August 18th marked the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave some women–white women–the hard-won right to vote in the United States, and I feel disappointed.
As a first-time voter, radical feminist, and survivor of sexual assault, I’d anticipated that this election would be more hopeful than it is. In 2016 I felt the possibility that women would have a more significant say in government and that our voices would be heard. Hillary Clinton was predicted to win the election, which would have been an historic validation. But Donald Trump became president, and the past four years have been even worse than anticipated. From the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, women’s voices and bodies are being left in the dust.
Four years ago, I felt discouraged by the election’s outcome, yet excited to vote in 2020 and make my voice heard. Now I’m simply worried. I’ve been reflecting on the reality that in my first election as a voter, both male candidates have been accused of sexual misconduct and even assault, although to varying levels. Nonetheless, I know that I will exercise my right and cast my vote, especially with the appointment of judges on the line.
I’ve been thinking about voter suppression and the fact that voting in the U.S. has become a privilege rather than a right. I’ve had numerous conversations with privileged individuals, many of them non-Black college students, who will not be voting because they don’t want to vote for candidates who are imperfect.
This year, survivors of sexual assault are being placed in a difficult position. I understand why some feel hesitant to vote, but this election is about so much more than the presidency. It is about abortion rights, reproductive freedom, the Supreme Court, LGBTQ+ rights, Black rights, and more. When I cast my first vote for president, I know that I will be voting for more than a person; I am voting to ensure the rights of those whom this country has wronged. If I don’t vote, I know that there will be no progress towards equality.
It was not until I took a government class as a junior in high school that I fully grasped that the 19th Amendment did not give all women suffrage. The women’s suffrage that we are celebrating this year is mainly the suffrage of white women. We have come far in the 100 years since the passing of the 19th Amendment, but we have not come far enough.
There is a divide in this moment of anniversary. We are celebrating a pivotal moment and at the same time grappling with the fact that there are still people in this country with limited access to voting. We are grappling with the fact that the United States is rooted in white supremacy and that most of our schools have not bothered to teach us that complex history.
With the latest rising political and social movements, it feels as if we are on the brink of change. When we think of elections, our minds tend to think simply of the presidency, but state and local elections are more important than ever. These smaller races offer the chance to change this country for the better, and candidates who might respond better to grassroots pressure.
If you, like me, are not feeling great about your choices for president, remember this; we are privileged to be able to vote.
And despite our fears, we are strong. We need to vote because this country is leaving women behind, particularly Black women and women of color. Four years ago could have been a historic win with a female president. And this year has historic potential as well with a BIWOC on the ticket.
This may not be the history that feminists have hoped for, but there is hope, we just need to want to see it. This election is not the one we wanted, but it is the one we have. So, let us exercise our right to participate in it.