By Gabriella Gruber and Marisa Guerra Echeverria, Staff Writers
// As the United States celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Americans also remember the people who dedicated their lives to the suffrage movement. Their contributions to society are apparent now more than ever with the 2020 presidential election right around the corner.
President of the Diablo Chapter of League of Women Voters (LWV) Shawn Gilbert gave a presentation to Acalanes High School students via Zoom on Oct. 16 during Academy to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
The LWV represents many towns throughout the Bay Area, including all of Contra Costa County. The group consists of both female and male volunteers who share the common goals of protecting the democratic system and empowering voters. Although the main objective of the organization is to encourage people to exercise their democratic powers, it does not endorse any specific political party or candidate.
“I would describe the League of Women Voters as a very dedicated organization whose purpose it is to empower the voters of our nation and to protect our democracy… Our goal is to try to help our citizens be as informed as they possibly can be regarding the facts,” Gilbert said.
The League of Women Voters began empowering women to take action in politics after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Today, despite historic advances in women’s rights, many of the women’s suffrage movements’ founders and compatriots remain unknown.
“With the hundredth anniversary [of the 19th Amendment and the LWV this year,]… there’s a lot of women in history, [but] we’re not taught about [them]. We know about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson,…but where are the ladies?” Gilbert said. “[Women] are the other half of the history that’s been going on in this country. We’re just not ever taught about it.”
In addition to the focus on women’s history, the presentation addressed the women’s suffrage movement’s intersectionality in several instances. For example, early suffragists found inspiration within the matriarchal government that was distinctive to the Native-American Iroquois tribe. The women’s suffragist movement also intersects with the civil rights movement, as the 19th Amendment excluded women of color.
The LWV’s presentation highlighted the lives and achievements of suffragettes of Native-American, Latina, Black, Asian, and Pacific-Islander descent, among other races and ethnicities.
“What we all as Americans have to understand is that [the 19th Amendment] did not give all women the right to vote…[Women’s suffrage] wasn’t just white women. There were women of every ethnic background working for the right to vote for all women, even though there was racism, sexism, classism, you name it…There still was this effort to move things forward,” Gilbert said.
The celebration of suffragettes of different racial and ethnic backgrounds provides a more accurate representation of the diversity within the American people. Shining a light on these women’s achievements reflects the contributions of these groups in American history and society today.
“I learned about the Asian-American women that fought for women’s suffrage and that stuck with me because I am half-Chinese and I just really look up to those women fighters,” senior Jasmine Toni said.
The LWV’s presentation commemorated the fight for universal suffrage and how it is paramount in the coming weeks as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Through this remembrance, students could better understand the suffragists’ struggle and the importance of the right to vote.
“It is important to learn about the fight for all women suffrage and universal suffrage because it makes people appreciate their right to vote. It wasn’t easy for many to get [the right to vote], and it took many years of fighting, so now we must use it and go out and vote,” senior Erin Meade said.
By participating in the democratic process, Americans not only advocate for their personal wants and needs, but they also honor the legacy of those who strove for universal suffrage and uphold the system that enables it.
“[Democracy] is an important system and for it to function and survive, it requires participation from citizens. As a citizen of a country, we do have responsibility more than just being good citizens…That’s all important to the government, but if we’re just strictly talking about the government itself and its form, we have to care about it,” Gilbert said.
To increase citizen participation among youth in the election process, the Acalanes Library provides many new suffrage-centered resources and presentations.
“[The Acalanes staff] thought that if the whole [election] process were covered and talked about, [it would] let students learn how to read about issues and candidates. That would be an effective way to get them involved and engaged and kind of demystify some of the [voting] process,” Acalanes librarian Barbara Burkhalter said.
Today, the election process allows for Americans’ voices to be heard through their vote. In order for the government to make beneficial decisions for the country as a whole, its citizens must vote.
“It is important for everyone to vote in any election because your vote is your voice on issues affecting equality, education, healthcare, and many more. For one not to vote not only affects them but also those around them,” senior Deja Cooper said.