In 1913, on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, women gathered in Washington, D.C., and marched in the first large, organized political march in D.C.
White women marched in the front; Black women followed them. The separation was keenly felt. But as the women surged down Pennsylvania Avenue, they all had only one goal in mind: to pressure the president into granting them the right to vote.
Bystanders heckled and jeered at them. They swarmed into the procession’s path, slowing their progress. The police officers present, some of whom disagreed with the protest, failed to protect the women marching.
But the women didn’t let this stop them. They soldiered on. When they fell, they picked themselves off the ground. They dusted themselves off, gritted their teeth. They held their heads high and they kept marching forward.
They poured all their effort into convincing lawmakers that they too deserved a voice in the legislative process. They staged rallies, gave speeches, organized protests. They did the hardest and most powerful thing any person can do – they changed minds. And in 1920, seven years after that first march in Washington, D.C., the 19th Amendment cleared Tennessee, the last state needed for ratification.
Women across the country rejoiced. But they knew it was not that simple. They knew their fight for equality was not yet over. They knew poll taxes, literacy tests, and more presented barriers to the ballot. They knew in the next century, they’d have to work to strike them down. They knew their fight for equality would follow them into the workplace, into the classroom. Into their homes. And they rose to meet the challenge.
These women knocked down barrier after barrier, built bridge after bridge. They clawed their way into the polls to vote. By the 1960s, women made up the largest electorate in the United Sates. They made sure I’d have the right to vote from birth, which was something they didn’t have.
These women are the reason I will be able to pick up a ballot when I’m eighteen and cast it. They are the reason I will one day be able to become a lawyer and then run for public office. They inspire me to be the reason more women become leaders, innovators, politicians, doctors, soldiers, CEOs, lawyers. They inspire me to break more barriers for people who struggle to overcome them.
But perhaps most importantly, these women taught me – and millions of other women – the value of our voices. They inspired us to rise up and raise them. And in 2017, they inspired women across the U.S. to march in what would go down as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Almost a century after that march in 1913, women marched again in Washington, D.C. This time, they had almost ten times the numbers. This time, women of all races walked hand-in-hand, side-by-side.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. We can go farther, run faster, soar higher than ever before. The 19th Amendment is a testament to the progress we’ve made and a pillar for us to build upon. And we will continue to build on it. We will keep building on previous achievements, keep climbing towards a better future. Equality is within our reach. We just have to be persistent in our pursuit of it.
So we will do the only thing we can do: We will pick ourselves off the ground. Dust ourselves off, grit our teeth. Hold our heads high.
We will keep marching forward.
©2020 Surina Venkat
All rights reserved
Surina Venkat is a 16-year-old writer and activist from West Melbourne, Florida. She has work published or forthcoming in Ayaskala Literary Magazine, Artists & Climate Change, Omelette Magazine, The Daily Drunk, and more. When she isn’t reading or writing, you’ll probably find her running with her dog or listening to a podcast.