The battle for women’s right to vote dates back to 1848 when it was proposed at the historic women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. But it would take decades of activism by dedicated women — and men — before Congress would finally pass, and the states ratify, the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote.
The activists who achieved this progress for women should serve as an inspiration to us today. They gave us a great gift — the right to vote — and it’s imperative that we make sure to use it. The good news is that since 1980, women have been turning out in greater numbers — as a percentage of our voting age population — than men. But we still haven’t fulfilled the true potential of the power the vote affords us to transform both who represents us as well as the policies those representatives vote to enact.
Look at Congress. Despite being 51 percent of the U.S population, women make up just 18.5 percent of our House of Representatives and just 20 percent of the U.S.Senate. Sadly, this puts us at 84th in the world for women’s representation in national legislatures. At the state level, just five women serve as governors and 24 percent of state legislative seats are filled by women. It’s going to take years, but we must — and I’m confident we will — get to parity with men so that our representation in government matches our representation in the population. This means we need more women to step up and run for office, and we need women to support those women who share their values with their time, with their money and, most important of all, with their vote. That’s precisely what happened in 2012. With a record number of women candidates running and with women making up 53 percent of the vote, we were able to elect a record number of women to Congress. My hope is that we can do this once again in 2014.
Because this isn’t just about numbers — it’s also about policies. Do you think if Congress were made up of 51 percent women we would have had a debate over access to birth control over the past couple of years? No, we’d be much more focused on the issues that matter to American families such as creating jobs and growing our economy. It’s no accident that in this time of partisan stalemate, we saw Senator Susan Collins lead the way on ending the government shutdown last year, or that Senator Patty Murray led the way on a bipartisan budget deal, and Senator Barbara Mikulski on fulfilling the appropriations needed to execute it.
And look at the policies that govern our workplace. They are — as President Obama said — straight out of a Mad Men episode. For example, it’s simply unacceptable that women get paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to what men make, that the United States is the only high-income, developed nation not to guarantee paid family leave to its workers, and that the minimum wage is a poverty wage. If the United States Congress had the sort of gender diversity that businesses around the country have, I’m confident we’d be able to update these rules of the workplace so that women would be empowered to contribute fully to their families’ financial security.
This is why I started my Off The Sidelines campaign — to encourage more women to get off the sidelines and make their voices heard. That starts with voting, it means advocating for issues you care about and maybe even running for office yourself. It’s way past time women started using our voice in equal proportion to our population — and our turnout in election years. And it’s crucial that we make sure those whom we elect listen. Only through our voices and our votes will we be able to elect candidates who share our values to implement policies that benefit our lives.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964, when so many — including James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner — gave their lives in the effort to expand the diversity of voices represented at the voting booth, it’s a time to reflect on the stark reality that voting is a right that women and men fought and sacrificed for and it’s one that we must not take for granted. We’ll all have an opportunity to exercise that right this November, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to turn out in record numbers and support candidates who make issues important to women a priority.
So, I hope you’ll join me. If you’re not registered, register to vote today here.
If you are, send this post to all your friends and urge them to register.
Once you’re registered, be sure to research candidates in your area and support those who share your values — with your money, your time and, most important, your vote. You can pledge to vote at Off The Sidelines and we’ll be sure to stay in touch as election day nears.
And be sure to spread the word to your friends and family at the dinner table, on social media and at school and work about the importance of making their voices heard at the ballot box this November.
Together, by raising our voices and casting our votes, we can make history again this year.