By Chris Watson
Ninety six years ago, in August of 1920, women in this country received the “right” to vote. Not that they ever should have needed that right. As active, productive, contributing citizens of any organization or country, fighting for something like their “right” to be heard and recognized, their “right” to drive a car, their “right” to be paid the same as a man, should seem ridiculous and offensive to our so called modern ears (although some still fight these essential human rights, even in the evolved democracy that is the USA). Back in 1920 however it was a big, big deal.
In that same year my grandmother, Ruby to her friends and much later Nano to me, was 24 and went with millions of other women to the national polls for the first time. Born in 1896 I imagine that at 21 she was skeptical of the possibility of getting to vote, much like the LBGT community was skeptical that they would ever have the ability to enter into a contractual, state recognized, relationship. Yet, at the age of 24 she went to the polls.
Of course she didn’t drive herself. She went her whole life asking for rides. Women of her generation didn’t drive. My own mother didn’t drive until she was around 40.
So here is a story my siblings may have never heard. In 1967, when I was in half day kindergarten and they were off at school all day, my grandmother and grandfather went to the polls in early November to vote in an off year election. My grandfather, Big Bob to us kids, drove of course. And, naturally, they took me along since it was their responsibility to watch a little five year old, very recently transplanted from Minnesota to Wichita Kansas.
I only remember a couple of things from that day. I remember being told, repeatedly, to be good. I remember my grandfather pestering my grandmother in the car about how she voted. “Bob,” she said with a kind of impish kindness that would drive him nuts, “I don’t have to tell you.” To my knowledge she never revealed the details of any of her votes to her life’s companion.
Above all I remember the tiny “play” voting machine they had. It was really a demo machine that was meant to demonstrate how to “pull the lever” and operate the not very complicated machine. But, when it wasn’t being used for a demonstration, which to my knowledge was 100% of the time, the poll workers would allow fidgety little boys to push buttons and pull levers to their hearts content. It was the very definition of voting early and voting often.
I have been a voting geek ever since. I do not recall ever talking to my grandmother directly about her being in that class of women who first ventured into the democratic process but I knew then and knew throughout her life she took it very seriously. That serious and steadfast participation can only come from someone who was facing a lifetime of obedience to those she didn’t have a voice in choosing. When she got that voice she used it…quietly but consistently.
This year I went to early voting. In front of me in a fairly long line was a mother and her sister, holding on to a one year old who was as fidgety as I remember being. There were some college students, home for the weekend, who were getting in their vote a few days before official polling. When a very old women, about the same size as I remember my grandmother came in and faced the long line, I saw at least 5 different people offer up their spots so she could vote right away and not have to stand in line.
After I filled out a form for early voting and got in the next long line I was standing in front of a mother and her son. She was a nurse and was facing a 12 hour shift on Tuesday. So, to ensure her vote was counted, she grabbed her son who, as it turns out, was getting ready to vote in his first presidential election.
I am not sure who was more excited, him or me. Then when I saw him walk away from the polls I am not sure who was more teary…his mother or a sappy Ohio based writer.
I, of course, do have opinions on who you should vote for. This is not the forum for that discussion. However, I also have an opinion that I can share…VOTE. It is important, it is fun, it is necessary, and above all, it is absolutely vital to a democracy. We should never, EVER as a society look to make it hard to vote. Regardless of what many say, the history of democracy shows that it is stronger when it is fully represented.
So tomorrow, go vote. Even if you feel your choices suck, go make them anyway. If the line is long, talk to someone ahead or behind you about the weather, the Word Series, the Fall leaves, or anything that comes to mind. But stand there and vote. Then walk away knowing that, no matter the outcome, you helped shore up the firewall that protects us from tyranny.
I always think of my grandmother when I vote. I think of how excited she must have been and remained every time she walked into a polling place. And I wonder how she feels about those who don’t exercise a right that she lived for a short time without. I vote because she helped me see how important voting is. Above all I vote because, even at 54, I still want to make her proud.
Cover Photo from morgue files at: