Saturday, July 30, 2016

One Hundred Years Ago: A Vote Can Change History

The Democratic National Convention is over, and it has happened. 96 years after women won the right to vote in America, a woman has been nominated for the office of President of the United Statres by a major party. She has a good chance of becoming the first woman elected to that office. The thing she said, upon the occasion of making it official, that I liked best was, “When there is no ceiling, the sky's the limit.” Hilary Clinton is referring, of course, to the Glass Ceiling, the metaphor for societally imposed limits on female empowerment. Eight years ago, Clinton lost the primary campaign to current President Barach Obama, saying at the time that the Glass Ceiling now had about fifteen million cracks in it. Today, the Ceiling lies shattered, but its framework is still there. It makes me want to shout out in both joy and caution, but mostly joy. And it makes me think about what happened not 96 years ago, but exactly one hundred, when the Glass Ceiling received its first truly monumental crack. In 1916, a woman was elected to serve in the House of Representatives. Her name was Jeannette Rankin, and she came from my state, Montana. She was a Republican, but that was when Republicans still owned the Progressive Movement. Rankin was a Suffragette of the first order and key in pushing the right to vote for Montana women, granted just two years before. She was a staunch supporter of rights for women and children. She was a pacifist, doggedly so. She was what someone at the time might call a Roosevelt Republican, very concerned with the ever increasing power and economic gaps in the country, wary of big business, and champion of the common man and woman. In 1916, while Democratic incumbent President Woodrow Wilson was narrowly beating Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes in the General (in Montana Wilson won in a landslide), Jeannette Rankin won the seat in the House by 6,000 votes. She thus became the first woman elected to public office in the United States. More, she became the first woman elected to public office in any Western democracy, ever. Women could vote for her in the state election; women could not yet vote for President in the General. I think Hilary Clinton might consider ramping up her praise of this remarkable woman and her remarkable achievement. The general opinion in 1916 was making a quantum shift. Before that, Americans in general did not believe, nor want to believe, that women had the sense to be responsible with their vote. Rankin and the other incredible women who supported Universal Suffrage shattered that notion, although many opponents clung to it or found ways to modify their approach to limiting women's rights and empowerment. As with any human rights issue, we have come a long way but we have far to go, and we must remain vigilant against those who would send us backward. But Rankin, as a poster child for Hilary Clinton, presents two problems, First, she was a Republican. But she was a Republican when Republicans were progressive and she stands as an honorable ancestor to today's progressive movement. Second, as an avowed pacifist, she was the only person to vote against entering both World War One and World War Two. Hilary Clinton is no pacifist, and would never trumpet Jeannette Rankin in that arena. Too much of the world still believes war is a viable form of policy; our President must be seen as strong and prepared to do what is necessary. Still, Rankin was strong-willed and consistent, and a true pioneer, so if the Democrats will not claim her as their spiritual forerunner, I certainly will. Look how far we've come, and how close we are. Thank you, Jeannette. Thank you, voters of Montana. You made history. Perhaps we will again.

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