experiences.  But you can't use that innate ability unless you develop it through study, work, and practice.  You aren't the only one who can and just because you are a woman doesn't mean your ideas will be better due to that biological fact.  Never vote for a woman because she is a woman if you disagree with her principles.  Never vote against a man because he is a man.  Your values come first and hopefully, those values will coincide with a strong, woman candidate for whom you can cast your ballot.  Remember that, if you wish, that ballot you cast could be for yourself.

But if you never want to appear on a ballot, never want to walk a precinct or work a phone bank, if you don't read the paper every day, and never contribute a dime to a candidate or cause, I hope you will still remember to vote and I hope you will still expect the people who represent you to be mindful that you represent at least half of the country.  Expect men to champion policy good for both sexes.  Expect women to do the same. But always double-check that they are doing so and don't let them get away with it if they don't.

You will be challenged by those who point out that a single vote doesn't matter.  They are techincally correct - a single vote doesn't.  But no one votes in a vacuum (if they did, there'd be no point in voting).  And if you stop caring about government, don't be surprised when it stops caring about you.

You've already been to the polls twice in 8 months - I expect you to keep this up.

your mother.

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