The Fight Goes On

A suffragist rally

One-hundred years ago today, August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Its adoption made it unconstitutional to deny the vote to anyone on “account of sex.” It was the largest expansion of the vote to a previously marginalized group of people in American history.

It is an anniversary worth celebrating and commemorating. It marks an important milestone for a nation in which only white male property holders could vote in 1790 to one recognizing universal suffrage. Yet, while one person, one vote is the theoretical dictum of the United States, the right to vote remains under attack today, 100 years after women received the ballot and more than 150 years after the 14th Amendment forbade denying the vote to anyone based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

A line of voters in Harris County, Texas, in March 2020, waiting to cast their ballot

This 100th anniversary reminds us that vigilance is needed to protect the right to vote. Republicans have tried to deny Democratic-leaning groups access to the ballot by insisting on voter ID’s frequently not available to the poor, the young, and minorities. Several Republican-dominated legislatures have reduced access to polling places, either by restricting their hours of operation or by closing some altogether. States have limited early voting, which is important for many hourly wage workers who cannot get to the polls on election day. The available tricks to limit voting are virtually, well, limitless, all in an attempt by Republicans to guarantee that groups likely to vote Democratic do not get to vote. The reason for these violations of democratic norms is easy to surmise, since many Republicans have explained that enabling everyone to vote means Republicans do not win elections. 

This year, President Donald Trump has launched an even more insidious attempt to limit the vote. In the midst of a pandemic in which mail-in voting is the choice of many who want to vote but not get sick, the president is doing everything he can to prevent Americans from voting by mail. Though there is no credible evidence that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud, Trump frequently has said the election will be “rigged” if people do not vote in person. Now, he is attacking the Postal Service — and denying it needed funds — in a cynical attempt to undermine that institution to prevent millions of Democrats from voting.

Collection boxes removed from the streets of New York City

Trump’s hand-picked head of the Postal Service has introduced supposed cost-cutting measures just when Americans are gearing up to vote by mail. He has reassigned postal executives who have institutional knowledge of the workings of the organization, removed mail-sorting machines at post offices and mailboxes from neighborhood streets, and he has forbidden overtime. All of this is an obvious attempt to hamper mail-in voting in the hopes that a snarled postal service will not be able to deliver ballots in time for them to be counted. Democrats in Congress are beginning to investigate, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cut short their August recess to address concerns about the Postmaster General and the recent changes. There is some evidence the Trump administration is beginning to relent in its attempt to interfere with mail delivery.

The ratification of the 19th Amendment granted the ballot to women but it did not, obviously, insure equality. That struggle has persisted, and it is only in recent years that women have begun to enter politics in large numbers. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate puts a woman potentially a heartbeat from the presidency, and it elevates the child of a Black man and an Indian woman onto a major party ticket. This is all historic, but it does not mean her legitimacy has not been challenged. The vestiges of racism and sexism already have come into public view in attacks on Harris.

Trump has revisited his ugly and racist “birtherism.” He spent years promulgating nonsense about Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president, and now he and his right-wing cohorts took mere seconds after Harris was chosen to revive “birtherism.” The current “birther” allegation revolves around the 14th Amendment and suggests that Harris, as the child of immigrants who were not yet citizens of the United States when she was born, is not a full-fledged citizen of the United States. This is nonsense as the wording of the 14th Amendment is clear. Its first section says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States….”

No ambiguity in those words. The amendment was adopted to protect the rights and citizenship of the formerly enslaved men and women newly freed by the 13th Amendment. It granted citizenship to anyone born in the United States, regardless of the status of their parents. It was necessary because, obviously, the parents of the formerly enslaved were not citizens of the United States (assuming both their parents were of African descent, which, of course, was not always the case). 

Kamala Harris’s parents

Harris’s heritage has come under scrutiny as well. The California Senator is Tamil and African by history, and she identifies as Black. Ultra-conservative radio and TV host Mark Levin claims Harris’s Jamaican origins disqualifies her from inclusion as an African American. Others argues she is not descended from slaves, as if that is necessary to make one an African American. It is nonsense. In any event, Jamaica was an English colony that had one of the most brutal and violent plantation systems. And, Kamala Harris is Black because she says she is Black. People define themselves. End of story.

Not that Trump and others are not trying to define her. The president has mixed sexism with his racism in labeling Harris “nasty.” Others refer to her as “angry.” The nasty and angry Black woman is a sexist and racist stereotype of long standing. It is no surprise that Trump has used it, since his sexism and racism have been apparent for decades.

Yes, this anniversary reminds us that freedom and equality require vigilance. While all may, in theory, vote, the exercise of that right requires access to the ballot. We must do all we can to prevent Trump and his minions from denying us that exercise. And, we must all rally to Harris, as we must rally to anyone, who is the focus of sexist and racist attacks. 

So, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, but, remember, the fight goes on.

Posted August 18, 2020 — 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment 

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