To modern-day cynics who scoff at the notion that rallies and protests make a difference, we say just look at the women of New Mexico and the nation who took to streets and parks seeking the right to vote 100 years ago.
As we enter 2020 — which will mark the 100th anniversary of women winning voting rights — it is useful to reflect upon the importance of protest in our national identity.
Abolitionists, temperance backers, suffragists, civil rights activists, anti-war protesters — all of these successful advocates took to the streets demanding change. Civil disobedience works.
For women of the early 20th century, the struggle was long and hard. The men who ruled the roost did not believe women were capable of participating in elections. Women were emotional. They needed to tend to hearth and home. They lacked the intellect and the fortitude to participate in the rough and tumble world of politics. And so it went for decades.
It was 1848, after all, when women gathered at Seneca Falls Convention in New York to demand rights for women, including the right to vote. The convention marked the birthplace of the women’s movement, although it took almost 80 years to win the prize of voting rights.
One hundred years ago, the battle was coming to a close. In New Mexico, women determined to cross the finish line rallied on the Santa Fe Plaza and took their demonstrations to the homes of big-shot politicians. They would not be denied.
Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June of 1919 — granting women voting rights — but it would not become the law of the land unless 36 state legislatures also ratified it. Thus, marches, demonstrations and protests in states across the country. By the end of December 1919, 22 states had joined in ratifying the amendment.
On Feb. 19, 2020, New Mexicans were among the converted, with the New Mexico Legislature the 32nd in the nation to ratify the amendment, doing so during a special session.
The women of New Mexico — clothed in purple, white and gold — had won the day, communicating in Spanish and English to do so. Tennessee would become the 36th state in August of 1920, meaning that women could vote in that fall’s presidential election. Women had prevailed.
Such unity of purpose is needed once more in an era when so much hangs in the balance. From marches to demand action on climate change, calls to reduce gun violence and, after last week, gatherings to protest against possible war with Iran, people who come together will influence policy for the better — especially if they vote.
That’s the American way, and today we need the pressure of the masses combined with the power of the ballot box more than ever. As we honor the suffragists in 2020, the best homage today’s citizens could pay may be taking to the streets.