|Suffrage procession in Minneapolis on May 2, 1914
From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society
Election Day is coming up quickly and you can be damn sure that I am going to cast my vote. I’m doing it for my Grandma Lillian.
Thorina was also a suffragist. She believed strongly in equal voting rights for women and she often participated in demonstrations advocating for the right to vote for women. Women received full suffrage rights in Norway in 1913, so Norwegian immigrant women (along with their Finnish, Swedish and Danish counterparts) played a notable role in the suffrage movement at the local level in Minnesota and other states with large Scandinavian immigrant populations. The photo at left shows women from several Scandinavian countries in traditional dress marching against inequality and for universal women’s suffrage on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
Now the right to participate in government is one that we Americans take for granted – so much so that less than half of the population votes unless it is a Presidential election year. In 2008, the voter turnout was 63%, a high water mark that is low in comparison with most countries. In U.S. local elections, the voter turnout is even lower. Many of the mayors of major U.S. cities are elected with single-digit turnout. That’s just shameful.
I love to vote. In fact, I vote every chance that I can – legally at least. I always try to bring my kids with me when I vote, so they can see that having a voice in the democratic process is something both important and valuable. But when I’m standing in the voting booth, I feel like there are others there in the voting booth with me. They are some of the inspirational people that I’ve met over the years who have risked everything to secure their right to participate in government.
For example, the young Haitian asylum seeker who was beaten by police at a polling place in order to discourage him from voting for Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990. He held his own, though, and stood there bleeding and bandaged for several hours before he finally had the opportunity to put his check next to Aristide’s rooster symbol on the ballot. It was the first time he had ever voted – and it was a remarkable act of courage and endurance. In telling me about it, he summed it up well.
“I voted. It was a very good day.”
|Village meeting about 2004 elections
Kono district, Sierra Leone
When I was in Sierra Leone in 2004, I met many people whose hands or arms had been amputated with machetes by members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Some of them had been targeted during an elections so that they couldn’t vote by leaving their fingerprint mark on the paper ballot. I also heard that the RUF hacked off hands during one election because the government’s slogan was that,”The power is in the hands of the people.” I visited Sierra Leone in 2004, after the conflict had ended and just prior to the first post-conflict elections. As I traveled through the countryside, I saw people coming together for meetings to discuss the upcoming elections. In spite of the horrors that they had endured, they were coming together in villages big and small, to exercise their right to participate in their government.
“You can do whatever you want to with your life. Be what you want to be. But never forget those of us who weren’t able to follow our dreams. Follow your dreams for us.”
So that’s why I never miss the chance to vote. I’m doing it for my Grandma Lillian. And for everyone else who can’t follow their dreams.
The photo at the top is of the Scandinavian Women’s Suffrage Association marching in a parade in Minneapolis in 1914.
I keep it in my office in honor of my Grandma Lillian.