Saturday, August 18, 2007

History Lessons: Amending our ways

On this date a mere 87 years ago, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified by Congress giving women the right to vote. The amendment was named after Susan B. Anthony (pictured at left, looking over the shoulder of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), who was one of its earliest proponents. Its passage culminated a struggle for women's suffrage begun over 50 years earlier by Anthony, among many others.

It's a bit mind-boggling to consider that it took 131 years from the birth of our constitution for half the population to gain their due right as citizens. Of course this was just the first victory in a long struggle to gain equal rights for women, and even now there are vestiges of the old social prejudices preventing a true leveling of the proverbial playing field.

Women are certainly not the only social grouping to have faced road blocks to full participation in our civic give and take. African Americans gained their legal right to vote with the 15th Amendment 50 years earlier, but didn't win actual and unaccosted access to the levers of lawful citizenship until the passing of the 24th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, both in 1964.

Amazingly, it's only now in the early 21st century that we have our first legitimate female and black presidential candidates. My personal politics are closer to Barack Obama's, but for either he or Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and national office would mark an historical watershed. It's hard not to harbor hope of a broader change flowing from such success.

That doesn't mean the struggle for social equity will have finally been won, however. Today's anniversary should provoke us to ponder the current groups society excludes from full participation in our democracy. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to conjure a couple of demographics who have been scapegoated into second-class citizenship the past few years, whether by sexual orientation or circumstance of place of birth.

What does require creativity of thought is the understanding of just how these limitations on full citizenship hurt our social organism. As with any biological entity, our community is at its best when we make use of the diverse talents and abilities of the entirety of the sum of our parts. To not only discourage but refuse those contributions is beyond foolish; it's self-defeating.
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