Your cause must be bigger than you

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It is a little difficult to imagine that, more than a century ago, women in the United States and in many countries all over the world were not allowed to vote. And frankly, it’s not something many of us think about.

An image on my Facebook page recently caught my eye, showing suffragettes posing under a sign that read, “VOTE YES on Women (sic) Suffrage – Oct. 19.” This was the date in 1911 in California for Proposition Four, granting women the right to vote. I immediately thought: This subject would make an interesting column.

LESS THAN three weeks before the Nov. 6 general election, the lines were long on day one of early voting. Seeing women in line to vote is no big deal. But 92 years ago in Georgia, it was a big deal indeed. Just as blacks fought for years for the right to vote, women no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines because men, and some women, during the 19th century thought politics was “men’s business.”

I could just imagine the conversation in some of the households in those days. Women and/or significant others have a lot of influence on decisions men make. So behind closed doors, they probably spent hours talking about elections, political issues and whom to vote for. But on Election Day, it was only the men who could cast their votes. The women had to remain at home.

Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, wrote her husband while he was away at work on the Declaration of Independence, asking him to “remember the ladies.” His reply, with a bit of humor, reminded her that the Declaration’s wording clearly says that “all men are created equal.” We sure have come a long way, haven’t we?

Susan B. Anthony wrote the federal women’s suffrage amendment that was introduced to Congress in 1878, and passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1919. In May 1869, Mrs. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. Its primary goal was to achieve voting rights for women by means of a congressional amendment to the Constitution.

On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was certified by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. This historical moment occurred 41 years after the movement began. Neither Mrs. Anthony nor Mrs. Stanton, by the way, lived to see women gain the right to vote.

WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE in the United States was achieved gradually, at state and local levels, during the late 19th century and early 20th century, culminating in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which provided: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

This represents 41 years of determination, perseverance, passion, commitment, focused efforts, strategic planning, tears, pain, heartache, despair, working together, building bridges, creating enemies and much prayer. What a powerful testimony.

And even after that, it took Georgia another 50 years (Feb. 20, 1970) to follow suit with many other states ahead of them and ratify the 19th Amendment. I’m sure I can speak for women – and, more than likely, the majority of the men – and say that I’m happy these women had the foresight and vision to follow through on their quest for the right for women to vote.

IN TODAY’S economic, social and political climate, there are many issues, concerns and causes. Some of the challenges are so big there’s a sense of hopelessness that nothing can be done. You may feel that no one is paying attention; that no one cares about your cause; and that you cannot make a difference.

I hope this column will rejuvenate and encourage your spirit, because these women, against all odds, achieved something that will remain in the history books forever. They made a difference. You may not see the manifestation of your hard work, just as Anthony and Stanton were not able to, but let these women be a reminder that the goals and vision of your work and cause can be realized, too.

(The writer is a radio talk-show host, published author, life coach and mental-health advocate.)


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