Women’s rights: Others paved the way

Hurlburt Field, Fla. --

I sat with this year’s Women’s Equality Day theme, “Celebrating Women’s Right to Vote” for a week. I would type out what I wanted to say, delete it, and start again, until images of the School House Rock’s, “Sufferin’ ‘Til Suffrage” song popped into my head; memories of my chief from when I was a young staff sergeant, female suffragettes, my “I Voted” sticker and my children. These thoughts produced two questions:

“What do I think about a woman’s right to vote?”

“What did I tell my children about a woman’s right to vote?”

I’ll be honest that voting, especially as a female, is not something I really thought about until Twitter erupted with the #RepealThe19th hashtag last year.

Suddenly, the lyrics I sang more than 40 years ago bubbled up in my thoughts: “Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age, then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule.” Just like that, my right to vote mattered very much.

Ten-year-old me didn’t care because I couldn’t vote, but while stationed overseas as a young staff sergeant years later, my chief gave a very straightforward explanation about why my vote mattered: we had a voice in picking our next “boss.”

The right to have a say in government leadership is important. We hear about people fighting and dying for this right, but it didn’t sink in until I saw an image of a woman holding up an ID card and a black inked forefinger. These women were threatened at the very least to have their fingers cut off or with death by the Taliban and others at the worst, yet they still took the opportunity to have a say. They risked their lives to vote. Is my right to vote that important to me? Would I risk life and limb to have my say?

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…”

These words appear five times in the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments to the Constitution, more than any other right. The people who were allowed to have a voice in the governing of our country didn’t always include the contribution of women. Essentially the only people who could consistently vote until 1870 were rich, white men. Women, blacks, Native Americans and members of certain religious groups were not allowed.

I read that the U.S. wasn’t the only country in which women were working towards equal rights back in the late 1800s. New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote at a national level and others were working towards the inclusion.

I made plans to meet up with my oldest son at our voting precinct after work during the Presidential primaries last year. I had my three minions, 6-year-old Nathan, 4-year-old Mikah and 3-year-old Makenzey in tow. I’d explained all the way to the church that mama was going to vote and as best I could, but after several lame attempts I settled on to the best explanation I had: “I’m voting for the boss of all the military people in the United States.” (Thank you, chief!)

As we walked to the car, my 3-year-old daughter announced, with the assertiveness of a 35 year old that, “When I get big, I’m going to vote for the boss too.” It hit me then as it did just now that neither I nor she expected anything less than to have our say, our voice, to play a part in how our nation is run. I wished with all I had that those women who fought for voting rights, who fought for this part of equality in America could hear my daughter’s voice and know she can because of what they did.

Circling back to my questions at the beginning, I believe that as a U.S. citizen, I have a duty and a right to participate in my government, help determine how it’s shaped and how it impacts others. I understand that many women, of all colors, went before me to secure what I have taken for granted; the right to vote. I will continue to ensure, not just through my service but in everything I do, that all U.S. citizens have the right and the opportunity to have their voices heard. I want my children, biological, step, adopted and others, to understand the necessity of educating themselves on how the government works, how we vote, who they’re voting for and what their positions are because it impacts all of us. I sincerely hope that they will continue, as others have, to ensure all have access and opportunity to exercise their own rights to vote. I hope that one day they fully understand that they’re not just “voting for the boss of the military” when they cast that ballot, but that they can influence the government that works for them. I look forward to the day that all my daughters, as well as my sons, take their place in determining the future of the nation.

“And now we pull down on the lever
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school (Right on! Right on!)”

Right on!