This week, we celebrate two of the most impactful anniversaries people have in America – the ratification of the 19th amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 117 years ago, women gained the right to vote. 52 years ago, Jim Crow ended and African- Americans gained the right to vote, even when it was already protected by the Constitution. As a result, the number of female and elected representatives of color increased dramatically.
Before 1965, minorities accounted for less 1,000 elected officials. Today, more than 10,000 African-Americans nationwide hold public office. Likewise, the numbers have increased to over 6,000 for Latinos and nearly 1000 for Asian-Americans. Yet, while we celebrate how far we’ve come, it is glaringly obvious that much work remains to be done.
In 1965, there were no African-Americans in the U.S. Senate. There was not a single African- American governor. The recent movie “Detroit”, which depicts the horrific events of officer-involved shootings being reported to Rep. John Conyers, reminds us that we did have a few African-American members of the House of Representatives (6 to be exact). Today, those numbers are well over 40, including our own Congresswoman Gwen Moore. However, there are only two African-American U.S. Senators and one African American governor (U.S. Virgin Islands) in 2017.
In terms of women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, in 2017, 3 women sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, 105 serve in the U.S. Congress (21 in the Senate and 84 in the House), 6 serve as governors and the share of women in state legislatures, like me, is just short of 25%.
The reality is that the power of women and African-Americans exercising their right to vote has certainly proven valuable in providing us a seat at the table. When you’re at the table, you can change or improve upon the menu. However, there are people who have decided it’s in their best interests when African-Americans, women, students, elderly, or other disenfranchised groups are not a part of the voting process. And to further their goals, the very protections provided by the 19th Amendment and Voting Rights Act are presently under attack.
From the creation of President Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity alleging voter fraud, aggressive voter restrictions, to gerrymandered districts, plans to deny, steal or cancel voting rights are underway in nearly every state in the country. Orchestrated and executed often at the hands of Republican controlled legislatures, and with a sitting U.S. Attorney General who has shown little regard to protect the rights of the marginalized, many of us understand that we are in a fight. And yet, there are too many who question the value or their vote.
So, I am forced to ask the question: If your vote means nothing, doesn’t make a difference, then from the White House to the State House, why are there so many Republicans working hard to take it from you? Let’s use these anniversaries to remind us where we’ve been and why we can’t go back.