The Unfinished Fight for My Sisters

August 18, 2020

by Catherine Beane, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, YWCA

I sit in the quiet of this morning, before the noise in my house begins, and I remember:

100 years ago today – August 18, 1920 – the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

A century of women’s rights launched in a world still reeling from a pandemic and a world war, when my grandmothers were still just young girls living in southern states that were actively subjugating and terrorizing Black people.

It took 45 more years for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to begin to rectify the intentional exclusion of women of color from the voting rights established by the 19th Amendment. And the suffragist movement itself bore little resemblance to the 4th wave of feminism that today is actively grappling with racial equity, liberation, and inclusivity.

Was the 19th Amendment perfect? Far from it. But a milestone in the long journey toward justice? Absolutely yes.

Decades before my birth, doors previously closed were opened by women who challenged gender norms and raised their voices to demand their place in American democracy. They faced the violence of imprisonment for peaceful protest and forced feedings when they went on hunger strikes.

They also perpetuated and benefited from racial inequality.

And I – a white, cis-gender, able-bodied, educationally-privileged daughter of the south – I stand on their shoulders. Like them, I am privileged in my whiteness with the choice to either hold onto that privilege, or to fight to create a world in which all of my sisters – no matter how they live, love, and identify in this world – are free.

On the morning of this centennial anniversary, instead of rose-colored optimism or celebratory platitudes, I choose to commemorate, remember, and recommit:

To commemorate the milestone of the 19th Amendment for women in the cold light of realism.

To remember the women who envisioned what our world could be and fought to make that vision a reality. To remember that their vision was incomplete and that like so much of our nation’s history and foundation, the 19th Amendment was itself an embodiment of intentional and systemic racism. To remember that so much more remains to be done.

To recommit to the fight for justice, because progress only emerges from chaos if we are willing to do the hard work to open the door wide enough for all of us to be free – or better yet, to tear down the doors and walls that exclude and divide us.

For my sisters, too many of whom are still excluded and marginalized, I choose to fight to create a nation and a world of justice and freedom — and I hope that you will join me.

Through YWCA’s “Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future” GOTV campaign, you can:

Together, we can make the 19th Amendment’s vision of gender equality more complete and create a world in which women and girls – in all of our rich diversity and identities – are seen, heard, represented, and free.

Read more here.