I am a part of a generation that grew up with Rock the Vote; my parents used to bring me along to the polls and award me with the ubiquitous “I Voted Today” sticker I would proudly display on my backpack. I am just one young female voter of a large demographic who cheered on Barrack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States. Some of my friends dropped out of school to intern for his campaign, and many donated some of their feeble savings to support his campaign. I remember standing in line at a school a few blocks from my university to vote for the first time; I was stressed out about missing one of my classes while I waited with two friends for over three hours. My generation does’t know the struggle for civil rights; today, we take for granted the simple liberty of casting a vote.
I’ll never forget watching the news for hours in the dorm lounge with dinner to go from the college cafeteria, watching the polls in anticipation for the next President of the United States-an experience I was a part of for the first time. Yet today, the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, I am reminded that there was a time when women couldn’t participate in this civil right.
In a country where voting districts were once gerrymandered and women were once silenced, it’s easy for my generation to ignore identity politics and forget to appreciate our right to vote. The day I saw Hillary Clinton and Maya Angelou speak at my university, I became aware of my own biases. I was a wide-eyed freshman who just turned 18 and couldn’t wait to vote in the fall election. To me, there was nothing particularly surprising or monumental about a female running for president. Although I had a decent understanding of civil rights history, I thought we overcame gender and racial discrimination long ago. Of course a woman and a black man were running for president. I didn’t understand why the media always talked about their gender and race. They are both highly qualified leaders; what was so monumental about their candidacy? For me, the civil rights struggle is far removed from my everyday life; I forget that only a few generations ago, both candidates would have been barred not only from running for president, but also from voting for the president.
The conversation between Hillary Clinton and Maya Angelou at Wake Forest University in April 2008 enabled me to see a side of Senator Clinton that I had never seen on the news or in the debates. When she spoke for the first time, I got chills. This polite, gentle, “tell it like it is” voice did not match the coarse personality I had expected. Clinton announced, “Because of what we are doing, I honestly believe we have broken one of those invisible barriers that never again will any little boy or girl in America not believe that he or she – black, white, brown, whatever – cannot grow up to be president. Because that is now over. We have created that possibility in this moment of time.”
Maya Angelou writes of the “phenomenal woman.” Today I’ll remember the phenomenal women who fought for women’s suffrage. I’ll remember the women of the Seneca Falls Convention who endured gender discrimination and fought to have their voices heard. I’ll remember the heroines of my generation, like Hillary Clinton, who helped me realize that the privilege of voting as a young American woman should not be a forgettable experience.