The Future Of Women’s Equality Must Learn From Its Flawed History

By Erin Vilardi, CEO and Founder, VoteRunLead

Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that was passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified in August 1920, granting the right to vote to women. The victory of the 19th Amendment, like too many of our nation’s great steps forward, left out large populations of our fellow Americans, falling short of its full potential.

While all women were technically granted the right to vote, most women of color were not enfranchised until much later; even then, barriers to black voter participation were codified into state laws, and met with literacy tests and lynchings. Many black women in southern states were not allowed to vote until the mid 1960s. Native American women were not granted the right to vote in all fifty states until 1957.

In 2017, former felons remain partial citizens, disenfranchised long after they have paid their debt to society. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has not been fully renewed, and the myth of rampant voter fraud poisons the political air. Learning from the past struggles for women’s voting equality, where the supremacy of white women was prioritized in an entire gender’s right to participate in our democracy, is necessary to realize equality among the sexes and within them.

Despite systemic sexism and racism, women (and overwhelming, black women) have outvoted men in every election cycle since 1980 but remain desperately underrepresented in political power. For about the same time period (mostly white) men have held roughly 80% of all 520,000 elected seats across the country. This year, unlike any other time in history, we have the opportunity to change those numbers and, more importantly, to create a different kind of history in how we reach gender parity in government.

With tens of thousands of women seeking information and declaring their candidacies, this moment in time gives us an opportunity to include all American women in the rise of female leadership: women of color, rural women, trans women, conservative women, immigrant women, gay women and young women. And, to do it side-by-side with our male allies.

Access to political leadership cannot be the domain of white men or the privilege of white women. Working to diversify who runs — and ultimately, who leads — are organizations like Latinas Represent, Higher Heights, IGNITE National and Minnesota’s own Rural and American Indigenous Leadership. VoteRunLead.org, supported by The Minneapolis Foundation, is bringing “Go Run,” a game-changing political gathering that is open to all women, to Minneapolis. Go Run will include our sister organizations and provide women with access to seasoned alums who have successfully run for office. The three day training event will amplify the voices and experiences of a diversity of women who shaped new pathways to power, will enlist corporate and community allies, and will build women’s independent political power not tied to partisan rhetoric. We will develop tools and training with, not for, the community and side-by-side with men of courage to enable all women to take leadership roles in our government and enact real change.

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This Women’s Equality Day, we are committing to work better and work together to overcome our nation’s history of injustice and inequality by centering the experiences of women of color, listening to the perspectives of both conservative and progressive women, and including our male allies as we increase the number of women in political power. We are asking you to do the same: to acknowledge our flaws to make the future better. It won’t be perfect, our history shows us that, but it will be intentional, inclusive and open. Let the struggle for women’s voting rights be a lesson in the advancement of women’s representation.

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