Imagine walking down the street, arm-in-arm with your sisters. You recognize few faces in the sea of women around you, but feel connected to the group regardless. You know you're all there for the same reasons, all believing in and supporting the cause.
The group begins to move forward, you and your sisters included. You walk the first few blocks, feeling positive, supported and empowered. Your thin shoes begin to hurt a bit, but it's nothing you can't handle. You march on.
Your sister leans over to you and acknowledges that things have begun to feel different. You can sense it, too—something has changed. There is more noise and commotion filling in the sidewalks surrounding the streets. The temperature begins to rise and new scents of tobacco smoke and newspapers begin to fill the air. All around you, you can feel your sisters move closer to one another as the whole parade tightens together. You march on.
The commotion gets louder, loud enough for you to hear the hateful slurs about women, the jokes about barnyard animals and prompts to return to the kitchen where you belong. The scent of tobacco gets stronger. You begin to see lit cigars thrown from the sidewalks into the middle of the parade, hitting some of your sisters in the face, arm and chest. You feel the spray of saliva on the side of your face as people on the sidewalk begin to spit into the crowd of women. The slight pain in your feet has grown, your shoes cutting into your skin. But you march on.
The tightness of the bodies of your sisters surrounding you grows. Men from the sidewalks are making their way into the parade, pushing you and your sisters closer together, into one another and even onto the ground. You see a few of your sisters fight back only to be struck in the face or the stomach. The group of angry observers grows, and you feel for the first time that you may be outnumbered. Before panic takes over, you are calmed by the police officers standing nearby. You keep your eye on them, waiting for action. But there is none. Some of the officers are just laughing. And still, you march on.
The group of angry men have now blocked the street, leaving only enough room for one woman to pass through at a time. You approach the blockade, your shoes filling with the blood from the sores on your feet, your heart racing. You reach for the hands of your sisters. You follow the leaders making their way through the small opening in the line of men damning you for fighting to have an opinion. You force your way through, careful to hold onto the hands of the sisters who went before and after you. You are hot, sweaty, exhausted, in pain. Your sisters are crying, limping and shouting. And still yet, you march on. You haven't reached the end yet. The march won't be over until August 26, 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified thus granting women the right to vote.
Women have literally fought and suffered for the right to vote in the United States of America since 1850 and in Canada since 1878. In a time when women were not entitled to an education, taught to read or allowed to have any opinion or viewpoint separate from that of their fathers or husbands, a few brave pioneers began to find their voice and harness their courage. During the Parade for Women's Suffrage on March 3, 1913, in Washington D.C., more than 5,000 women from all over the world had the excruciating experience that today we can only imagine. They all marched for the suffrage movement, so that someday, we might have the right to vote.
The movement itself stemmed far beyond the parade, and well surpassed 5,000 participants. Some women joined the suffrage movement because they noticed that the all-male political arena was failing to discuss issues that affect all people. Others got involved because they saw the right to vote as their ticket to receive an education and create a different life for themselves and their families. Still others joined because they believed that "all men and all women were created equal."
Regardless of their motivation, they were all fighting (often quite literally) for the same thing: the right to have a voice and share it with everyone. It is because of these brave women that we all have the ability to hold microphones and share our voices with the world today. As we listen to the number of political ads and campaigns this week, we hear politicians discussing health care, child care, marriage rights, equal pay and education—all issues women brought to the political arena with their voice. Before women were engaged in the process, these issues were simply not discussed. It was the emergence of the woman voter and her unique perspective that brought these important issues to the forefront.
By beginning to change the political conversation, women changed the way decisions were made, what laws were written and passed and the way we now live our lives. The fight for women's right to vote may have already happened, but make no mistake—you, your voice and your vote have just as much power to change the world as the women who came before you did.
All of the issues discussed in this campaign will affect you, your sisters, your mothers and your current and future daughters. Education, equal pay, student loans, the economy, women's health issues and health care reform are all key issues during this election. Regardless of your stance on these issues, changes made in these areas during the next few years will affect your life, whatever your age, location, religious or spiritual identities.
What can you do? You may not be able to march in a parade, but you can educate yourself, and you can vote. Recognize that while you are casting only one vote, your one vote still has the power to change the world in which we live. And remember that it's not so much a "vote" as "votes!" There are many local, state and federal elections happening right now in which your vote can make a difference.
The sisters who came before you believed in your right to express your opinion, to pick up the microphone and shout it or to close the curtain in a secret ballot box as you cast your vote. What do you believe in? You have the right, and the chance to express it because they believed in the power of their voice. Believe in yours, and use it. Don't you owe that to them?
"Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither." Said women's suffragist Abby Kelley Foster following the Parade on March 3rd.