From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Suffrage Comes with Obligations. Voting is Only the First.
Date August 19, 2020 12:27 AM
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[The need for safe, accessible, regular neighborhood childcare —
already taken for granted in many European cities — is a COVID-19
lesson that American women who vote can and should demand.]
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SUFFRAGE COMES WITH OBLIGATIONS. VOTING IS ONLY THE FIRST.  
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Naomi Zack
August 18, 2020
The Forward
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_ The need for safe, accessible, regular neighborhood childcare —
already taken for granted in many European cities — is a COVID-19
lesson that American women who vote can and should demand. _

Suffragettes hold a jubilee celebrating their victory after the
passing of the 19th Amendment., Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

 

Women have had the right to vote in the United States for 100 years.
We should celebrate that, but our understanding of what exactly this
right entails remains superficial. Many think that the right to vote
is in itself sufficient: If they have in fact voted, they think, they
have exercised this right and fulfilled their civic duty. And if their
candidate wins, well, they have won, too.

There is some truth in this, but not enough. The right to vote is a
distinction of citizenship, and voting itself is an obligation that
often requires effort and inconvenience. But women have yet to fully
make the most of the opportunity that right presents to help create a
government and society that will support our basic life needs and
allow for personal fulfillment. To do so requires not only voting, but
carefully examining candidates and their agendas and holding them
accountable after they are elected. If the person you voted for wins,
your work has just begun: You need to see if they are doing the job
you and others elected them for, give them feedback, and vote them in
or out next time. If the person you voted for doesn’t win, you have
to track and anticipate the actions of the winner.

The Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the largest protest in U.S.
history, is proof that a century after gaining the vote, there remains
much more for us to do with it. Beyond being a splendid, pussy-cat
hat-adorned act of mass expression, that protest set the stage for a
record number of women to be elected to state and federal office
during the 2018 midterm elections. Why did it take a catalyst as
extreme as the election of Donald Trump to lead to that result?

No presidential administration since 1920 has wholeheartedly supported
the lives of women. During the second half of the 20th century, the
majority of women with school-age children entered the workforce. Most
did not take that step for self-fulfillment, but because they needed
to contribute to family earnings or were single mothers.

COVID-19 has kept many of them at home, with or without work, in
secure or insecure households. Why has 100 years of women’s suffrage
not yielded a national child care program that operates 24 hours a
day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? Those legislators reluctant
to fund a national childcare program or support local ones may have
been ambivalent about mothers working outside the home. But now, in
order to restart the economy, officials with similar ideologies want
to precipitously reopen schools, exactly so that women can go back to
work. When childcare was provided for the children of essential
workers during the surge in New York State, not a single case of
COVID-19 infection or death was reported. Now more than ever, it’s
clear that formal education and childcare services are distinct, and
it’s time for women to use our votes to demand that these two things
be provided separately. The need for safe, accessible, regular
neighborhood childcare — already taken for granted in many European
cities — is a COVID-19 lesson that American women who vote can and
should demand.

Joe Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris as his running mate presents women
voters with another historic opportunity. Those women who vote for the
Biden-Harris ticket this November, in addition to celebrating the
historic first of a Black multi-racial vice presidential candidate,
should treat their vote as an opportunity to demand change.

While Harris’ selection was undeniably motivated by public sentiment
concerning the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives
Matter Movement, she has a prosecutorial record of protecting
overly-aggressive police officers. Will woman voters hold her
accountable to her commitment to police reform, and see that she
follows through? Harris’s advocacy of reparations for slavery and
stronger funding for COVID-19 treatment and vaccination in communities
of color has already drawn backlash from conservatives. Will women
voting because Harris is on the ticket — as some surely will — ask
her to concretely establish how she will carry out such
COVID-19-focused programs in ways that include all vulnerable
populations, and specifically the poor, disabled and elderly of all
races? Will they insist that the reparations for which she advocates
include unfulfilled Native American treaties? Will women who vote for
Biden and Harris follow through, if their ticket is elected, by
tracking their administration’s implementation of campaign
commitments as a condition for their re-election in 2024? Will they
keep an eye on voter suppression?

At stake with these and other issues, some of which came to light
during COVID-19 and others of which are perennial, is no abstract
feminist doctrine, but the quality of life for real women and those
they know and love. The full power of women’s right to vote has only
begun to be tapped in the first 100 years. As women learn more about
it in fully entering politics and civic life, there could be real
changes in women’s lives, but not just that. Because women take care
of so many, who are both the same and different from them, their full
engagement in politics is the lever by which to raise the world.

_Naomi Zack is Professor of Philosophy at Lehman College, CUNY. Her
most recent book is “Reviving the Social Compact”
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(2018). Out this December is “Progressive Anonymity.” She is at
work on The “Pandemic and the Police” (due in Spring 2021)_

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