Last Saturday, I attended the Women’s March in downtown Chicago. I went with two friends and we made signs the night before, as is a tradition of protesting. While at the march, many women from different organizations, groups, and shows spoke, sang, or presented before the actual march started.
We arrived pretty early and were probably within the first 1,000 people to show up. However, as it got closer to the start time, we were told that there were about 300,000 people at the march- almost 50,000 more people than last year’s record breaking attendance for protests in Chicago.
Being in a crowd of more than a quarter million people fighting for the same cause is seriously world changing. There were women of color, disabled women, girls who led chants, immigrants, women running for office, women standing with those who couldn’t be there, and allies of all of these women. Everyone was there for each other.
The women who spoke were all women who were breaking walls and burning bridges, all while making the path to success for others easier. They were leaders of ADAPT, a group fighting for disabled people’s rights, and there were people who held public office, but were only the first or second woman to ever hold that position. There were performers from Second City Comedy Club and a gospel choir.
Each and every person who spoke was there to show support of others struggles and to speak for their own organization, but each person left the crowd with a common message: vote because people’s lives literally depend on it. The size of the protest doesn’t matter if people don’t show up at the ballots.
Voting is a right given to American citizens, but is not fully taken advantage of. The road to voting rights has been bumpy and long and there are currently still acts of voter suppression at each election.
Male citizens who were not white couldn’t vote until 1870 and women didn’t have the right to vote until 1920. Even after these laws were passed, however, voting was not and is not accessible to, or equal, for everyone.
For example, in the Alabama special election for senate seat in December 2017; People were illegally turned away from the ballots if they could not remember the county they were born in or if they were told they’re inactive. According to Alabama State Law, a voter is considered inactive if they have not voted in four years. When a person is considered an inactive voter, they should be given the chance to re-identify and vote on a normal ballot, not a provisional ballot (a ballot used to record vote if there are questions about someone’s eligibility to vote).
There are more than 245 million Americans over 18, but only 157 million people are even registered to vote. Of those registered to vote, just over 50% of people vote in presidential elections on average.
The rates are even lower than that in local and state elections. The US trails most other developed countries in these numbers; Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark all have higher than 80% voter turnout and Canada, the UK, and Japan have more than 90% of eligible voters registered.
So why does voting matter? It matters because less than 20% of the United States Congress is female, but more than half of the people in the US are female. It matters because the first woman to serve in Congress, Jeannette Rankin (R-MT), wasn’t elected until 1916- 127 years after the first Congress was established. The first woman of color, Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-HI), wasn’t elected to Congress until 1964.
If each person who can vote did vote, more women and minorities would hold public office which means more voices are represented in our government. Only when the government is representative of the people who live in America is the government truly working for the people.