Remember Women’s Equality Day

By Elsa Roberts, Follow her on Twitter

One woman struggles on a table while five prison guards hold her down and shove a feeding tube up her nose. 

During another prison stay her hands are handcuffed above the door for the night after she was beaten.

Another woman, another feeding tube forced on her, and raw eggs poured down her throat.

These women, described above, endured painful indignities and intermittent imprisonment to help secure the right to vote that women currently enjoy in the U.S. today; their names were Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.

They were part of what is known as the Suffrage movement, which began in the mid 1800s and continued through the Victorian era until women finally secured voting rights after August 18, 1920, after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment.  

Paul and Burns were preceded in the movement by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and numerous other women, many of whom convened the Seneca Falls convention in 1848 to put forth demands for the rights of women. One of those rights was the right to vote, and so the Suffrage movement got underway. Anthony and many other activists pushed for women’s right to vote through education campaigns, picketing the White House, attempting to vote in elections, and lobbying congress. In 1878, Stanton and Anthony drafted what would become the 19th Amendment. It was presented to the Senate where it spent several years in committee before being voted down in 1887.

It took many more years of action and the civil disobedience of women like Paul and Burns, who organized the National Women’s Party in 1917 to begin to picket the White House in protest of President Wilson’s opposition to suffrage. The women picketing, known a the Silent Sentinels, picketed every day except Sunday until 1919. Wilson eventually bowed to pressure and supported the 19th amendment, and, after a failed attempt in 1918, it passed Congress in 1919.

Now, when women head to the polls or fill out their absentee ballot, they are fulfilling the legacy left by women ready to die for the ability to have their voices heard and participate fully in the political process through voting. Today, on August 26, 2013, Women’s Equality Day, let us remember these women and celebrate our right to participate in the democratic process while remaining vigilant to protect our voting rights, which are again under attack.

Today, as we take note of our progress we must also again take up the mantle of our foremothers and fight to retain our rights, as they are slowly being eroded away via removing protections from the Voting Rights Act, shortening early voting days and times around the country, and burdening erstwhile voters with ID requirements. Celebrate the women who worked to gain the vote by becoming involved in your local elections and state politics, demand expanded early voting days and fight against the ID requirements which disproportionately impact people of color, women, and the elderly. Together we can take back our rights!


Statement on the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act Ruling


For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727  E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

Last week, the Supreme Court overruled Congress and struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, putting voters’ rights in nine states and several more jurisdictions in potential jeopardy and removing legislation that has prevented racial discrimination in voting laws since 1965. Secular Woman holds that all women are entitled to full and equal participation at all levels of government, and we are concerned that this ruling opens the door to discriminatory activity such as district redrawing and voting legislation subtly aimed at undermining the voting rights of minority groups.

“Voting is a right of citizens in the United States,” said Secular Woman President Kim Rippere. “It isn’t simply a matter of having the legal right; voting must also be equally accessible between polling places, and each vote must count the same.” Established in 1965 in response to violence against voting rights activists fighting to prevent discriminatory voting laws and practices, the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Sections 4 and 5 require six states with a history of discriminatory voting procedures––Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia––as well as Alaska, Arizona, Texas, and several jurisdictions––to obtain advance approval before passing voting laws to determine whether they have the potential for discrimination or disenfranchisement. The Supreme Court held that section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional because it violates equal sovereignty of states and because, in the eyes of the Court, the improvement in equality in the states affected by the VRA means that section 4 is no longer warranted.

The Court cited vast improvements in voting equality since the 1960s, acknowledging that the number of black voters has increased significantly and that there has been a one thousand percent increase in the number of elected officials of color  since the VRA was enacted. However, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent to the 5–4 ruling, the fact that the VRA has worked is hardly a reason to abandon one of its key provisions. “If the statute was working, there would be less evidence of discrimination, so opponents might argue that Congress should not be allowed to renew the statute,” she pointed out. “In contrast, if the statute was not working, there would be plenty of evidence of discrimination, but scant reason to renew a failed regulatory regime.”  She went on to note that racial discrimination in voting can be much more insidious and subtle than the acts of violence of the 1960s, citing as an example the redrawing of districts to ensure white majority. Indeed, in 2012, it was the Voting Rights act that prevented Texas Senator Wendy Davis from losing her seat when Republicans attempted to redraw her Fort Worth district to dilute the Democratic voters that helped elect her. Now that section 4 of the VRA, which had the singular advantage of requiring oversight to prevent discriminatory voting laws before they were instated, has been struck down, unfair legislation and unfairly elected leaders could be in place for years before a case can be brought against the laws that helped elect them.

In a clear example of the dangers of this ruling, Texas legislators have already said they plan to instate a voter ID law that was struck down last year because federal judges ruled it would be discriminatory. The legislation requires prospective voters to present certain types of photo ID; a federal court ruled that the law would be “ the most stringent in the country,” and “will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” Responding to the Supreme Court decision removing VRA section 4 last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the voter ID law would  “take effect immediately,” adding that “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

Fortunately, the Court’s decision included a suggestion that “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions” in the United States. Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison have introduced an amendment that would reverse the Court decision and make voter suppression laws illegal; learn more and consider signing as a citizen co-sponsor. Secular Woman hopes that Congress finds a solution to the disturbing ramifications of the Court’s ruling; we are adamant that any discrimination by government, in voting rights or otherwise, is too much.


Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: