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Women’s Equality Day is Aug. 26

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POTSDAM - Mondaymarks the 93rd anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, when women achieved the hard-fought right to vote. Since 1971, America has observed this date as Women’s Equality Day. Fly your flag on Women’s Equality Day to honor the generations of Americans who worked for 72 years to win the right to vote for women.

As one of the oldest women’s organizations in the country, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has been working vigorously for more than 130 years to create educational, political and economic equity for women. AAUW believes Women’s Equality Day is a time for all of us to remember that women weren’t “given” the vote; they fought fiercely for that right. And women’s votes are a vital tool they can use to shape the policy issues that affect them everyday.

This courageous political campaign spanning 72 years was carried out by tens of thousands of persistent women and men. Carrie Chapman Catt, the last president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, described just what an undertaking it had been: “Young suffragists who helped forge the last links of that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragists who forged the first links were dead when it ended.”

The fight was long and arduous and waged in many places: Fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get state constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to get presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms; and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.

“It was a continuous, seemingly endless, chain of activity,” said Catt, who had ties to St. Lawrence County - she was the daughter of Lucius Lane and Maria Clinton Lane. Both of her parents had graduated from Potsdam Academy and several generations of the Lane family had farmed the family homestead in West Potsdamfor many years.

Women won the right to vote with the 19th amendment in 1920, although many women of color did not win full voting rights until 45 years later under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But celebrating our right to vote isn’t enough, because the right to vote is still threatened. The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a central tenet of the Voting Rights Act is a case in point. North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, just signed sweeping new voting restrictions into law.

Instead of advocating a 21st century voting system that is inclusive, these laws are turning the clock back to the 19th century when only privileged white males were allowed to vote. Newly imposed ID requirements target students, people of color and women. Nationally, as many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.

In July, Attorney General Eric Holder promised fresh legal action in a string of voting rights cases across the country in an attempt to blunt the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling. But Congress has not made a top priority of divining a new formula to identify certain states for scrutiny, limiting the likelihood any states will face automatic reviews of voting laws in the near future.

We still have a lot to do to keep the polls accessible to everyone. And while there have been no changes to voter identification laws yet in New York state, this is an area AAUW and other civil rights organizations are watching carefully.

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch, founded in 1927, is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW: Advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.

AAUW, with its nationwide network of more than 150,000 members and supporters, more than 1,000 branches conducting programs in communities across the country, and 500 college and university partners, has been a leading advocate for equity and education for women and their families since 1881.

For more information about AAUW in St. Lawrence County, contact President Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu or Public Policy Chair Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html.

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