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Women’s Equality Day Must Include All Women

// August 26, 2019

Colorado Women’s Equality Day Commemoration Speech

This speech was delivered by WFCO President & CEO, Lauren Y. Casteel, from the State Capitol on August 26, 2019, Women’s Equality Day. Every Year Women’s Equality Day commemorates the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the U.S. on the basis of sex.

Creating access for every person to wear the sticker that says “I voted”

I voted. It’s only 2 little words, but when we put them together, they hold extraordinary significance. At face value, proudly wearing an “I Voted” sticker is a rallying cry for civic engagement and for each of us to use the privilege we’ve been given.

But deeper than that, it’s a source of pride that we matter. Our voices hold power. We are part of something bigger. Is there any greater validation of our community, humanity, and democracy than the privilege of voting?

Women worked for decades to demonstrate that our voices mattered leading up to 1920. We know that when women are represented – in the voting booth and in office – that policies that advance causes for women and their families are more likely to pass. As the only statewide community foundation focused on the economic security of women, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado knows that voting is one of our strongest tools for shaping history. We conduct research to inform the community. Through grantmaking, we put those insights into action. But it’s public policy and our votes that give it all traction.

Through voting, we create shared rules for the collective space in which we live our lives together, for our natural resources, our urban and rural cities and towns, our communities, and our children’s futures. Ballots include the names of individuals who should not be considered as personalities but as leaders and representatives who will shape policies and practices as they relate to areas as varied as child care, equal pay, healthcare, education, the economy, and the environment.

However, as we kick off what will be a year of commemoration and celebration of the 19th Amendment, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that we must continue to work every day to exercise our inclusion muscles.

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s vision is a future where women of every background and identity prosper. There is an emphasis on every background and identity.

As the Suffragette movement accelerated in the early 20th Century, white women concentrated on winning over white Southerners, and black women were excluded and marginalized in the movement, if they were even mentioned at all. As a result, black women created their own organizations to fight for voting rights. Even after the 19th Amendment removed gender discrimination from voting across the nation, many policies, practices, and laws were in place that prevented people from voting based on ethnicity and race.

As a former slave, Sojourner Truth asked at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, “Ain’t I A Woman?”

Most black women in the South, like black men, were blocked by poll taxes, literacy tests and other racial barriers, while Native Americans and Asian immigrants were largely excluded from citizenship entirely. Because of practices like these, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was necessary. Years after the passage of 15th and 19th amendments, it outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states.

If we aren’t vigilant, suppression of our communities’ most marginalized voices can continue to occur. We must ensure that voting not just includes, but accommodates care givers, disabled women, elderly women, trans women, women of color, and ALL women. We must ask if new rules shorten polling hours, cut the number of polling places in districts, change up geographic voting lines, limit accessibility or one’s ability to obtain a Voter ID.

If we aren’t including all the voices that make up our communities, how can we accurately make the changes that advance opportunities for us ALL?

WFCO is proud to be nonpartisan, a stance that means we seek to learn from people of a variety of backgrounds and persuasions. We say it’s not about politics, it’s about people. And that means all people.

Over 55 years ago, when I was 10, my father Whitney M. Young, Jr., stood with Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The words that he said remain as true today as they were for our forefathers, suffragettes, and when he stood as witness to the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

On that memorable day, my father said: “We must march…to renewed faith and confidence due to tangible programs and visible changes made possible by walking together: to the PTA meetings, to the libraries, to the decision-making meetings, to the schools and colleges, to the adult education centers for all and…to the voter registration booths. The hour is late, the gap is widening.”

In Colorado, we will create the access for every person to wear that precious sticker that says “I voted.”

Lauren Casteel is a member of the Colorado Women’s Vote Centennial Commission. Created by former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the commission is leading efforts to commemorate 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment and recognize women’s suffrage in Colorado.

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