Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s Passage While Continuing to Fight for Its Promise
In recognition of Women’s Equality Day, Independent Sector hosted a Centennial Celebration webinar to promote efforts that institute inclusive remedies and dismantle structural inequality. For many, the 19th amendment marks a pivotal era that commemorates the evolution of American voting rights. Others recognize this landmark legislation as a deliberate act of preclusion that established patterns of disenfranchisement for generations to come. The anniversary of its passage serves as a critical reminder that we live in a history-driven present and that the fight for equity is not the sole responsibility of a single party, race, gender, or organization. A century following the enactment of the 19th amendment, women are more engaged in electoral politics than ever before, occupying 127 seats in the United States Congress to date. Despite encompassing nearly 51 percent of the total U.S. population and being disproportionately affected across every policy area, women have remained marginalized in elective office at every level of government, comprising a mere 23.7 percent of the 535 Congressional members with only 48 members identifying as women of color.
Award-winning impact strategist and founder of ABA Consulting Group, Adjoa B. Asamoah underscored the importance of equal access and representation, “Black women have to ensure that we are at the table. We are not equitably represented at all whether it be at the state legislatures, in Congress, as mayors, etc. We have to ensure that we are constantly pushing the needle forward to ensure that there is true inclusion so that the reality of the 19th amendment that some people are celebrating becomes a reality for all so that the concept of democracy that didn’t include us actually does.” This retrospective not only acknowledges historical wrongs but seeks to right such wrongs by addressing the array of barriers that disempower populations who are often excluded from the democratic process. League of Women Voters’ Programs and Outreach Director, Maggie Bush reiterated the importance of challenging efforts and tactics that threaten democracy, “While we are celebrating our 100th year as an organization, we’re fully and publicly owning the fact that neither the movement nor our organization were inclusive in its founding days — something that’s on all of our minds as we’re moving forward and trying to best serve voters this year in spite of unprecedented challenges.”
Ms. Asamoah reminded viewers that the lessons of history can help to avoid making policy mistakes, which even if inadvertent can have devastating consequences, “This year many women nationwide have been and will undoubtedly continue to celebrate. 1920 doesn’t represent the same thing for Black women. The hypocrisy of it becomes painfully obvious against the backdrop of a pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown women and underscores the reality of injustice when we consider the fact that Breonna Taylor is no longer with us and that her killers are still free. It’s a reminder that although Black women, being the pragmatic activists that we are, understood the concept of intersectionality before the term was even coined. The sacrifice that we made for the concept of democracy that didn’t even include us should certainly be noted.”
By examining the relationship of intersectionality, nonprofits can promote greater collaboration among scholars, practitioners, and sector leaders to establish a more equitable society where all people thrive. Christy Felling, Director of Media and Public Affairs for Share Our Strength, illustrated how longstanding barriers to voter participation intersect across and between nonprofit missions, “We’re not a democracy organization, we’re an anti-childhood hunger organization. We’re doing this because we don’t have the luxury not to. One of the reasons we engage in Get Out the Vote — beyond being the right and moral thing to build a greater society, is because this is where the news and public attention is going to be for the next few weeks. We’re not only getting out the vote when we engage the people we serve; we’re also keeping our issue front and center for new leaders and elected officials down the road.”
Research indicates that electoral candidates and incumbents engage communities with high voter turnout rates. Encouraging voter participation in communities served by nonprofits ensures that elected officials are accountable to nonprofit organizations and constituents alike once elected into office. As the third largest employer, nonprofits interface with the nation’s most diverse communities and possess the capacity to mobilize 12.3 million employees across 1.5 million organizations of donors, volunteers, and residents to increase voter engagement. This unparalleled reach, coupled with our natural engagement assets, make nonprofits a well-suited partner and impartial source to stakeholders and voters. League of Women Voters’ Maggie Bush emphasized how the sector is unequivocally adept to equip underserved communities with tools and resources to encourage active civic participation, “Nonprofits are critical to building access within our democracy and ensuring that our electorate actually looks like our community, in terms of the diversity of voices who are taking part. Research tells us that voters who are engaged by nonprofit organizations turnout as much as 11 percent higher. It shows that nonprofits, as trusted originations, are critical to turning out the vote and reaching voters who don’t tend to have access to information about how voting works or how it’s changed in their community.”
Webinar panelists also discussed the sector’s role in safeguarding the 2020 election cycle through nonprofit advocacy, grassroots organizing, and public education campaigns. Government Relation experts Heather Meade and Jessica Cameron of Washington Council Ernst & Young outlined strategies to effectively integrate voter engagement activities into nonprofit services, “All politics are local. Think about where your footprint is in terms of the communities that you serve and where you have offices. Those elected officials are more likely to listen to your stories because you’re the constituents that they really want to hear from. While engaging members, you want to consider language that is inviting to everyone. Members and staff are still using Zoom to have meetings. Think about who you’re serving — bring them to tell your story and invite more people from your organization to join the meeting. Nonprofits may be able to bring a better view of who they are and can create a pretty compelling opportunity to engage with that member and their staff even though it’s a different format.” Christy Felling presented an approach to overcome capacity challenges, “We don’t have all the answers, we have the answers that work for us. My advice for nonprofits, especially those who have not done voter engagement in the past, is not to be daunted or discouraged by all the options available, start small and pick two or three things. Before you know it, your efforts will grow, and you will see how it helps lift up the work itself.”
National Voter Registration Day is quickly approaching. It is critically important for nonprofits to raise their collective voices to educate the public, voters, candidates, and policymakers. Visit the Independent Sector website to view the full recording of the webinar and to learn how your organization can serve on the front lines of democracy. Additional voter engagement resources can be accessed in our Election Center.