Alice Paul is one of my personal heroes. She dedicated her life to establishing equal rights and led some of the most crucial political achievements in history for women. If you haven’t seen Iron Jawed Angels, the HBO movie starring Hilary Swank as Paul, you should drop everything and do so immediately. It is a brilliant film that reminds us of the incredible struggle for women’s right to vote and the sacrifices of the Suffragettes.
The film details Paul’s strategy, personal sacrifice, and willingness to put her life on the line for women’s suffrage. I often stop and wonder, “what would I put my life on the line for?” What would you?
Today, we take for granted that we have the right to vote and have forgotten the torture – and I mean that literally – that women experienced simply because they demanded that right. Many of us find our selves too busy to show up for the vote or unconcerned about issues we think do not affect us (believe me, every issue does affect us!). I can only imagine Paul’s response to such complacency.
As we prepare to head to the polls on November 5th, while some women wont show up; others will be refused the right to vote. New controversial photo ID laws in Texas and Pennsylvania discriminate against minorities and low-income voters. Women are surely one of the affected groups – if married or divorced a different last name on identification could keep them from casting their ballots.
Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center told TIME that “A full 34% of women don’t have documents proving citizenship with their current name on it. Why do we have such strict limitations on what kinds of documents people can have when they need to vote?” These are important questions, and although we may think the fight for voting rights is over, there is much work to be done.
When you are considering whether or not you should vote on November 5th, take time to remember that the women before you fought – nearly to the death – so you would have this right. Recognize that there are women in our country who will be denied their right to vote based on discriminatory laws. And, of course, acknowledge that women around the world continue to struggle for their human rights of which voting is surely one. Cast your ballot in their honor and consider how you might act against continued injustice against women and other oppressed groups. While we may not put our lives on the line, we can certainly continue to work for justice.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College.